Civil services examination:  Why the myths and misconceptions matter

The glitz and glamour are only a part of it.  As much light has been thrown on this brighter side, the shadowy darker side often remains in oblivion. Civil services examination, conducted by the Union Public Service Commission, is touted as one of the most-difficult examinations across the world.

Yet, around 4-5-lakh aspirants are applying for this annually-conducted competitive examination, an acknowledgement for its popularity among the Indian youth and the society.

Of these, barely 1,000 are getting into the service. While the media outpour adulations for the rank holders, the despair and dejection of the not-so-lucky aspirants get swept under the carpet. But, for a better picture of the reality, cameras should zoom in on the darker aspects too.

“One day I got a call from a student. The boy said that he had tonsured his head and shaved off all the facial hairs, including the eyebrows.  It was bit scary to imagine a person in such a form.”

There are many myths and misconceptions related to the prestigious examination. One of them is that an aspirant must indulge in studies for 12 to 15 hours a day continuously for one-and-a-half years. There is some grain of truth in this and there are aspirants who dedicate more than 15 hours a day for studies. Here goes a story told by a coach in an institution with a track record of producing more than 100 plus rank holders over the years. “One day I got a call from a student. The boy said that he had tonsured his head and shaved off all the facial hairs, including the eyebrows.  It was bit scary to imagine a person in such a form.”

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“Sir, then I won’t ever feel like going out and can concentrate solely on studies. This was his answer to my next question. His story is an epitome of how seriously is this examination is being viewed by the aspirants.”  “Unfortunately, to my knowledge that boy couldn’t made the cut,” he adds.

Coaching institutions are fraught with such odd yet real stories. Following is an experience shared by another coach. “I got her call when I was about to go to bed. The very ‘Hello maa’m’ reflected all her nervousness and despair. She was asking me whether she can earn some money by giving tuition classes to my children. I tried to make her calm. An hour’s talk later, she ended up the call after saying that I’m the only hope she has. But she never call me again and the number has been switched off ever since,” she said.

According to the coach, what pushed the girl to total despair was her family circumstances. She was the eldest among three girls. Being the brightest among the trio, her middle class parents in Kerala wholeheartedly backed the girl when she expressed her wish to join a coaching institute in Delhi six years ago.

Six years of Delhi life and study cost the family over Rs 8 lakhs, but in vain.

The family members have almost dejected her, at least in their attitude and words. And the girl’s further prospect in the examination is quite bleak, as all her chances are over.

“Along with determination and intelligence, luck factor too has a great role to play in this exam. When students set out for this arduous journey, they often think about the brighter side only. Of course, they must by optimistic and goal oriented, but we must realise that not all can get into the service. The chances for not making the cut are extremely higher than the other. So it’s highly important to be realistic,” the coach says.

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Similar stories evoking poignant feel are aplenty. Many of them tragically are about the bright, confident youngsters losing their mental equilibrium.

Unlike other competitive examinations, most aspirants are spending more than two or three years to clear this exam. As the syllabus is vast and the pattern of the exam demands dedicated study, aspirants usually not opt for working during their preparatory stage. This in turn affects their productivity in the prime of their youth. Moreover, as the years pass on, the pressure, both familial and societal, over them soars up.

So, should we reduce the number of chances for appearing the exam?  A well-studied answer is imperative, considering the number of highly-valued human resources wastefully directed towards this examination

Even if half of the aspirants are approaching the examination, about 2 lakh youths are spending their whole time and energy to clear this examination. The most significant matter is that that a majority of them neither get into the service nor give up the preparation even after three or four years. “I thought I will only appear the exam twice. But then I thought why not one more attempt after all these meticulous studies. In the third attempt, I cleared the prelims, but couldn’t sail through the next level. My last attempt was fourth and couldn’t clear even the prelims. But I can’t I give up and I am waiting for the next chance. I a sense, it’s a trap,” she admits but still without losing optimism.

So, should we reduce the number of chances for appearing the exam?  A well-studied answer is imperative, considering the number of highly-valued human resources wastefully directed towards this examination. While a candidate belonging to general category can appear for the examination six times, there is three more years’ relaxation for an OBC candidate. Aspirants belonging to SC/ ST category can write the exam any number of times, till the age of 37.

Recently, a rank holder was reported to be stated that he had been working hard for this exam for the past 8 years. Admire his grit and focus of mind, but what if he would not have cleared the exam. Unfortunately, the number of such persons is not less.

Adding to this is the provision to improvise the rank.  Barring those who got into the elite IAS and IFS, all enlisted in the rank list can reappear for the exam to improvise their rank and service. Many in the IAS may owe this provision for their present status. But, an incident during UPSC Mains examination- 2017 was enough to question the very purpose of this provision. In a mockery to the whole system, a Kerala cadre IPS officer was caught red-handed while trying cheat during the exam, in which he appeared aiming at the IAS.

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