Amid criticism of new UPSC rules making English compulsory in the civil services exam, a top academician, who headed the panel set up to recommend changes, said it had not emphasised on any particular language but only sought to judge a candidate’s communication ability.

“The committee suggested an examination pattern which would judge a candidate’s ability to communicate effectively, be it in any language,” former UGC Chairman Arun S. Nigavekar told PTI, adding the issue of language was not in the committee’s “terms of reference”.

He declined to comment on whether the inclusion of English in the civil services main exam was part of his committee’s recommendations.

The committee underlined the qualities a 21st century civil servant should possess to deal with the multi-dimensional challenges of the present-day world, Nigavekar said.

“In our recommendations, we gave a broader and generic outline of the same,” he said.

Noting that the role of a civil servant is becoming more and more demanding and a prospective bureaucrat would now be introduced to a comparatively more challenging work environment, the committee suggested a pattern where more than knowledge, the candidate’s ability to convert it at the operative level is tested.

Under the changes effective from this year, a 100 marks paper of English comprehension and precis will replace the English and Indian language papers, which were qualifying in nature and their marks were not included while forming the merit list.

The new pattern has sparked protests with the Chief Ministers of Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu — Shivraj Singh Chouhan and J. Jayalalithaa — expressing dissent over it and seeking Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s intervention.

In Maharashtra, the Shiv Sena has threatened to disrupt the Commission’s exams in the State if its demand to include Marathi in the syllabus was not met. The issue was also raised in Parliament.

“A civil servant shall not only identify the problems of his area, he should also be able to effectively communicate the same to his higher authorities so that a solution can be found,” Nigavekar said over phone from Pune on the panel’s recommendations.

When asked whether the new pattern will virtually block the entry of aspirants who have obtained education in Indian languages, he said recommendations were made keeping in mind the existing structure of the country’s education and no “expertise” over any particular subject was stressed upon.

Noting that English is a global language required for effective multi-level communication, Nigavekar observed that some changes become imperative towards working in a global environment.

“By no way I am underestimating any regional language. But you know, in the present day scenario, the global boundaries have disappeared and language has become the unit of currency. It is the light and sound of communication,” he said.

“We cannot shut down our window towards the changes of the world and at the same time, we should not get thrown away from our culture. This is what Gandhiji had in his vision,” Nigavekar said.

When told that countries such as China and Japan have made progress without laying stress on English, he said this phenomenon existed nearly a decade ago and now they too view language as a tool to deal with global competition.

“See, these days, you ask students to express themselves in a concise manner, be it be in any language, most of them will fail in doing so,” he said.

The students, however, have protested the new pattern, claiming that it dents the prospects of those who have undergone education through State education boards, where English is not much emphasised upon.

Ranvijay, a journalism post-graduate who left his job to prepare for the exam, claims the new pattern would shut the door for Hindi-medium students.

“Testing English abilities is fine. But why add their marks in the merit list? Earlier too the English paper was there, but it was of a qualifying nature. Wasn’t it enough to judge the communication skills,” asks Amarendra, a Ph.D researcher at Jawaharlal Nehru University.

(This article was published on March 15, 2013)
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