CSS 2015: the current affairs paper
By Dr Qaisar Rashid

Should CSS candidates be judged on their ability to guess questions and do rote learning or should they be judged on their ability to do vast reading and express that in critical analysis?

Public Service Commission (FPSC) conducted the examination of the Central Superior Services (CSS) for the year 2015 to recruit future bureaucrats. Reportedly, more than 8,000 candidates from across the country participated. The knowledge of the CSS candidates on current affairs was tested on February 15.
An outsider to the system thinks that the FPSC must be conducting an examination that tests the analytical talent of the candidates. The subjective part (part two) of the paper of current affairs militates against this idea (part one, having objective type questions, was taken back after the candidates attempted it). In the said paper, the candidates had to attempt only four questions out of a given seven. This is a major structural flaw in the paper. The flaw promotes two trends: first, guessing the paper and, second, doing selective study. If the total number of questions were reduced to five out of which a candidate were to select any four, the trends of who guessed better and how to do selective study can be checked. The subjective part showcases another flaw on what parameters the candidates should be judged. Should CSS candidates be judged on their ability to guess questions and do rote learning or should they be judged on their ability to do vast reading and express that in critical analysis?
The first question asked was this: “Since 1970, every election was accused of rigging. What electoral reforms will you suggest to improve the electoral system of Pakistan?” In this question, the major emphasis was on giving suggestions in which all Pakistanis, whether literate or not, are expert. Though one can argue that there was an implied emphasis on identifying the problems first before giving suggestions, the question lacked the critical analysis aspect. Candidates could have been asked to make a comparative analysis with, for example, the Indian electoral system, which is functional in a better way. The second question asked was this: “What is the role of education in character building of a nation? Highlight pitfalls in Pakistan’s educations systems.” In the first half of this question, the emphasis was on developing a relationship between the role of education and the nation’s character building but, in the second half, the emphasis was changed to education systems. There was no correlation between the first and second halves. The second half completely overlooked the character building aspect. The second half could have been framed like this: Highlight major pitfalls in Pakistan’s education systems and the consequent character building problems.

The third question was this: “Define [the] term ‘good governance’. What measures should the present government take to improve its performance?” In this question, the term good governance is equated with performance despite the fact that governance is nearer to the word control whereas the word performance is nearer to the word enactment. Moreover, governance is only one measure to judge a government’s performance, as constructing roads can represent performance but not governance. The second half of the question should have been framed like this: Critically analyse the steps taken by the present government to improve governance and identify where there is room for improvement. The fourth question was: “Do you believe that [the] main cause of the 2014 floods was Indian ‘water terrorism’ or was it due to awful mismanagement of water resources in Pakistan?” It was a good question but at the end of this question, the examiner could have added, analyse or give arguments. The fifth question was: “What were the causes of the Arab Spring? Identify their impacts on the future politics of the region.” This question was framed in such a way as to make the meaning of “their” relevant to “causes” and not to “Arab Spring”, though it was another good question. It was confusing if the examiner wanted to know the impacts of the causes of the Arab Spring on future regional politics or of the Arab Spring. Moreover, the second half of the question could have been framed in a better way like this: To what extent can the future politics of the region be vulnerable to its (Arab Spring’s) effects. Analyse.

The sixth question was: “Do you agree that Pakistan’s role in the Afghan jihad against the Soviet Union was the root cause of terrorism in Pakistan or it is a reaction of the US’s invasion of Afghanistan after 9/11 and Pakistan’s U-turn in Afghan policy?” This was another good question but its end remained devoid of words such as analyse, give arguments or discuss. The seventh question was: “Critically evaluate the counter terrorism policy of Pakistan and suggest measures to eradicate this evil.” This was the second question on terrorism, as the implied meaning of “this evil” was terrorism. Moreover, the connection between the first half and the second half of the question was erroneous. There was a sudden shift from policy to terrorism. The question could be improved in this way: Critically evaluate the counter terrorism policy of Pakistan, find out flaws and suggest measures to improve it (i.e. the policy). That is, the focus should have been on the policy and not on terrorism.

Generally, out of these seven questions, three questions (education, governance and terrorism) were oft repeated and were anybody’s guess. In no way could these discriminate between those who studied the subject for a long time, say one year, and those who did not study it at all. Expectedly, most students must have attempted these three questions to be left with one more question to attempt from the rest. Secondly, the answer sheet may not help the examiner sort out those candidates having the critical analytical ability from those devoid of it. Thirdly, though there were certain good questions, they were not framed properly and the options to misunderstand them were plenty. Fourthly, many good topics existing in the syllabus, such as Pakistan’s economy and Pakistan’s bilateral or multilateral relations, were left out for no reason.

The writer is a freelance columnist and can be reached at qaisarrashid@yahoo.com