Stifling Creativity and our Education System
How to Prepare for CSS Essay
Why I’m not a fan of CSS Academies
Stifling Creativity and our Education System
Here I’m in the examination hall. At first glance on the list of topics – “Pakistan and the future of Kashmir Cause” seems like the only option to me. It’s time to think, brainstorm, and make a rough structure of my essay.
This is how I wrote: “In the past and the future, Pakistan has and will always support and stand behind the Kashmir Cause.”
And this is what I wanted to write: “Pakistan’s persistence on the Kashmir Cause has changed from an aggressive strategy of using Jihadi proxies in Kashmir to that of relying solely on the ‘others’.
This shift in strategy can be explained by Pakistan’s weaknesses as the Jihadi strategy failed to bring about anything substantial other than getting a bad reputation internationally and being grey-listed by FATF.”
I choose the safer way. Even though in the end, I was realistic in my conclusion. I couldn’t resist putting this line in my essay: “Mere speeches won’t do the job (referring to Imran Khan’s UN speech)”.
So you can say that I gave my touch to the essay even if the examiner dislikes it. This is my opinion and analysis. You can fail me if you want, but I’m not ready to surrender my thoughts and views.
“Don’t write against the State or go against the State’s narrative”, I was told by the teachers at the CSS academy in Islamabad. What is the purpose of conducting an exam, which discourages something fresh or new? Why not encourage the aspirants to do their research and let them come to their own conclusions irrespective of whether their narrative is aligned with the State?
The answer is: Pakistan’s education system is pathetic. Yes, it is pathetic because the emphasis is on CRAMMING rather than learning; there is no encouragement to be creative or to ask questions in the class. You must stand in the standard line and be another useless addition of the standardized products produced by our education system.
Let me give you one example of this rotten system. Our Pakistan Studies university teacher gave the class an assignment – it was about the breakup of Pakistan.
I was generally not interested in doing university assignments. But this one, I was eager to do it. I took my time to do my research – consulting a documentary on YouTube and other sources on the internet.
When I submitted the assignment, I was sure that I would get good marks. However, to my surprise, I only got 3.5 marks out of 10. I was shocked. So I went up to the teacher and asked her why is this so and please enlighten me if there are any mistakes.
She replied that the assignments were checked by her TA (Teacher Assistant) and that I will have to consult him. So she just ignored me and not even bothered to give it a read. By then I had lost patience and gave up.
After a few weeks, the next assignment came from the same teacher. Already discouraged by what I got in return from the previous assignment, this is what I did: copy-paste the material from Wikipedia and get the job done swiftly.
How many marks did I obtain? 6.5 out of 10. Yes, I got more marks from copy-pasting stuff than putting in long hours to produce something original and creative – you could differ on my analysis, but at least it was not copy-pasted from some source – which I could have easily done.
This kind of system and teaching is what needs to be changed.
Other than Pakistan Affairs paper (which I would discuss in my next blog), the CSS 2020 exams were mostly conceptual. But the education system needs to transform from the school level. Because most of the CSS aspirants come from the RATTA system so it’s not their fault but of the rotten system.
During the Current Affairs class for CSS preparation, my teacher said, “If there is a violent uprising by Kashmiris against the forceful occupation of India, it will be very good for Pakistan but terrible for Kashmiris as they will get badly beaten.”
Now, this was an awful thing to say. Because not only the statement itself is shocking, but how he said it as if Kashmiris getting beaten and tortured is not a concern at all. The only thing that matters is whether it will be good for Pakistan.
In the same academy, the Islamiat teacher mocked the Hindu religion, referring to “Hazrat Ibrahim’s idols destroying incident”, not knowing that there was a Hindu girl in the class. We expect non-Muslims to not insult our religious beliefs, but at the same time have no qualms about making fun of other religions.
If only we can have good and sensible teachers that encourage creativity and an open mind, it can go a long way in correcting the foundations of our poor education system.
How to Prepare for CSS Essay
Essay paper sums up the CSS exam i.e. it requires the vastness of knowledge instead of a specialized one. What I tried to find is identifying the different categories and the frequency of each category from the past papers (2000 to 2020). This much-needed analysis is important because the aspirants need to know what topics to prepare instead of relying on guess-work which is highly risky and not recommended at all.
I have assigned three broad categories – Miscellaneous, International Relations/Current Affairs, and Pakistan-related. The Miscellaneous category covers a wide range of topics such as Gender issues, Philosophy/General, Islam & Religion, Technology & Science, Education, Economy, Literature, Democracy, and etc.
To make the graph easier to understand and interpret, I have divided my analysis into four time periods: 2015 to 2020, 2010 to 2014, 2005 to 2009, and 2000 to 2004.
Here’s the graph from the time period 2020-2015:
So, let’s dissect this graph and delve into it deeper. In CSS essay paper 2019, there was not even a single Pakistan-related or IR/Current Affairs topic. All ten topics were miscellaneous. In CSS essay paper 2018, there were three Pakistan-related and three IR/Current Affairs topics. There were four topics other than miscellaneous ones in CSS essay paper 2017. The key point here is that ‘miscellaneous topics are important’ and you must not rely only on Pakistan-related or IR/Current Affairs topics.
Here’s the graph from the time period 2014-2010:
Again, miscellaneous topics have the most frequency by a big margin overall. This further proves that examiners want students to have broad-based knowledge instead of only relying on Pakistan-related topics.
Moving on, here’s the graph from the period 2009-2005:
As you can see above, miscellaneous topics are much higher in frequency compared to the other two categories. You can observe that in the 2008 exam, there was only one Pakistan-related topic.
Let’s look at the graph from the time period 2004-2000:
Once again, you can see the significance of miscellaneous topics. We can safely from this analysis that CSS aspirants must prepare the Essay exam thoroughly instead of hoping for the best.
Dissecting Miscellaneous topics:
I have made many sub-categories of the miscellaneous category.
(Note: Only those topics are included which are not directly related to Pakistan)
- Do we really need literature in our lives? (2020)
- Urdu literature and progressive movement. (2019)
- Literature is a lonely planet of idealists. (2017)
- Literature as a great cultural artifact. (2014)
- Literature is the best criticism of life. (2010)
- Humour in Urdu literature. (2006)
- Classrooms decide the future of the nation. (2019)
- Privatizing higher education-generating knowledge or making more money for the opulent. (2014)
- Meaning and purpose of education. (2013)
- Co-education, Merits and Demerits. (2009)
- Higher Education as an agent of change. (2007)
- Reforms in Examination systems. (2005)
- Higher Science Education in the developing countries. (2002)
- “Education has for its object the formation of character”. (2002)
- “Education makes a people easy to lead, but difficult to drive, easy to govern, but impossible to enslave”. (2000)
- Expanding information technology: a curse or blessing. (2019)
- The Emerging Power of Social Media: Prospects and Problems. (2018)
- The introduction of new technologies has radically altered identities. (2015)
- Advancement in science and technology is the gateway to the economic prosperity of a country. (2000)
- Women universities as agent of change. (2020)
- New Waves of feminism and our culture. (2019)
- Feminism is not really a Third World issue. (2017)
- Gender equality is a myth! (2016) [Repeated]
- There should be colleges and schools just for men/boys and some just for women/girls. (2013)
- The traditional male role changed in the last 20 years. (2013)
- Persecuted poor woman. (2005)
- IMF bailouts: road to stability or recipes for disaster. (2020)
- Real development should transform people’s lives, not just economic statistics. (2018)
- Does foreign aid help to achieve economic stability? (2016)
- Modern Banking, finance and employment are part of one single paradigm. (2004)
- Austerity as a solution of all our economic problems. (2002)
- . Economic prosperity of a nation is directly proportional to the level of literacy in it. (2001)
- Social and Economic Securities for Women in Islam. (2012)
- Religion has done more harm than help to human relations in the world. (2010)
- Status of Women in Islam. (2009)
- Peace the essential message of our religion. (2008)
- The image of Islam in the western world and responsibilities of the Muslim Ummah. (2007)
- Islam versus the West. (2005)
- Pluralistic vision of Islam. (2004)
- “Turn not thy cheek in scorn towards folk nor walk with pertness in the land”. (Al-Quran) (2001)
- Democracy and illiteracy do not move together. (2019)
- Democracy is a culture rather than a process. (2012)
- Truth is lived not taught. (2019)
- Truth is a rare commodity despite the freedom by the print and electronic media. (2011)
- Truth is short supply. (2006)
- The search for truth. (2005)
- Art for peace. (2019)
- Art Critics and reviewers. (2003)
- Art and Morality. (2002)
- “Every art is an imitation of nature”. (2002)
- Not economy but politics is a key to success. (2013)
- Politics is the art of possible. (2007)
- “Politics is perhaps the only profession for which no preparation is thought necessary”. (2002)
- “The purification of politics is an iridescent dream”. (2000)
- I do not agree with what you have to say, but I defend to death your right to say it. (2020) [Repeated]
- Free speech should have limitations. (2013)
- Power of Media in the modern world. (2009)
- Good governance and the role of a public servant. (2000)
- Public office is a public trust. (2001)
- Without accountability truth-finding commission, accountability is unachievable. (2010)
- “Justice delayed is justice denied”. (2001)
Books and Reading:
- “Of all the needs a book has, the chief need is that it be readable”. (2002)
- The pleasures of reading. (2011)
- Time management is the key note of success. (2008)
- Lots Of Folks Confuse Bad Management With Destiny. (2006)
- Let there be more light in the corridors of worship places. (2019)
- New war fronts lie in economic zones. (2019)
- Sometimes we do not see what we see. (2019)
- Too many of us are not living our dreams because we are living our fears. (2018)
- Beware the barrenness of a busy life! (2018)
- Modernity is an unending project. (2017)
- Ideologies thrive on notions of resistance, yet change is a simulation. (2017)
- Are modern wars not holy wars? (2017)
- Life without controversy is no life. But why one should not choose the safe haven of conformism? (2017)
- World as a global village: Learning to live together. (2016)
- We have to learn to be our own best friends, because we fall too easily into the trap of being our own worst enemies. (2016)
- Frailty, thy name is woman. (2016)
- Anticipation is often greater than realization. (2015)
- Punctuality is the virtue of bored. (2015)
- In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence. (2015)
- Luxury predecessors become the necessity of successors. (2015)
- When lift throws you lemons, make lemonade. (2015)
- Government should eliminate subsidies and incentives for manufacturers and consumers of electric cars as they are costly and do not do enough to protect the environment. (2015)
- Labor saving devices are more troublesome than they are worth. (2015)
- Language is a fit data for research in humanities and social sciences. (2014)
- Post-modern ethos – a challenge to the West. (2014)
- Look to the east for a holistic progress. (2014)
- Great nations win without fighting. (2014)
- Can meaning be fixed? (2014)
- The character of a nation can be judged by its symbolic narratives. (2014)
- Violence is the large refuge of the incompetent. (2014)
- Let me take care of today, tomorrow shall take care of itself. (2013)
- If gold rust what shall the iron do. (2013)
- Country life is better than city life. (2013)
- Modern day communication via social networks puts an end of true and sincere relationships. (2013)
- Obesity is the root cause of all diseases. (2012)
- Beggars cannot be choosers. (2012)
- Brains, like hearts, go where they are appreciated. (2012)
- The Emerging Power of Public Opinion. (2012)
- The Suffering Soul in the Scientific Age. (2012)
- Without good communication skills, life becomes impossible in the modern world. (2011)
- The time we live in is the winter of the world. (2011)
- Disaster management and government preparedness. (2011)
- Insanity in individuals is something rare but in groups, parties and nations it is the rule. (2011)
- All humans are born equal in dignity and rights but they are in shackles everywhere. (2010)
- Without independent truth-finding commission, accountability is unachievable. (2010)
- Health is not a condition of matter, but of mind. (2009)
- There is no great genius without a mixture of madness. (2009)
- Moral depravity is the root cause of poverty. (2008)
- Lack of discipline – a national disaster. (2008)
- Materialism in the death of spirituality. (2008)
- Poetry is the highest form of expression – the greatest proof is the Holy Quran. (2008)
- Dreams for future rely on the work of today. (2008)
- Can we prevent the Third World War? (2008)
- The more developed a country, the more lethally it is armed. (2007)
- A country is backward because its people are backward. (2007)
- ‘Brain, Like Hearts, Go Where They Are Appreciated’. (2006)
- ‘There Comes A Time To Put Aside Principles And Do What’s Right’. (2006)
- ‘We Grown Too Old Soon and Too Late Smart’. (2006)
- ‘Every Solution Breeds New Problems’. (2006)
- Strategies for the alleviation of poverty. (2005)
- The end of cheap oil. (2004)
- All recorded history is contemporaneous. (2004)
- Longing for Love. (2004)
- “A long Dispute means that both parties are wrong”. (2004)
- Peer Pressure. (2004)
- Formal and Casual dressing Codes. (2003)
- Attitude of indifference. (2003)
- “Only the wisest and stupidest of men never change”.———Kung Fu-Tzu Confucius. (2003)
- Young habits die-hard. (2003)
- “A little philosophy inclincth man’s mind to atheism; but depth in philosophy bringeth man’s minds about to religion”. (2002)
- National integration. (2001)
- “Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes”. (2001)
- . It is not only fine feathers that make fine birds. (2001)
- On tolerance. (2001)
- Self-conceit may lead to self-destruction. (2001)
- He who eats the fruit should at least plant the seed. (2001)
- “The best place to find a helping hand is at the end of your arm”. (2001)
- Sweet are the uses of adversity. (2000)
- “Hero-worship is the strongest where there is least regard for human freedom”. (2000)
- The barbarity of ethnic cleansing. (2000)
- “We never know the worth of water till the well is dry”. (2000)
- “If you wish the sympathy of broad manes, then you must tell them the crudest and most stupid things”. (2000)
- “Personal liberty is the paramount essential to human dignity and human happiness”. (2000)
For Pakistan-related topics, you need to prepare all issues – education, economy, foreign policy, gender issues, climate change, and all domestic issues.
For international relations and current affairs topics, you need to prepare all issues prevalent at the time. It is very hard to guess which topic will be asked for sure so luck matters a lot. But that doesn’t mean you leave it all on good fortune.
And for the miscellaneous topics, this is the hardest to guess. But one can increase his/her general knowledge and practice writing on different topics.
To sum up, the examiner wants to test the knowledge and analytical ability of the candidates. The examiners are trying to negate rote learning and copy-pasting. Any candidate no matter how brilliant he/she is cannot know everything. So, even if you can write a quality essay on any one or two out of the 10 given topics, chances are that you’ll be fine.
What I mean by ‘quality essay’ is this: a) You have to comprehend the topic first so that whatever you write is relevant to the topic. b) There should a proper sequence of the essay. For instance, in the 2020 essay exam, I chose “Pakistan and the future of Kashmir Cause”. I began the essay by writing my stance. It went like this: “Pakistan has always stood for Kashmir Cause and will never turn its back on it”. Then, I described what exactly is the ‘Kashmir Cause’. c) Do not repeat your points or arguments. If you are unable to add more points, do not try to repeat the already written points by rephrasing them. There’s no point in increasing the length of your essay if you’re going to do it with repetitions. d) Use simple English if you don’t know how to use a specific ‘phrase’ in a sentence. For example, do not write like this gentleman who happens to be in Foreign Service (Consul General), and is also a CSS mentor.
First, “academic sky is the limit”? Really? A CSS mentor who commits basic grammar mistakes. *Applauds*. So, please write within your limits, and do no commit such basic errors in the exam.
Second, attendance matters only when the teacher is good enough. And, in Pakistan, good teachers are a rarity. My point is that your arguments should be solid enough to convince the examiner.
If you feel that your written English is not up to the mark, read, read, and read. Make a summary of whatever you read because once you start writing regularly, you can get it checked by a tutor or someone you think is good enough for that role. In this way, you can rectify the grammar mistakes, and eventually become a better writer.
Why I’m not a fan of CSS Academies
CSS academies are a thriving business. And, I’ve no problems whatsoever if they are doing well financially. My issue is simply this: Are they providing value for money? Should an aspirant spend thousands of money on it? (I spent 60 thousand rupees on a full course which included both compulsory and optional subjects.)
First, some teachers at the CSS academies are promoting a culture of spoon-feeding and rote-memorization. I say this because I’ve experienced it myself at the NOA academy in Islamabad. During the Current Affairs classes, the teacher was verbally making the students write down notes. Because of this practice, I only attended a few Current Affairs classes because I’m completely against this practice. It was not like the teacher made the students write down notes for some duration of the class, but this went on throughout the whole duration of the class.
Why am I against this even though some students I talked to were in favor of it?
Because it is further promoting a culture of rote-memorization. And, it makes complete sense why most students like this way of teaching. The reason being that our education system barring O and A Levels or foreign education systems is mainly based on rote-memorization. Plus, at the academy, most female students and some male students were least interested in current affairs. They were only studying it because it is a mandatory subject in the CSS exam. Some of the students I talked to found this ‘exercise in rote-memorization’ to be helpful as they didn’t have to make notes of current affairs themselves.
Still, I would say, there is a better way. Why not incorporate both? – providing notes, and building an understanding of the subject. The teacher should use the time to help students build an understanding of the subject, and give printed notes to the students instead of verbally making them write the notes during the class. As they say, “kill two birds with one stone”.
In fact, at the same academy, Criminology’s teacher was against this practice of ‘making the students write down notes’. In his opinion, it is the ‘easiest thing a teacher can do’. He is damn right.
NOA academy Islamabad, however, did offer a benefit to me. It gave me clarity about the CSS exams as to what I have to do, and what I don’t have to do during attempting the dreaded CSS exams. For instance, one particular teacher at the academy told the students that ‘we must not mention or give the example of a recent public official be it, politician or judge, in the written exam. He was teaching us on the topic: Judicial activism. So he stated that we must not give the example of recent Chief Justices like Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry or any other recent Chief Justice. We can, however, give the example of the Chief Justices of the past such as Cheif Justice Muhammad Munir.
It didn’t make sense to me because I should be allowed to give a relevant example and if that means I have to mention a recent Chief Justice whether on positive or negative light, so be it.
The respected teacher’s reasoning was that it is better to avoid giving current examples because that risks upsetting the examiner if your criticism of any ‘XYZ’ public official doesn’t go well with him.
Guidance on such matters is important, though, it can puzzle the aspirants if there are ‘two-contradictory’ opinions on important matters such as deciding which CSS subjects to opt for. One school of thought is that one should consider the scoring trends of CSS optional subjects, and then decide which subject to choose. The other school of thought believes that aspirants should not look at the scoring trends, as it is just a trend which can keep on fluctuating, and it has no bearing whatsoever whether which subject is more difficult to score higher marks or not. From what I remember, there were at least two teachers in the NOA CSS academy, whose suggestion was to look at these two things: ‘prior knowledge about the particular subject in your consideration’, and ‘your interest in that particular subject’, before deciding which subject to opt for. For them, basing CSS subject selection by looking at trends is the wrong approach. I, not only agree with the second school of thought; in fact, I won’t hesitate in saying that the first school of thought is complete NONSENSE!
There is another issue that I want to stress upon. This issue, however, is more to be blamed on the lazy CSS aspirants. I’m talking about relying on ‘guess-work’. Lazy students including myself are inclined to skip some part of the syllabus because there’s just too much to cover and too little time. And, teachers, do not shy away from giving their list of ‘important topics’. These so-called important topics are just a ‘guess-work’, and relying on it can be risky. I think it is the students’ folly, rather than of the teachers. The aspirants should be wise enough to be aware of the unpredictable nature of the exam.
When it comes to the CSS exam, you simply cannot rely on guess-work or selective study.
There were good teachers, mediocre ones, and
few a pathetic one. This ‘pathetic teacher’ would stand behind the podium and read off from his notes throughout the entire class. To give a clue, this gentleman taught Psychology.
In short, the NOA academy in Islamabad did provide the necessary guidance, but it was certainly not worth 60 thousand rupees.