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English – ‘Elitist’ or Essential?

English – ‘Elitist’ or Essential?

By Krithika S

Edited by Nandita Singh, Senior Editor, The Indian Economist.

The Civil Services exam has once again been caught up in a mess. This time, for a reason as basic as the need for knowledge of the English language. Students have been protesting in Delhi to scrap the CSAT  (Civil Services Aptitude Test), which carries questions on logical reasoning, analytical skills, problem  solving, and a twenty-mark language comprehension section of grade ten English. As was expected, the central government has bowed down to populist demands by accepting to discount the marks scored in English in the final score.

With such a judgment, we can only imagine where our nation is heading. It is worrying that our future  bureaucrats and diplomats are making a hue and cry over an issue such as knowing English. Even more  worrisome is the fact that the Indian Government agreed to their demands.

Is testing basic class 10 English in a national level government examination too much to ask?

It is an established fact that our country is not unilingual, and many times English is used as a substitute for the local language. In fact, English is spoken by more number of people in India than any other  Indian language. By joining the civil services, these aspirants aim to serve the nation at various levels. As potential diplomats and bureaucrats, a basic knowledge of English is required to work effectively. If posted in a region of which one does not know the local language, s/he has to use English in order to communicate. Learning a new language every time is not possible. Knowing English is not unpatriotic, but practical. A diplomat posted abroad definitely needs to know English as s/he represents India at a global level. Can those in opposition still hold on to their childish stubbornness in view of this

Yes, I agree that testing English is a problem for aspirants coming from schools that do not teach in the English medium. However, expecting the rules to change, instead of just trying to learn English for a government exam, is unjustified, for even the UPSC was prepared to help such aspirants with their difficulties. Language barriers have always been an issue in terms of effective day-to-day functioning. Now, even though it may be saddening for some, English is used for everyday communication around the world. It is not ’elitist’, but essential.

It is not only the rules that are questioned here, but also the underlying purpose of them. A certain degree of eligibility is required to become a civil servant, and knowing English is one of them. Politicising the issue does not cover up the need for a vital qualification to become a government servant. Despite protesters still being unhappy with the verdict; as they want the testing of English to be scrapped completely; I foresee the present decision definitely affecting the quality of civil servants in the future.

Although she goes through an existential crisis every now and then, she somehow manages to keep herself sane in the company of friends, books, newspapers, internet and movies. Meanwhile, she is studying French in Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

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