The Curious Case Of CSS Examinations

The Curious Case Of CSS Examinations
A few days ago, the results of the Combined Competitive Exams CSS-2019 were announced by the Federal Public Service Commission (FPSC). There is much lament about its consistently low passing percentage of 2.5% every year; the crippling inadequacy of the educational system of Pakistan is reflected every year in this looking-glass. However, this year is marked by some peculiarly contentious observations.

Firstly, some bright, exceptionally rare young candidates did not get allocated. If being a foreign graduate or having a Shakespearean command on English are your suspected areas of shortcomings, then hold your verdicts – many enviable among mankind have failed. Some of the acclaimed mentors themselves, who were the expected toppers of the year, failed. On the other hand, some of the average, run-of-the-mill candidates secured top allocations. A tweet by Zalmay Azad has been trending on social media in this regard: “I won’t name the person that I was helping for CSS interview. The person had no idea of current affairs, local and international disputes. The writing and speaking skills were very basic. When results came, the person had been selected for PAS. I said to myself—what a joke!”

What could have gone wrong? An answer that is commonly proffered on the streets, even by those remotely associated with this exam, is that “CSS is a lot about your luck”. One of the exceedingly capable candidates spoke himself in a video, “You need three things for CSS; knowledge, analytical capability and luck. The former two, you can get them with hard work. The latter, I think I lacked on that.”

As a realist, a doctor and a student of science, I find it difficult to apprehend this ‘third’ factor. True, as Muslims, taqdeer (fate) is one of the basic tenets of our faith, and I find it rather beautiful that our most commendable youngsters can smile at their own failures just because they trust Allah to be the best of planners. But, as a follower of the same religion, I prefer our youth to have a greater belief in the texts where Allah encourages hard work (Al-Quran, 53:39).
As an analyst, it is extremely counter-productive to attribute everything to luck – increasingly so as an authority.

It is downright ridiculous to stifle management flaws during a pandemic with the label of “Allah ka azaab” (Divine retribution), and to glorify plane-crash victims of a hemorrhaging state-owned enterprise as “shuhada” (martyrs). The same goes for the most coveted exam of this country. Bobbing our heads at the “luck factor” entails no wisdom. If you expect the bureaucracy of this country to be selected by sorcery, you should certainly expect them to run the country by such means too. Statements invoking the supernatural on naked governance flaws should come as no surprise, then.

Hence, selling ‘luck’ as the greater driving force of allocations is yet another way to hide the fact that something is seriously flawed with the FPSC’s checking process. True, the exam is tough, the journey is rigorous, but making it any ‘tougher’ would not solve the problem. There need be some set standards on the behalf of the paper-checkers who are approving the builders of the nation. Most of the guidance offered in the exam-preparation academies alludes to speculations on the “wish-list of an examiner”, which lays overdue emphasis on presentation and obsoletely flowery techniques, and less on your analysis. Even after this whole ordeal, mostly it is left to the whims and moods of that one stranger who might get hold of your paper. That, we say, is the “luck factor”.

The Commission needs to set its priorities straight. These are indeed lucky times when so many of the youth from highly-qualified local and international varsities are pouring in clusters, sacrificing their illustrious careers and working arduously to secure themselves well-deserved positions so that they could actually improve the system instead of bickering about it on social media. Letting these youth down after an incessantly long period of two years on account of some supernatural forces would only drive them further away from this country. Complaining about ‘brain-drain’ no longer works.

Secondly, the pictures and interviews of every exam topper claiming affiliations and gratitude to every coaching institute in Pakistan are another matter of humour and conspiracy on the internet lately. There is no conspiracy here. The newly-allocated officers spoke with a genuine association that cannot be feigned for the sake of publicity. However, the situation is more alarming than humorous.

A short disclaimer here: joining an academy for preparatory help calls for zero criticism. Some of the institutes do a great job of shaping young minds and provide a platform to rub shoulders with like-minded intellectuals. They also provide a great opportunity to those bureaucrats who mean to impart sincere knowledge and earn halal income in their post-office hours grind. If anything, the academies have only helped raise the standards and competitiveness of successive generations of aspiring youth.

But it comes with a caveat. With so many youngsters looking up to the toppers, most might not be able to afford even a single academy, let alone a jumble of those spelled out by the winners. On a holistic level, too many cooks spoil a broth; less is more, and this whole ‘branding’ might be sending out very wrong messages to the youngsters. All in all, the single examination in Pakistan that used to be renowned for its transparent recruitment procedure and accessibility to the middle-class is morphing into something ‘elitist’.

CSS, per se, is not attractive. No young man or woman would like to leave his professional degree behind to begin studying a whole new set of subjects hitherto alien to him/her, that too in pursuit of proportionately risky prospects. It is sought for the sole reason that the very government which was elected on: i.e. the promise of providing jobs and human dignity. But the system of competitive examination for the civil services, as it exists, has robbed our youth of both.

The only vacancies ever announced are filled on the basis of naked, grotesque nepotism. In these times of debauchery, the civil service remains the only hope, not only for the ridiculed, jobless professionals, but also for this nation.