By Saeed Ullah Khan Wazir.
According to the annual FPSC reports, just 2.09pc of the students who had sat the Central Superior Services (CSS) exams passed, with 92pc failing in English. The authorities concerned criticized the deteriorating standard of the syllabus, teaching methods and education quality. In this write-up, I will not dwell upon administrative and academic technicalities of the whole system, but will restrict myself to delve deeply into the major causes of failure in the English Essay and the English Précis and Composition papers.
To begin with, the essay paper is the most difficult and straight knockout paper. In English, being a second language, the fate of success or failure hinges on enviable proficiency and immaculate competence. The most glaring causes of failure are as follows.
Lack of understanding the topic holistically
Essay topics are generally open-ended; do not have a planned ending, so it may develop in several ways. They are teeming with pregnant meanings, having two dimensions i.e. intellectual and practical. Unfortunately, due to lack of clinical and multi-dimensional understanding and knowledge, mostly candidates come up with unproductive work instead of balance between different dimensions. There appears to be a marked disconnect in cognitive abilities to handle a subject matter skillfully, rendering the whole exercise patchy and unconvincing. For example, there was an essay on ‘war on terror and human rights abuse’. Students badly failed to decode its global relevance and instead wrote on terrorism in Pakistan-specific context.
Disorganization and no cohesion and coherence
Candidates churn out scripts lacking in coherence, organization and focus, ideas and thoughts exhibited little logical reasoning or research based facts and arguments. Imaginative, creative and professional endeavors, the hallmarks of competitive candidates, are missing abysmally; majority of them did not know the basics of essay like collocational well-defined vocabulary, graphic paragraphs division and grammar-related sensitivities.
Faulty, specious art of argumentation
Majority of candidates are not aware of the correct use of inductive and deductive approaches. An argument has one or more premises and one conclusion, a large majority of the candidates incorporated formulaic, conventional, crammed up material in the essays. They are unable to explore argument from multiple angles and substantiate it with facts and figures.
Lack of fulfilling required length and error free language
Owing to lack of rigorous practice and scientifically retained and accurate knowledge, candidates do not fulfill the criterion of required length, ranging from three to five thousand words. The essays are also replete with egregious errors of grammar, spellings and punctuation.
Flawed outline structure
Outline tends to be Outline tends to be a scaffold. The outlines of the essays are not properly framed and implemented both in terms of sequence and utility. They are either too brief or much extensive paving the way for glossing over important points.
The paper of the précis is even more technical and diverse, consisting of both exhaustive objective and strenuous subjective parts. The following root causes are attributed to the major failure ratio.
Words are the currency of communication. They use very conventional, elementary and contextually poor vocabulary items which render them unable to grasp ideas and think more logically, curtail power of persuasion and do not make a good impression on examiner.
The art of précis and composition writing is abysmal
They do not know the strategies of making précis writing in a befitting manner, which exposes their lack of practice and knowledge of how a comprehensive note is written. They overlook functional and communicative aspect paving the way for semantically and syntactically incorrect, unprofessional piece of writing. Moreover, they do not know proper requirements of the third person and past tense, produce précis in paragraphs’ form, direct speech and weak vocabulary.
Translation from one language to another is a technical task requiring strong command over syntax, phraseology and etymology of words to effectively translate the given Urdu paragraph into true substance and style. Students, due to lack of exposure to English as a language rather than as a subject, could not come up with logical and meaningful whole.
Students fail badly in grammar due to lack of expertise in writing conventions such as capitalization, punctuation, spelling and other technical aspects. Mother tongue interference, supra segmental features, over-generalization, bad models and weak use of multiple sentences make writing less effective and scoring.
The silver lining lies in true solutions. With guarded optimism and hardworking, I will explain in detail techniques, strategies and solutions to this problem of gargantuan proportions in the next write-up.
Saeed Ullah Khan Wazir is a freelance writer,human rights activist,aspirant to CSS and having specialization in English Literature and Linguistics from NUML,Islamabad. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.