Training minds

Published : May 08, 2009 00:00 IST

IAS and IPS probationers take the oath of allegiance to the Constitution at the Dr. MCR Human Resource Development Institute in Hyderabad in September 2008.-NAGARA GOPAL

IAS and IPS probationers take the oath of allegiance to the Constitution at the Dr. MCR Human Resource Development Institute in Hyderabad in September 2008.-NAGARA GOPAL

IF you find yourself being chased in the busy streets of New Delhi by random property dealers for rooms, in all possibility you are in one of those areas where coaching institutes for the civil services examination have mushroomed. The political economy around popular coaching institutes such as Raus IAS Study Circle, Vajiram and Ravi, and Khan Study Group draws a large chunk of civil services aspirants to the capital.

A survey suggests that four lakh people take the exam every year. And as it requires at least one year of intensive preparation and another year to finish the process, coaching institutes assume importance.

But why do so many seek to get into the civil services? It is a mix of high social prestige attached to the services and a desire to bring about a change in the system, says V.P. Gupta, the director of Raus IAS Study Circle. This view is supported by the increase in the number of aspirants taking the exam every year. Interestingly, the economic recession has drawn more people towards a career in high-profile bureaucracy.

The civil services exam has a three-tier system. Owing to the vast number of applicants, the Union Public Service Commission selects the best of the lot on the basis of an objective preliminary exam. Selected candidates write a main exam consisting of eight papers including General Studies, languages, and two optional papers. Candidates who clear the main exam are then called for a personality test or interview after which the final selection is done and the services are allotted rank wise. Generally, the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), the Indian Police Service (IPS) and the Indian Foreign Service (IFS) are the most preferred.

Over the years, the examination has seen many changes. For instance, the pattern of both the preliminary and main exams has shifted from direct questions to more analytical and application-based questions. Now subjects such as reasoning, science and technology, statistics and public administration are getting as much importance as Humanities. A.R. Khan of Khan Study Group says, We teach our students to apply their knowledge rather than just mug up facts.

The reason seems obvious. Since the inception of the Indian governments liberalisation policies in 1991, the role of bureaucrats, too, has seen a sea change from regulation to facilitation. When this is said, the general feeling that the importance of the civil services has gradually been decreasing proves to be completely wrong. The number of vacancies for the services has gone up from 200 or 300 to 700 or 800 in the last three or four years.

Experts say that the role of the facilitator that civil servants have come to play does not mean less work. Bureaucrats have many roles these days. The process of decentralisation in governance and the specialisation of tasks leading to the separation of departments has made the duties more demanding, says P.S. Ravindran, the director of Vajiram and Ravi.

One of the major reasons for the increase in posts was the Right to Information Act 2004, which necessitated the recruitment of new information officers to serve the Central Information Commission, which used to be manned by retired officials. The Central Vigilance Commission, formed in 2000, also needs more civil servants. Similarly, the birth of different Ministries, such as telecom, disinvestment and civil aviation, after the economic changes required more bureaucrats. And the requirement of security personnel, especially for the police services, in these disturbed times will also be fulfilled through the exam.

Of late, there has been a rise in the number of technocrats and doctors who write this exam. This would mean increased competition as the changing question paper pattern could be more suitable to them. However, some coaching institutes feel that it is wrong to say that the exam is more advantageous to science students, who, they feel, were at a disadvantage earlier because the General Studies paper had a tilt in the favour of Humanities students. This is where, perhaps, coaching institutes play an important part: by training students in a holistic way.

Coaching institutes also take care that students do not lose their spirit while preparing for this strenuous exam. We tell our students that the average attention span of any human being is not above 12 minutes, and then train our students to do effective reading to assimilate better. This infuses confidence in them, says Gupta.

While this tedious exam, sometimes considered to be the toughest in the world, could still be a matter of luck, one cannot deny that hard work generally pays. The journey through the exam in itself is so informative that one could use it in any profession. Gupta says, Learning about learning is actual learning. We must enjoy the journey of reading and preparing for the exam. If one sticks by this, perhaps, the civil services exam might not appear to be that difficult.

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