Posts tagged: UPSC CSAT

CSAT is not anti-Hindi.

Recently, a retired Supreme Court judge reported an alleged incident of corruption in the higher judiciary. The calls for scrapping the collegium system of appointment of judges immediately followed.  Knee-jerk reaction seems to have become a national past time, instead of careful analysis and considered remedial action.

Something similar is happening in the row over the  CSAT (Civil Services Aptitude Test). The issue came to light over very legitimate concerns regarding unforgivable Hindi translations of the question paper. Instead of fixing accountability (and punishment) for such negligent translation, a tangential ‘solution’ has been found – “the scores for English will not be added to determine the merit list.” The agitating aspirants on their part want nothing less than the scrapping of CSAT.

The situation is yet another indication of the ad-hoc attitude which is fast replacing serious analysis in all spheres of national life.

While, the agitation has thrown up some genuine issues which must be addressed sympathetically, we must ensure that the emotions of civil service aspirants and those concerned about Hindi speakers should not be manipulated by vested interests.

UPSC should have suo-moto addressed the genuine concerns of applicants. Instead, through its high-brow apathy it has unwittingly contributed to a possibility of the autonomy of one of the few remaining credible institutions of our system being curtailed. It is a matter of grave concern, as democracy hinges crucially on robust institutions and healthy norms.

Ever since the introduction of competitive examinations to select the mandarins in ancient China; an ideal civil servant is expected to be a sharp-witted, thinking on her feet, all-rounder. She is expected to have an active curiosity and a modicum of working knowledge of all bodies of thought. Naturally, no graduate is expected to ‘know’ everything under the sun, but she is certainly expected to have an ‘aptitude’ of learning quickly, taking challenges head-on and acting with due consideration in a given situation. In more specific terms, can we in the twenty first century afford to have civil servants without a basic grasp (class X level in the present case) of maths, logical reasoning, data interpretation and English?

CSAT was introduced in order to assess the degree of such basic understanding. It seeks to assess the candidate’s ‘wit’ as multiple choice aptitude questions are often about crossing off the wrong answer choices. What counts here is the ability to respond quickly on the basis of strong fundamentals, and not the capacity to cram formulae and answers to expected questions. CSAT has hit the multi-billion rupees civil service coaching industry, and the possibility of this industry taking an active interest in its removal cannot be ruled out., introduction of CSAT has led to juggling in this sector, as centres ‘specializing’ in aptitude tests have moved in to the territory of established and fabulously rich institutes. Be that as it may, coaching for an aptitude test like CSAT is harder than a purely rote based examination like the earlier UPSC prelims.

 

 CSAT was introduced following due procedure after extensive discussions within the Commission and wide-ranging consultations with experts. Legitimate concerns regarding possible bias towards technology and management students were also raised, and taking care of all this, a considered decision was taken. The possibility of  bias, needs to be checked regularly via corrective measures like balancing the stock of questions via the employment of adequate statistical methods to ensure that students of no particular stream gain an undue advantage over others.  

 

 

On their part, the agitating aspirants need to honestly ask themselves- will scrapping CSAT not be akin to throwing out the baby with the bath-water? Can it be any sane person’s case that all those who have succeeded in the present civil service examination inevitably come from ‘elite’ backgrounds? Are there no students from Dalits, OBCs, Adivasis, minorities and other marginal sections or deprived backgrounds among these?

 

Being a writer of Hindi (and as somebody who became fluent in English only as a postgraduate at JNU), I feel particularly concerned about the message the ongoing agitation is unwittingly giving. Are we not contributing to the myth of ‘Hindi-Wallahs’ being afraid of tough competition and expecting kid-glove treatment merely by virtue of being Hindi speakers?