Are Indian Civil Service Exams Biased?

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Recent protests by students in India against the Civil Service Aptitude Test(CSAT) for language bias has created great controversy, but are their demands practical?

This year, a push to reform the Civil Services Pre-Exam in India gained momentum. Since the introduction of the Civil Services Aptitude Test (CSAT) in 2011, students have responded negatively to an alleged bias in favour of English-speaking students. Recently, thousands of students across India protested and fasted in support of removing the CSAT from the selection process.

The Civil Services preliminary examination is divided into two parts – General Studies and the CSAT. The General Studies section consists of 100 questions and the CSAT consists of 80. However, the marks required to qualify General Studies is 30 points, as opposed to 70 for the CSAT. Those against the current standards often point to the weight of the CSAT as problematic.

The CSAT is one of the first steps towards entering the Indian bureaucracy. The structure of the CSAT is the main bone of contention, as many aspirants feel is biased towards English-speaking technical and management students and should be scrapped.

Government Response

In March of this year, the government reacted to the protests by creating a three-person committee under the chairmanship of former Personnel Secretary Arvind Verma to examine the issues outlined by students.

After the latest protests, the government asked the panel to submit its report. The committee recommended retaining the status quo of the examination process in August, concluding that the CSAT is a scientifically formulated exam and should not be altered.

Supporters Come to CSAT’s Defense

CSAT’s advocates point out that because a majority of government work happens in English, changing the requirement would be counterproductive. English, also, is a global language of commerce. Students who pass the preliminary stage eventually write a paper in English worth 300 points within the primary exam.

Additionally, the post-selection process is in English. If the government changes the CSAT requirements, it may well necessitate adapting further steps in the civil service selection process to accommodate the varying levels of English comprehension of applicants.

Lost in Translation

According to a report from IBNlive, students have also taken issue with the quality of English-to-Hindi translation within the exam. It uses Google Translate heavily, which puts aspiring employees from India’s Hindi-speaking areas at a disadvantage and has allegedly become a roadblock to their qualification.

Questions in English are haphazardly translated in Hindi through Google’s service which gives the literal meaning of the word. In language, context is often critical for comprehension. The Verma committee recognized this concern and recommended that the quality of English to Hindi translation in CSAT paper should be improved.

Learning Language Matters

English is a global language – one of five the United Nations General Secretariat recognizes – so emitting such a requirement may not benefit new hires into agencies such as the Indian Foreign Service.

It is important to note that these requirements also reflect a quality disparity in the educational trends within India.

Those opposed to the current examination structure, primarily students studying subjects in the arts and social sciences, state that their educational background does not prepare them for what the CSAT requires.

This is especially true when they compete against students from science, technology, and medicine backgrounds – who can opt to take exams concerning the humanities rather than their respective disciplines and generally enjoy a higher aptitude for English.

While the government maintains the CSAT is a sufficiently effective safeguard for holding language standards in place for civil service entry, the wider challenge facing the country is improving English comprehension training across all areas of study.

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