What’s wrong with the CSS exam?

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  • Some subjects seem to get more marks than others

 

By Khalid Ranjha

 

Aversive stimuli such as electric shocks and nasty tastes have since long been employed by therapists to make drug-abusers, sex offenders and paedophiles unlearn their undesirable behaviour. They purposefully associate pain with unacceptable fantasies to get their patients say that, “They hate their desires because they make them sick.” This is, however, one of the highly condemned methods of treating patients as it may lead to high a rate of dropout, aggression, poor compliance with treatment and death risk for persons with heart and lung problems.

As a consequence of criticism on medical and ethical grounds, psychologists are now increasingly using safe stimuli instead of nasty ones to change their patients’ behaviour. However, from the information I managed to glean from the CSS Club (a social media platform of CSS aspirants), discussions with CSS aspirants, and detailed marks sheets of the CSS qualifiers of the past few years, the FPSC’s examiners are still using questionable stimuli and highly controversial methods of discouraging students from opting for certain optional subjects in the CSS exam.

By way of explanation, one needs look no further than the Detailed Marks Sheets of CSS 2017, 2018 and 2019 candidates. In CSS 2019, students having opted for International Relations, Gender Studies and International Law secured shockingly low marks compared to those who had Political Science, Business Administration and Criminology etc, as their optional subjects. Likewise, CSS 2018 candidates with Public Administration, Geography and any history subject other than US History had unbelievably high marks, irrespective of the quality of their papers, compared to those who had Gender Studies, US History and International Law as optional subjects.

In turn, students with US History, Gender Studies and International Law found themselves in a position of advantage over those having certain other subjects in CSS 2017. As believed by the CSS aspirants, and Detailed Marks Sheets of candidates lend credence to this belief, the FPSC’s examiners wittingly target certain optional subjects opted by a large number of students to ease their own burden. CSS aspirants are thereby in very low spirits due to the belief that no matter how hard they work, they would not get through the exam if their subjects happen to be the lowest scoring.

Given the FPSC’s questionable assessment criterion and quota system, which also discourages merit, introduction of any other CSS reforms, as reportedly being contemplated, would arguably not yield desired results. Perhaps it is high time that the FPSC, apart from putting blame on our flawed education system, also took some responsibility for the poor CSS result

The FPSC, therefore, need to come clean about the criterion of paper checking and rumours of instructed marking in the CSS exam. It would do well if it answers some hard-hitting questions posed by the candidates. For instance, can a student having the three lowest scoring optional subjects such as International Relations, Gender Studies and International Law compete with a student having the highest scoring optional subjects such as Political Science, Public Administration and Criminology etc, in CSS-2019? Is the latter not at an advantage of 70 to 90 marks over the former in the written part of the exam? Can he make up for the loss of 70 to 90 marks in written part even if he manages to get 20 to 30 marks more in the viva voce than a student having the highest-scoring optional subjects?

This situation, in fact, begs a few more important questions. For instance, are those who get allocated due merely to their lucky optional subjects, if detailed marks sheets are anything to go by, despite getting merely passing marks in interview more competent, in any way, than those getting high marks in interview? In fact, Article 14(ii) of the Rules For Competitive Examinations makes it abundantly clear that a candidate scoring high marks in interview is more competent than the one getting more marks in written part of the exam. And even if the students with the lowest scoring optional subjects do not get high marks in the interview, are they still not at a serious disadvantage vis-a-vis those having the highest scoring optional subjects?

More importantly, are both categories of students being treated equally? And has the FPSC put the fate of very competent candidates, according to the FPSC’s own admission in Article 14(ii) of the exam rules, who cannot make it to civil service despite getting high marks in interview, at the disposal of the whims and moods of the examiners who mark their optional papers? Is it fair to let the candidates who get allocated merely because their optional papers are checked by an examiner who does not let the bad quality of their papers, in a large number of cases if majority of CSS aspirants and teachers are to be believed, come in the way of them being getting allocated, continue as civil servants? Would the FPSC be responsible for the maladministration caused by the civil servants recruited merely on the basis of their lucky optional subjects?

What is more, is refusal to allow exposure and re-examination of papers not a clear violation of the Right of Access to Information Act which applies to the FPSC also? Do any of the exemptions provided under Sections 7 and 16 of that Act apply to the FPSC also? And does the exposure of students’ papers pose a threat to national security, even if the term is given a very liberal interpretation? Or, is their exposure likely to endanger the life and liberty of any individual? As a matter of fact, these questions have gained much more significance after some students challenged the CSS-2018 result in Islamabad High Court on suspicions of discrimination against them.

Before filling a suit in court these students sent letters to the FPSC office to draw its attention to the discrimination, they believed, they were subjected to. Instead of effectively addressing their grievances the FPSC sent them the Quaid-e-Azam’s sayings in reply and advised them to think of a career other than the civil service. Given the gravity of the situation, as another group of CSS aspirants is also raising funds through social media to challenge the CSS-2019 result, so the FPSC would be well-advised if it gives satisfactory answers to the questions raised by the disheartened CSS aspirants.

Admittedly, some candidates with the lowest scoring optional subjects also make it by faring exceptionally well in the interview. But, this does not exonerate the FPSC’s examiners, because the fate of the unsuccessful candidates is not to be compared with that of a few exceptional candidates but with that of the candidates who get allocated due merely to their lucky optional subjects despite doing badly in the interview. In fact, these few exceptional candidates are also left complaining, as did the CSS-2018 candidates who believed that examiners awarded them very low marks in US History, Gender Studies and International Law without taking in account the quality of their content, command over subject and presentation, and that had they been treated equally in the written part of the exam they would have secured much better groups.

As CSS toppers in 2010 and 2016 reportedly failed in 2011 and 2017 respectively and a candidate who won the Rhodes Scholarship in 2013 failed in the CSS essay in the same year by securing single-digit marks, one should consider the FPSC’s paper checking criterion before squarely blaming Pakistan’s education system, though it is also far from satisfactory, for the dismal performance of candidates in the CSS exam. Given the FPSC’s questionable assessment criterion and quota system, which also discourages merit, introduction of any other CSS reforms, as reportedly being contemplated, would arguably not yield desired results. Perhaps it is high time that the FPSC, apart from putting blame on our flawed education system, also took some responsibility for the poor CSS result.

 

The writer can be reached at [email protected]