The ‘blanking’ years

The ‘blanking’ years

It’s been the longest break for Nagaland in the last decade or so. For the last three years, there is an acute dearth of Nagas from the state clearing the UPSC’s Civil Services Exam. This is in stark contrast to the scene around ten years back when at least a name or two from Nagaland would figure in the coveted list every year. In 2017, Swapneel Paul, hailing from Dimapur, managed to put the state in some reckoning.

What has resulted in such a state of affairs today? There is no single definitive answer as to the whys. Without looking at the personal side of the story, some underlying factors, not necessarily exhaustive, can be identified.

First, the method of teaching as well as the way Board exam questions are set in Nagaland leaves much to be desired. The school curriculum, per se, is not to be blamed as it is updated regularly as per the directives and requirements set nationally. Then, does the problem lies with the culture of rote memory and readymade notes given by teachers from high school to even college level?

In the light of such a spoon-fed environment, there is hardly any room for developing a student’s analytical skills, concurred one officer, who cleared the exam in 2013. “It is to be noted that competitive exams at the national level are becoming more and more knowledge-cum-analytical based.”

The traditions of students asking questions are minimal in Nagaland. Sometimes, even the learning environment – due to various factors, personal or otherwise- are not very encouraging for those students who tend to ask ‘too many’ questions. In fact, branding a student as ‘over smart’ or ‘misfit’ for being curious enough to be more inquisitive is a reality. It might be resulting in a pervasive education culture, where knowledge is accepted as given without any question and where there are hardly any discussions in the classrooms.

Is the current infatuation with the Nagaland Public Service Commission (NPSC) exam also affecting the outcome? Apart from the ethical and moral side of this preoccupation, from the competition point of view, the pattern of questions asked in UPSC and NPSC exams varies to a great degree. The former tends to be more factual based while the latter requires much analysis and reasoning in addition to the basic knowledge requirements.

Many civil service aspirants, thus, end up sitting for both the exams, trying to grapple with two types of exam system amidst unpredictable exam schedules (mostly NPSC), and end up either becoming master of none or giving up one in favour of the other at a later stage.

The support for civil servant aspirants from the state government has also been far from satisfactory. At a time when other state governments are spending lakhs and even financing the coaching of those who have qualified for Mains exams, the mere allocation of a few thousand rupees to those sitting for the Mains from the state is peanuts, comparatively. The lack of state support on the lines of other states puts aspirants from our state, particularly those from poor families, at a great disadvantage. State support matters, particularly in exams like UPSC where competition is so intense that the fine line of difference between winners and losers are decided by how much support they have, in terms of having the means to access study materials and teaching.

The annual nationwide competitive examination conducted by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) is considered among the gateway to higher echelons of governance in India and invariably associated with power, prestige and status in the society. Success in the exam has also ramifications for the future in state polity.

On the occasion of Civil Services Day (April 21), Nagaland has every reason to be mournful of the missed opportunities of an entire generation. A hat trick of ‘Nils’ is an immeasurable loss. The need of the hour is to overhaul the entire education system and culture.

The objective of the current appraisal is to create a starting point for discussion and introspection on what has resulted in such a dismal performance, especially of the post-1990 generation, in competitive exams at the national level, and it needs further scrutiny.