Learning Via Negativa, or addition through subtraction, is a highly useful technique to learn. Acting upon this principle, it is important to clarify, in the beginning, about what this article is not about. This is not a request to conduct Central Superior Services (CSS) examinations in Urdu. Nor does it argue usage of only Urdu as the medium of communication in the final interview. The only purpose is to highlight to the Federal Public Service Commission (FPSC) the benefits of providing Urdu language as an option to speak for the candidate during the final viva based on the principle of providing equal opportunity.

There is precedent as well. Bilingual mode of interview is currently being practised in Indian Administrative Services (IAS), Bangladesh Civil Services (BCS) and Sri Lankan Administrative Service (SLAS) where an option is provided to the interview candidate to speak either in English or their native language.

Pakistan’s education system, comprising 180,846 public institutions and 80,057 private ones, is a vibrant mixture of linguistic diversity.

With 31% of educational institutes run by the private sector and 69% by public entities, there is a significant variation in the medium of instruction across the country. Notably, Urdu serves as the medium of instruction in about 65% of these institutions, while English is used in only 10.4%. This disparity in language mediums has profound implications for Pakistan’s civil services interview process.

The linguistic diversity in Pakistan is further highlighted by the existence of 74 languages, underscoring the country’s rich cultural and linguistic tapestry.

However, the recent Mixed Indicators Cluster Survey and the Annual Status of Education Report reveal a concerning trend: despite the emphasis on English as the medium of instruction (MOI) over the past decade, less than 50% of Punjab’s youth can read basic English words. This statistic is not just a reflection of the educational system’s challenges but also a clear call for reevaluating the language requirements in critical areas like civil services.

The current practice of conducting Civil Services interviews predominantly in English may inadvertently disadvantage a significant portion of the population. These are individuals who, despite being intelligent, hardworking, and possessing street-smart skills, may not be as proficient in English due to their educational background.

Their potential and capabilities, therefore, remain unrecognised and underutilised, a loss not just for the individual but for the nation as a whole.

Offering the option to interview in either Urdu or English would be a strategic move towards inclusivity and fairness. It would allow candidates to express themselves in the language they are most comfortable with, ensuring that their true abilities and potential are accurately assessed.

This approach aligns with the reality of Pakistan’s educational landscape, where the majority of students are educated in Urdu. It also respects the linguistic diversity of the country, acknowledging that proficiency in English should not be the sole determinant of a candidate’s suitability for civil service.

Research into cognitive advantages of bilingualism shows that it leads to improved memory and attention to detail meaning that candidates, when interviewed in their mother tongue, can provide more robust reasoning and sophisticated responses.

This ability is critical for civil servants who must navigate intricate policy and administrative challenges. Allowing interviews in Urdu could lead to a more accurate assessment of a candidate’s potential and capabilities, ensuring that the civil service attracts and retains the most competent individuals. The option to interview in Urdu can also significantly reduce anxiety and stress among candidates, leading to a more confident and genuine presentation of their skills and knowledge.

Adeel Niaz, Project Head of World Times Institute, has been helping students to prepare for the Competitive Examinations for the last 25 years. In his experience, many bright and extraordinary students, who would have made brilliant officers, could not be allocated because of their inability to express themselves in English.

He said that “it is not fair to relate one’s competence with the language you opt for communicating or expressing that competence. It is important to note that by just providing an option the country can benefit from many doers who could not be allocated before only because they were not fluent in English.”

In conclusion, the introduction of Urdu alongside English as an interview language option in Pakistan’s Civil Services Exams is a necessary step towards a more inclusive and representative administrative system. It acknowledges the educational realities of the country, respects its linguistic diversity, and most importantly, ensures that the true potential of all candidates is fairly and accurately assessed.

The article does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Business Recorder or its owners

Osama Rizvi

The writer is an international energy and economic analyst. He works at Primary Vision Network — a US-based market intelligence and consultancy firm


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Tariq Qurashi May 16, 2024 09:45am
Overall I agree with the article, but it must be noted that until large amounts of books are translated into Urdu, the access to knowledge of someone who doesn't read English well is very limited.
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