The CSS Conundrum

The approximate 2% pass percentage in the 2016 CSS exam not only came as a blow to the public but managed to reinforce its image as the most difficult test to crack. Out of 9643 candidates, only 202 were able to pass the written test. Still, lesser would make it through the interview and Viva-voice. A great controversy and debate have emerged around this faltering percentage. Some analysts have pointed fingers at the falling educational standards. Meanwhile, the unqualified students objected to the merit and standard of the exam. Surprisingly, some claimed that the exam is just too difficult. One of the viewpoints even held that the exam itself is a platform for the state to indoctrinate state’s ideology. Amidst these prevalent potential explanations, this article attempts to introduce another perspective in this already complex scenario; a viewpoint that doesn’t aim at the formal structure of education system.

In an article in Express Tribune, CSS preparation academies were claimed to inculcate “a metanarrative, loyalty to an officially sanctioned ideology…”. The author might be true on his part, but this in no way justifies the blame. Academies and coaching centers don’t even try to teach differing opinions. Students recently graduated from the exam have only 6 months up to a year for preparation. That is too short a period to produce opinions and worldview of their own. An analogy with the O/A Level coaching centers sheds an analogous light to the scenario. In the coaching centers, teachers concentrate on teaching what to write and what not to write. What would earn marks and what would act as fillers? What to include and what to exclude. What questions to repeatedly practice and what answers to write. For example, in the case of Pakistan Studies and Islamiyat as subjects, tuition centers emphasize students to write keeping in the view the outline in the published mark schemes by CIEs (as long as this yield marks). Students compare their degree of preparedness by stating the number of times they have revised the past papers. However, this is not claimed as adherence to an already “sanctioned ideology”.

The point boils down to the claim that a sub-par academy culture does not necessarily mean that the examination promotes such an approach. Many candidates, who have joined coaching centers for just about two to three months, prepared the rest of the year at home and ultimately cleared the exam with securing the group of their preference. If it had anything to do with the education system in general, then the cause for the failure must not have concentrated around these two subjects. Instead, it should have been evenly dispersed around all the subjects. Additionally, if the author’s claim is true, if the exam only accepts words aligned with the status quo, then LUMS recently would not have achieved the highest Pass-Fail ratio in CSS exams. LUMS, which operates excessively on freedom of thought, they would not have achieved these numbers.

The fault does not lie with the education system alone but the values we prioritize, the ideas we admire and the aims we foster. English essay is, in its essence, critical and thought-provoking. It not only requires a proficient command over the language but also an enriched and intellectual mind. Such low numbers indicate the dearth of thought that we all suffer from. Albeit it requires proficiency but would those words bring any good to the community if they are themselves void of substance or thought? The reforms in the education system must not only be limited to its formal structure but to the content it claims to impart. Maybe it’s time we need to teach philosophical undertakings to our youth. Maybe we need to impart our own values and define them. Maybe we need to get a step higher from mere ‘natural sciences’ and make common the sciences of our lives. Only then we achieve students who possess thoughts of steel. Maybe then, they could be able to breathe lives into the words.

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