Those who should know better are currently creating a lot of confusion over the Civil Services Aptitude Test (CSAT). The findings of the committee on training and recruitment of the higher civil services, which I chaired and which produced the reforms in the early part of the last decade, were kept secret for many years. But then somebody put it up on the web and the government declassified it. So now we can speak the truth.
First, let’s have some facts. The present controversy is driven by the vested interests of the large teaching shop industry, which exploits the poor Indian families that fund the civil service aspirants. The committee I chaired had conducted a survey and found that, even in those days, that is, almost 15 years ago, an average of about Rs 1 lakh a year was spent on preparations for the exams. This cost was multiplied for repeaters. Poor children from rural backgrounds just fell by the wayside. The more affluent persisted as repeaters. It is being said that the CSAT leads to poor children from backward areas being discriminated against. In fact, the statistics show it was the earlier system that really damaged opportunities for poor children.
The furore over English is a complete red herring. The earlier system, which required candidates to write a long essay in English, was straight out of Macaulay’s dream of relegating Indians to minor babudom. The teaching shops had a great time selling model essays for cramming. But English is not our mother tongue; it is a global language for commerce and so on. So the committee’s recommendation that it should be treated as a foreign tongue and only tested as a working language upset both the Angrezi crowd and the teaching shops. Nobody has the courage to explain that fact as the netas hold forth. The Union Public Service Commission and the government must ensure that the English test remains as designed.
The committee’s findings had shown that a general knowledge test can and should test innate intelligence. Its conversations with eminent Indians, over the course of almost six months, and its detailed preparations are ignored. Tens of thousands of candidates apply for the civil services examination. Only a few hundred qualify and finally, even fewer are selected for the services. By the end of the process, the candidates chosen are among the best in the country in terms of intelligence. This intelligence or ability is not concentrated in urban areas or with candidates who follow one particular discipline. In fact, in those days, JNU students did better than IIT and IIM kids.
The CSAT was to be structured to test capabilities, and to argue that the test is against continued…