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           Volume 11 |Issue 13| March 30, 2012 |


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The BCS Quagmire

Akram Hosen Mamun

Bangladesh Civil Service (BCS) examinations are the most important phenomenon in the lives of an overwhelming majority of the graduates. For Sunjida Afrin, the 30th BCS examinations took two years after her graduation from University of Dhaka (DU). She was eliminated in the viva voce, the last phase of the exam. Since she had devoted much of her time and energy on the exams, and could not concentrate on any other jobs, she has ended up being a fresh graduate after two years of completion of her studies.

Some people spend even more of their time and energy on the BCS exams. “I had hopes to be a BCS cadre when I was an undergraduate student at DU. I had been preparing for the exams since my freshman years,” says Kamal Uddin, who has been sitting for the exams for the last six years. He has nearly reached the age limit for BCS exams and realises that it was a complete waste of time. “The most important period of my life has been spent for it. I'm still giving the exams,” he says.

Each phase of PSC's exams takes months to complete. Photo: Star File

Uncertainties hold sway over every phase of the exams. When Kamal graduated, there was no circular for BCS exams for two and a half years. He had to wait. “When they finally placed the ads, I applied and sat for the exams. But the preliminary, the written and the viva voce took two years to complete. I was eliminated in the viva,” he says, “When you have to wait for the exam for two and a half years after your graduation, and it takes another two years to know that you failed in the exams, you don't have much time left for anything else,” he adds. When he was persuing his dreams for civil service, Kamal's parents were under the added pressure of providing for him even after five years of his graduation.

Each phase of the exams takes months to complete. The preliminary exam starts months after placing the advertisement in the media. Applicants have to wait for the result for months. People who pass the preliminary test wait for the written tests to begin. The viva voce are no different. “By that time the result of viva voce was published, the preliminary tests of the next session of BCS test were under way, and I enrolled for that one too,” says Afrin.

The people who got recruited in the civil service through the BCS exams also remember that the lengthy procedure of exams left them in a dilemma. Mahbub Tipu, a senior lecturer at the department of Bangla, Manikgonj Govt. Mohila College, says, “It took me three years from submitting the application to finally get recruited. I was almost frustrated at that time. I could not concentrate on anything else during that time. There is no doubt that the process needs to be faster and more efficient.”

However, the recruitment procedure of Public Service Commission was not always so lengthy. Veteran educationist and Emeritus Professor at DU Serajul Islam Choudhury says, “PSC was obviously more efficient in the past. Within a year of graduation, the candidates who passed the exams could join cadre services in the 50s and 60s.” Many times more candidates sit for the BCS exams now than in the past. But Professor Choudhury points out that the Commission also has more technological facilities than anytime in the past.

“We have taken necessary steps to gradually reduce the time the exams take. From 33th BCS, we have started to take online applications, which will significantly reduce the time,” says AYM Nesar Uddin, Examination Controller (Cadre), Bangladesh Public Service Commission (PSC). The number of candidates for BCS exams has also increased significantly over the decades. “Only 10 years ago, we received 70-80 thousand applications for BCS exams. But now we get something like 1.8 lac applications for each exam. Notwithstanding this, the human resources at PSC have remained almost unchanged. We need more people to provide more efficient services. But still, we are trying to reduce time to one year in the near future.”

Many students prepare themselves for BCS exams from freshman year. Photo: Star File

Some candidates also doubt if the 55 percent reserved quotas leave enough opportunities for general candidates. Kamal and Afrin inform that 30 percent of the vacant positions are reserved for relatives of Muktijoddha, 10 percent for women, 10 percent for rural districts and 5 percent for indigenous candidates. They hope that more opportunities should be given to the meritorious candidates. Asked for his comment on this conjecture, Nesar Uddin says, “The reserved quotas are decided by the government. I think the government's decision is consistent with our constitution and I don't want to comment on that.”

There is also doubt that the questions of BCS exams often end up testing the memorising skills of candidates. “Questions that ask the candidates to identify the distance from Dhaka to Khulna by railway or the home district of Shamsur Rahman's paternal grand father are simply absurd,” asserts Professor Choudhury. He adds that the questions should focus more on the applicant's intelligence, inventiveness, and originality of thoughts. “In the age of internet, information like these need not be memorised by every individual. No effective aptitude assessment includes questions that focus entirely on the candidate's ability to memorise data,” he concludes.

However, most of the questions that appear in the preliminary exams are based solely on the candidates' ability to remember data. Mahbub Tipu remembers that the questions at BCS exams are diverse and have no specified area of focus. “As a result,” he says, “sometimes many deserving candidates with impressive academic records do not even get past the preliminary tests.”

Professor Choudhury says that for civil service, it is not enough to judge the candidate by his/her knowledge only. The test should rather focus on the application of knowledge in real life situations.

On the other hand, AYM Nesar Uddin holds that the preliminary exams are like screen tests. “One of the major objectives of that test is to reduce the number of candidates. It's impossible to take written tests of two hundred thousand candidates,” he says. The preliminary tests function as a way of reducing the number of people who will be sitting at the written exams.

It is understandable that through this process, many potential candidates get eliminated while those who can memorise facts and figures and recall them during the test can succeed.

People who get recruited through the BCS exams go to positions that are crucial to our nation's socio-political and economic development. There is no alternative to taking immediate steps to make the recruitment process more efficient and pragmatic so that the future bureaucrats will not have to lose valuable years.


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