Civil Services Examination preparation: route to nation building or way to sapping productivity?

This article highlights several of the negative sides of civil service preparation, both on the individual, as well as on society. In this piece, I have also tried to touch upon the existing merits of the system.

Long serpentine queues of youth jostling each other to step into these institutes are a common sight for Delhiites. A few years ago, by chance, I landed up in one such institute, lost in the sea. Some of the pupils were there, mostly thanks to parental pressures, some due non-availability of other options, some to augment their chances in the lucrative marriage market. Of course, there was another core group who were all determined and dedicated towards nation-building. These were the young folks vouching for a seat in the much-vaunted Indian Administrative Service. Every year, close to a million Indians vie for the top 250 coveted positions on offer through civil services examination.

Indian Civil Services - Is it worth the hype?

Traditionally civil services have been reckoned as the numero-Uno occupation at least in the average Indian households, a notion which holds water in today's age too. Though the act of building a nation, hands on experience on formulating policies, enhancing the pitiable conditions of the downtrodden come to the fore as causative factors, a deep realistic look gives a different perspective altogether. It is more rooted in the mentalities ingrained in us as remnants of the bygone colonial era-general populace still has a deep set of notions attached to power, prestige and monetary benefits. Though post LPG reforms, things have changed for good, with several corporate profiles warranting equally similar benefits, if not more. But unfortunately, the realization hasn't reached the bulk of the masses in the country. It is high time our countrymen in general and civil service aspirants, in particular, understood why bureaucracy is not everyone's cup of tea and needn't be. As an aspirant one also needs to be cognizant of the twists and turns expected during preparation time, the budding stage, which every babu-to-be has to go through.

An irresistible trap in the making

A hard look into a civil service aspirant's journey reveals several dark clandestine sides of his venture into civil services examination preparation. It does play a pivotal role in the creation of temporary, if not permanent, dents in the candidate's personal and professional lives. More often than not, these areas are comfortably pushed to the back burner. Another would be the stipulated time span of the examination preparation cycle. Alarmingly many a pupil do get into a vicious trap of keeping on taking examinations years together, more to do with ego satisfaction. The stark realization of years gone by and irreversible changes in the world around them strike only at the fag end.

Age limits- An imminent re-look in the offing?

Next in the list would be the age limits to abide by the candidates, which is currently 21-32 (General Category), which unambiguously are the most energetic and productive years in one's professional life. Unverified sources claim that lakhs of aspirants leave their jobs and take up preparation as a primary vocation. This phenomenon is such formidable that the nation ends up losing the productivity of a sizeable section of its young population. The mean number of years spent on preparation is often observed to be not less than 2 years. Albeit we assume only a quarter of the pie work on preparations in a dedicated manner, the fact remains still evident that a mammoth half a million youth would still be battling it out relentlessly

Mental Health- Are we worried still?

Though aspirant remains the flag bearer in this entire saga, the impact on the close members of the family too cannot be discounted. Based on experiences shared by various aspirants, the humongous amounts of personal time and effort dedicated to the course of preparation driving in major wedges in their relationships. A paucity of time and energy for moulding bonding results in relationships breaking apart. Handling failures gracefully and in a psychologically mature way is another area of concern, which can't be discounted. Various independent sources claim that instances of suicides and mental derailments too are not that few. Sadly, mental conditioning and developing the qualities of handling victories and defeats in an egalitarian way are topics which are conveniently pushed under the carpet

Coaching Institutes- Can we have an ounce of genuine claims?

The methodology adopted by the general populace to clear the examinations and the role of coaching institutes also remains far less from ideal. Scores of big and small institutes dot the length and breadth of this vast country, with the concentration reaching a crescendo in major metros. Statistics suggest no less than five thousand pupils in a premium institute, and batch sizes are never less than 300-400. The real interesting part here is who exactly in the winner's list had really benefited from the coaching institute. More often than not, institutes get on a rat race to claim credit for someone else's success, despite knowing the fact that the candidate had near zero connection with the institute.

Optional papers- Parity is the key word

Selection of optional subjects is another area of concern, in which UPSC provides close to 50 papers to choose from. Candidates opting for non-related subjects, of the likes of language Maithili and Management compete with each other. Though UPSC adopts a scaling approach to ensure the parity, with close to a quarter of total marks at stake in optional papers, it is still a far cry from a fool proof non-partisan approach.

UPSC- Creator of ideals in youth

Despite having its own share of rarely discussed negatives, civil service preparation has quite a significant number of positives too. It provides an excellent platform for the youth to get imbibed with values of the constitution, fathom the hardships underwent by the forefathers to acquire the freedom of this country. It also helps in making the individual understand the values of patience, hard work and ethics in his day to day life. It does have the power to instil a sense of empathy and belonging to the society, which catapults the officer to work relentlessly.

Best among the best in India's steel bureaucratic framework

One can also not deny the fact that it's the cream of the Indian youth, which UPSC is able to rope in through its strenuous 3-step, year- long process year on year. This goes a long way in ensuring the steel framework of Indian bureaucracy, as envisioned by the Iron man of India, Sardar Patel remain in safe hands. Brightest and the most refined minds in the country gets a shot framing the policies and better execution methods for the beneficial projects to millions of their fellow beings

A few suggestions

Considering the pitfalls in the current system, a serious revamping of the entire procedure is highly warranted. UPSC needs to take up the reduction in age limit for the examination on top priority, albeit it impacting the vote banks adversely irrespective of the ruling dispensation. It also needs to take a hard look at the reduction in the total number of attempts which could be taken by a candidate. One needs to identify ways and means by which experts in specific and relevant areas to get into the system without an undue struggle. Finally, UPSC can look forward to reducing the opacity of the process in a long way, with improved access to the evaluation process, better and speedy responses to RTI queries etc.

Being someone who spent more than a couple of years putting in the hard yards at UPSC preparation, I feel, the sense of non-realization of the practical motive of one's life is what drives many into the preparation mode. A thorough self- reflection either by oneself or through external agencies could aid in a big way in the identification of one's goal in life. A young population lucid in their thoughts, ideas and motives is what any nation would strive for. As a closing note would genuinely hope to see a new crop of young men and women completely cognizant of their aims & targets getting into civil services preparation mode, since, in the end, the ultimate non-redeemable entity in life is the time lost.


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