Dr. Qaisar Rashid |
The kind of questions asked offers an insight into the quality of the interview panel (comprising five interviewers including the Chairman) conducting ongoing interviews of the candidates who had passed the written portion of the Competitive Superior Services (CSS) examination held by the Federal Public Service Commission (FPSC) in 2018.
Before 1989, the emphasis of the then interview panel used to be on asking questions meant for assessing the ability of a candidate to reproduce the gathered and collated information. This was the time when most candidates were from the linguistic background. Master’s in English was a conduit to success. At that time, a CSS candidate was supposed to be a know-all person.
In 2019, the incumbent interview panel is no more interested in knowing and exploring candidates in their areas of interest. The main reason for abandoning the practice could be that the interview panel does not come up with its homework done.
The practice of assessing the ability of a candidate to regurgitate the collected information had a downside. The practice deprived the candidates of the analytical ability. Young civil servants were roving encyclopedias but they were deficient in analytical knacks. They were trained cognitively to look at events superficially, and not deeply. The FPSC, however, realized (rightly so) that the country did not need encyclopedias.
Subsequently (around 1991), the practice of asking questions exploring the depth of knowledge of the candidates began, though the “Nelaam-Ghar” type questions also accompanied the opinion-seeking questions. During the interviews, the candidates were asked to speak up their areas of interest, and questions were asked from the claimed area.
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The rationale was that candidates having a grip of vast knowledge and understanding over an area of interest possessed a propensity for taking their assumed or assigned tasks attentively, and not perfunctorily. The practice was a palpable shift from asking questions to assess superficial knowledge to asking questions to assess deep knowledge. Unfortunately, this is now an abandoned practice.
In 2019, the incumbent interview panel is no more interested in knowing and exploring candidates in their areas of interest. The main reason for abandoning the practice could be that the interview panel does not come up with its homework done. That is, the interview panel is ill-prepared on the art and purpose of asking questions.
The FPSC has not conveyed it to the candidates the reason for such a shift in preference, which presumes that the youth of today are afflicted with decadence and hence is in need of a moral uplift (or any sort of edification).
The panel takes refuge in asking questions related to optional subjects of candidates. This may be acceptable as a new trend but the answers that are given remain a product of academic parroting – and not on the spot analysis. Resultantly, the correlation of a given concept with a current (or practical) situation remains both underemphasized and undervalued.
Underemphasized because answers already given in the books are given, and undervalued because candidates do not feel a need to reflect analytically on the current happenings. The candidate who can regurgitate better articulates the semblance of a better candidate. The interview panel gets satisfied with the knowledge parroted before it.
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A problem with the practice engenders a problem with the outcome. Candidates who have developed better analytical abilities find themselves hard-pressed between aping and creating knowledge. If questions exploring their analytical ability are not asked, they cannot express themselves analytically. Instead, the candidates competent in the technique of regurgitation can masquerade as more brilliant.
The ability to regurgitate knowledge is essentially an academic one as a key to academic success, but the tyranny is that regurgitation suppresses creativity. The mind remains engrossed in catching and retaining information to reproduce it, and not focused on catching and processing information to create new bits of knowledge.
Assessing the psychological bend of the candidates is important for many reasons including to differentiate between those fit for certain administrative posts and those misfit for the posts.
Within the context of asking questions, there has surfaced another issue. The FPSC is demanding from the candidates to mention on a paper (during the psychological test) the books meant for the moral uplift of the youth. That is, candidates are supposed to write down the titles of books (two or three in number) they have read recently on the topics related to the moral hoist of the youth.
This kind of instruction is a deviation from the past practice when the candidates used to mention books of their own choice expressing their intellectual expanse and disposition. The FPSC has not conveyed it to the candidates the reason for such a shift in preference, which presumes that the youth of today are afflicted with decadence and hence is in need of a moral uplift (or any sort of edification).
Similarly, the FPSC has not conveyed it to the candidates the reason for not focusing on the books challenging their cognitive makeup and enhancing their intellectual orientation. Apparently, valuing the intellectual depth and assessing the intellectual positioning of the candidates are the features seem to have been missing from the priorities of the incumbent interview panel.
To brave this challenge, as an adaptive species, most candidates are responding in two ways: either they are mentioning novels distilling a moral lesson or they are mentioning books available at the self-help shelves of bookshops. It is still a secret what has prompted the interview panel to look for prospective civil servants from the stock of candidates well-read on any moral uplift project.
This is a strategy of survival in a competitive world. It is also a secret what has prompted the FPSC (or the interview panel) to supervise the psychological part of the assessment.
Nevertheless, the new pro-moral amelioration strategy has liberated the interview panel from reading the summaries of books (provided by the FPSC) on current geopolitical and socio-economic developments to fathom the cognitive depth of the candidates appearing before them.
This time another feature also draws attention. The FPSC has permitted the interview panel to oversee the command task performed by the candidates. That is, a group of candidates performs the command task in front of the interview panel each day before the commencement of the interview session.
In the past, the task was performed before psychologists who used to compile a comprehensive psychology report of each candidate. Assessing the psychological bend of the candidates is important for many reasons including to differentiate between those fit for certain administrative posts and those misfit for the posts.
To meet the challenge, most candidates construct a personality (or at least make a display) impervious to probing questions. This is a strategy of survival in a competitive world. It is also a secret what has prompted the FPSC (or the interview panel) to supervise the psychological part of the assessment.
In short, the kind of questions being asked bespeaks an apparent deterioration in the quality of the interview panel. The FPSC has overlooked the fact that any viva voce is not a one-way process. The kind of questions asked reveals the thinking pattern of the interviewer.
The choice of questions and the way of framing questions also indicate the level of preparedness of the interview panel. Presently, the quality of the panel is substandard. The FPSC has to make more investment in the intellectual build-up of the interview panel that it rolls out for assessing CSS candidates.
Dr. Qaisar Rashid is a political analyst. The views expressed in this are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.