Sunday, May 19, 2024

What UPSC examinations demand from the aspirants


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By Benjamin Lyngdoh

Meghalaya’s reaction to the poor showing in UPSC examinations is mostly emotional with no substantive thinking. The atmosphere here is always quick to heat up and equally quick to cool down. Every year when the results for IAS, IPS, etc are declared, there is a flurry of chatter and concern over why ‘no one’ and/or ‘very few’ are able to scale India’s toughest and most prestigious examination. Then in a matter of few days the chatter and concern dies a natural death. No worries, Meghalaya will wake up to its concerns again in April/May, 2025. It is a perfect case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’. The common reasons given are lack of hard work, dedication, determination, etc. However, the systemic problem area is a lot deeper and alarming.
Values and culture are the most important elements for progress and success. It is time for society at large and individual households in particular to do some soul searching on the values and culture that they nurture and uphold. Talks and discussions on subject-matters like the UPSC examinations are not really of interest for the majority of families. Even if the talk on it happens, it is more on the lines of its difficulty and complexity. To break it all down, families hardly have time to at least even dine together with their children and discuss on career paths and ambitions. Career-based goal setting is still a missing element for most youth. In fact, now a new trend is evolving. If one tries to chat with the youth on their future careers and current studies, there is a tendency of many to dodge the talk or divert to something else and even just snub and leave altogether. Something is not happening right in households when it comes to motivating the young to try for higher and harder things. Well, at least try, success or failure is a different matter. The point is that continuous talking and chatting on such examinations can help the young to conquer their fears and motivate them to take that all important leap into experiencing it.
Educational institutions focus a lot on teaching about concepts, subjects, practice, etc. One area which has been left unattended for so long is ‘work ethic.’ This is the missing ingredient which when present would produce a rich workforce of responsible workers. The university education system has to play a major role here. In today’s era of learning and extensive scope for self-learning through various free IT solutions, the students have the opportunity to learn and train a lot even before they come to bachelor’s education. Colleges then become the breeding grounds for nurturing a mindset for hard work and drive to succeed in life. This is true for universities that administer masters and professional education. At such a level, mundane and rote teaching-learning should be less and more focus laid on interventions and directions that the students would take as they make a final dash for their careers.
For example, in today’s business management scenario almost everything is done using software and mobile applications – from finance to marketing to human resources to operations, etc. Unless a work ethic is there to match such developments, education would continue to lose its market relevance. This type of dedicated work ethic is of the highest demand in UPSC examinations. For such aspirants, this is the first and last demand.
One unique feature of UPSC examinations is that it requires a lot of analytical and writing skills. The capability to write descriptive answers is the real test. It requires the aspirants to be able to write paragraphs on a plethora of issues related to a particular subject. Writing is an art that can be honed and perfected. These days this art is dying due to the advent of many online tools that has made writing a rudimentary task. Mistakes are auto-corrected and sentences are auto-suggested. While this is a good development, it does not help those who are on the try-out for old-school hardcore UPSC examinations that require and demand a lot of non-verbal and writing skills.
The main reason for the gradual demise of creative writing is the excess use of social media platforms. Numerous studies have shown that its frequent use leads to a degradation of face-to-face communication skills, decreases the ability to generate meaningful non-verbal and written content, decreases attentiveness and concentration, increases the use of abbreviations, etc. The more serious impacts are increased risk of anxiety, loneliness, depression, etc. Looking at how social media is detrimental to knowledge value addition, it is better to shun it altogether while preparing for examinations.
In a recent students’ interaction programme at NEHU, Manuel Badwar (Secretary, Meghalaya Pradesh Congress Committee) narrated on how the students of today have knowledge and skills but somehow they are ‘fluffy’. His point was on the nature of most youth being timid and showing a lack of courage to face problems and obstacles. He opined this tendency as the ‘lack of grit’. The point is tenable as in today’s age of rat-race competition grit and tenacity is all that matters at times. This is what defines drive, motive, dedication, hard work, etc. Together with work ethic, a quantum of grit is thus an absolute necessity. The soft skills and capacity programmes these days focus only on communication, presentation skills, facing interviews, etc. It is time to add a module on toughness, grit and tenacity so as to make the youth flexible and tough and not give-in to pressure easily. There was a time when the saying was ‘knowledge and skills for success,’ now it is time to add grit too to the list of determinants of success.
UPSC examinations for IFS, IAS, IPS, etc are indeed the mother of all examinations. It is also not everyone’s cup of tea. But, just imagine slaying dragons. It is better to try slaying big and scary dragons as even if one fails at it, the experience would be invaluable. Then the challenge to slay smaller dragons would become easier and with a far greater chance of success. There are many encouraging examples of those who could not clear UPSC, but, to them all other examinations and endeavours become a cakewalk. Whichever way one looks at it, trying for UPSC will ultimately result in one success or the other. This is how UPSC examinations are to be viewed – as a preparatory step for all other types of challenges. In actuality, it is just not an examination, but a training ground for building confident personalities. Hence, give it a go as the experience and the toughness that comes from preparing for it will surely add to the shaping of a successful career path.
Amidst all this, the bitter truth is that performance in UPSC examinations is one of the main parameters to gauge the progress of a society. The more the UPSC officers, the better becomes the image and reputation of a society. Like it or not, that is how it is!
(The writer teaches at NEHU; email: [email protected])

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