The Federal Public Service Commission has recently released the result of the Commission for Superior Services Examination for the year 2017. Of the 9391 candidates that took the exam, only 3.30 per cent managed to pass it.

The FPSC Examiners’ Report blames the candidates’ poor English language skills for the dismal result. The exam result is very damning indeed, for it basically implies that above 90 per cent of the candidates who have 16 years or above of university education do not possess the English language skills to articulate their answers and understand what is being asked by the examiners. Responding to the high failure rate being blamed on his department, the Chairman HEC has announced a high level committee will be set up to pinpoint the specific shortcoming in higher educational institutions.

The FPSC stats do not indicate a gradual decline instead a sudden plunge in the results of the past few years.  In 2012, 800 candidates passed the civil service exam, next year in 2013, only 2 per cent, or 238 candidates, could qualify.

Perhaps there is more to the matter than just the university education, of the failing candidates, a lingual issue to the dilemma that needs to be identified, as majority of the candidates fail to clear English Composition exam while passing other subjects including European History, International Law and Political Science.

The HEC does have a role to play, but FPSC should fix its own shortcomings before levelling blame elsewhere. Firstly, the FPSC examiners enjoy absolute freedom from transparency. Neither can candidates see their own papers nor can they apply for rechecking in case they hold a reason to claim rechecking of the answer copies.

One of the Examiner’s Report published by FPSC, demonstrates why this is an issue that needs to be dealt with. “FPSC must revise the syllabi of regional languages also to tackle the factors behind opting these subject for favouring as easy or scoring high for success.” (FPSC Examiners Report, available online at fpsc.gov.pk). Shockingly, when in March 2017, the Lahore High Court ruled that CSS exams in future will be conducted in Urdu due to it being the national language, it was the FPSC that appealed against the verdict and got the decision reversed.

Secondly, one can take the GMAT and GRE to gain admission to any Ivy League college but apparently the FPSC does not deem such tests as fit to select Pakistan’s civil servants. Unlike the CSS exam, these tests are psychometrically tested to gauge a certain aptitude as per the requirement of the test administrator. Moreover they are also statistically tested to conform to the constructs of data validity and data reliability.

In the UK today, to enter the civil service fast stream (equivalent of CSS), there are 2 online questionnaires, an e-tray exercise testing decision-making skills and a video interview. One must pass the aforementioned to qualify for the assessment centre stage. The assessment centre stage evaluates one for some of the key elements of a Fast Stream role and consists of a leadership exercise, a group exercise and an analytical exercise.

FPSC on the other hand is quite content with being the museum of the recruitment system left by the British at the time of independence and still conducts exam under the outmoded pattern, hence the decline in one of Pakistan’s top cadre services’ performance.

In present day, CSS isn’t designed to match the right person to the right job. For the person who speaks the Shakespearean English, he would not be content in dealing with the humdrum of civil service, day in and day out for thirty or so years till retirement. And those that are suitable for the job, they wouldn’t be the ones who would know English better than their native language.

 

Published in The Express Tribune, July 9th, 2018.

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