Evidence supports language bias in civil services selection?

As government appointed committee examines the vexed issue of examination format for civil services, there appears certain merit in concerns voiced against the current system.

Pankaj Sharma/Zee Research Group

As government appointed committee examines the vexed issue of examination format for civil services, there appears certain merit in concerns voiced against the current system. A study of toppers in recent years demonstrates that urban bred English medium educated aspirants have scored better than vernacular educated peers.

Following protests from students across the country for change in the second paper of Civil Services, the government has postponed the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) preliminary examination this year. A three-member committee has also been set up under the chairmanship of Arvind Varma to look in the issue.
Civil service aspirants claim that Civil Services Aptitude Test (CSAT) has been impacting the performance of rural students and those from arts and humanities background giving undue advantage to those from engineering and science streams. Many argue that the new format is strikingly similar to management entrance exams that are tilted in favour of English-speaking urban candidates.

Athar Imam, a student protesting against the change in the exam pattern, said, “The change in the pattern is against the idea of inclusive education. In the last three years, there has been a sharp decline in the number of rural students who cleared the exam. The pattern clearly favours students from urban areas, especially those from engineering background.”

Imam also said that in 2013 only 26 out of 1123 students (2.3 per cent) from Hindi medium got selected whereas before CSAT their number used to vary between 10 to 15 per cent.
The current row is based on the demand of deletion of Paper-II in General Studies popularly known as CSAT. Prior to 2011, the preliminary examination consisted of an optional and General Studies papers. In such a scenario a student could choose one optional, which accounted for 300 marks, and General Studies paper, which accounted for 150 marks. But, as reported, some optional papers were seen as highly scoring and others non-scoring.

The trend of urban English-speaking UPSC aspirants is also evident in the CV of toppers of civil services in last three years. Gaurav Agrawal, who has got the first rank this year, holds Bachelor of Technology (Computer Science) degree from Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kanpur and a Post Graduate Diploma in Management from Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Lucknow.

In 2013, Haritha V. Kumar from Kerala topped the civil services exam. She is an engineer and was undergoing training as an Indian Revenue Service Probationer at the National Academy of Customs Excise and Narcotics (NACEN) at Faridabad when got selected. She did her schooling at the St. Theresa’s Convent School in Neyyattinkara in Thiruvananthapuram before joining the Electronics and Communication programme at the Government Engineering College, Barton Hill.

Similarly, Shena Agarwal of Haryana topped the exam in 2012. Aggarwal has done her Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences. She had also topped the CBSE PMT in 2004. She studied at Sant Nischal Singh Public School in Yamuna Nagar and Dayanand Public School Nabha.

CSAT was based on the recommendations of Prof. S.K. Khanna Committee which recommended a paper on Aptitude that had a dominant component of reading comprehension, logical reasoning and quantitative aptitude. His recommendations came into effect from 2011. However, CSAT was first advocated by Dr Y.K. Alagh in his Civil Services Review Committee Report, 2001. He favoured the idea of testing the candidates in a common subject rather than on optional subjects.

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