English: A CSS Gatekeeper By M Nadeem Nadir

English: A CSS Gatekeeper By M Nadeem Nadir

After completing sixteen years of education, the students — finding nothing mentionable to aim at to get paid off of their previous education — think of attempting Competitive Examinations (CE) particularly for Central Superior Services. Navigating rudderless so far, abruptly they decide to lock horns with the goliath examination which requires cumulative learning and creative preparedness.

The written test, the first open sesame to join Civil Service of Pakistan, gives a tough time to the aspirants. Out of twelve papers, failure in any one subject throws a spanner in a student’s works. Quite unsurprisingly, the one subject that proves a bete noir for more than 97 per cent of students is the English essay. Unsurprising because the standard of pedagogy employed for English language is below par. But it becomes surprising when students who have received their formal education in English medium institutions fail miserably in both English Essay and Composition papers. The surprise turns into a shock when students with a master’s degree in English lag far behind others in acing the English essay writing.

One common trait in the students who fail English Essay and Composition is poor-to-absent habit of reading quality content. Even after post-graduation, they don’t convince themselves of reading any best seller book or prestigious newspaper. It is a time-tested advice of the best writers that to write good, one needs to read good. The skill of X-ray reading helps in understanding the nuances of writing style and semantic shades of words: it is called mastering a language through acquisition. Rhythmic sentences are a natural offshoot of this process. The other way is attaining a language through formal learning and teaching: it lends spontaneity to processing the thoughts into words. For our students who study English as a second language, the unslaked thirst for vocabulary is cardinal to write their heart out. Murray Bromberg quotes Henry Ward Beecher in the first lesson of his book, 504 Absolutely Essential Words: “All words are pegs to hang ideas on.”

The Federal Public Service Commission’s 2020 Annual Report is the real eye opener. On its page 86, the report records examiners’ observations on performance of candidates in English Precis and Composition: “Candidates seemed to be either ignorant or less conscious of the accuracy of syntax, spellings, punctuation and constructive drafting of a precis.” This scribe once was contacted by a student having a master’s degree in English literature from a famed university, and was a position holder in both secondary and higher secondary exams, but she had no clue either of parts of speech or of figures of speech, let alone description (telling what happened) or analysis (judging why something happened). She hadn’t known anything of reading an English newspaper or book beyond the syllabi, which equally eluded her.

The report, in its analysis of English Essay paper, tabulates that out of 18,553 students, only 376 passed while no candidate scored 60% and above marks. It underscores the significance of cumulative learning right from secondary and higher secondary levels. The report also stresses the need to consult authentic reference books and research articles. In its analysis of the English Literature paper on page 105, the report says: “They frequently made errors of grammar, punctuation and spellings. The answers reflected the fact that candidates lack appropriate vocabulary in order to express their ideas.” This writer personally knows many students with M Phil in English Literature who didn’t opt for English Literature paper in their CSS attempt. Why so? Because they resort to readymade notes and guide books to pass their university exam.

The report gives a clarion call against the archaic pedagogy employed for English: “There is a pressing need to change the methodology of teaching of English at different levels in our system of education especially at the grassroot level.”

Published in The Express Tribune, November 10th, 2023.

English: A CSS Gatekeeper By M Nadeem Nadir

Source: https://tribune.com.pk/story/2445648/english-a-css-gatekeeper

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