By Masmoom Shahwani
Education is seen as a tool of upward social mobility that provides opportunities of climbing up the ladder of social mobility. It may not be the absolute truth all around the world as factors other than education can also lead to mobility in upward direction in social strata. This may include the family businesses, political power as a tool, and multifarious other means. However, one that works for majority is education.
Balochistan has a peculiar social structure where political power has been concentrated by design in a class that is supporter of status quo. Hence, other options of climbing up the ladder of upward social mobility close for the lower and middle class. Having porous borders with Afghanistan and Iran, most of the population of the province are concentrated in the bordering towns where irregular trade with the neighbouring countries in the form of smuggled fuel, electronic gadgets, vehicles and their spare parts not only provides means of livelihood to majority but also stir up the fabric of social makeup. Whereas agriculture, horticulture, fisheries and livestock are means of livelihood but their extent to contribution to the upward social mobility is meager.
The only hope for the majority educated bulge remains in Balochistan is the source of government jobs in the absence of a vibrant private sector. Education and its standards remain another debate but those who make their way for higher studies bearing all the difficulties, ultimately turn up for competitive examination to secure a position that may provide a sustenance as well as certain amount of mobility from their class of origin to the class of destination.
A clear manifestation of this was seen in the teeming number of candidates who applied for the posts of Assistant Commissioner and Section Officer held in December 2016 by Balochistan Public Service Commission (BPSC). It may be mentioned here that prior to the incumbent Chairman BPSC Mr. Mehtra Kailash Nath Kohli, the selection of candidates on the basis of merit was questioned and National Accountability Bureau (NAB) also raided and arrested the former Chairman BPSC along with two key Deputy Directors who were in-charge of Secrecy and Examination Branches.
Following much protest, hue and cry by the candidates, it took 5 long years to effect the removal the former Chairman from his seat on allegations of nepotism, corruption and misappropriation. Subsequently, incumbent chairman Mr. Mehta Kailash Nath Kohli, who is a retired Judge of Balochistan High Court, was appointed and it was hoped that he would bring drastic changes in terms of not only serving merit but also in terms of doing away with the procedural flaws that hamper merit being served. Consequent upon aforementioned developments, the largest ever number of candidates applied for Posts of Section Officer and Assistant Commission, amounting to roughly 8 thousand girls and boys, in the history of Balochistan.
As far as the paper taking, checking and compilation of result is concerned, the serving of merit is not questioned. But the biggest failure of Mr. Mehta Kailash Nath Kohli has been working under the same old procedure with numerous lacunas that did not serve merit and lead to frustration among majority candidates.
To wit, scoring and non-scoring trend in optional subjects did wonders for many while doomed others. For example, majority of the candidates who had opted for subjects like Indian History Period-I, Political Science, Public Administration, Persian Literature-I, and Islamic History were not awarded high marks despite their fine grip on the subjects and in many cases having Gold Medal in the respective subjects from prestigious universities like GC Lahore and Quaid-e-Azaam University Islamabad. Worst of all, many Lecturers of subjects in question from University of Balochistan who had been teaching the said subjects in hand for many years were awarded lowest marks.
On the other hand, certain other subjects such as Astronomy, Journalism, Islamiat, Agriculture, Physiology, Psychology and Geography remained high scoring that provided a clear hedge to the candidates in the optional subjects and hence lead to their allocation.
Secondly, the examinations for the said posts were carried out in extreme weather conditions during the months of December and January when Quetta’s temperature falls below the freezing point. Owing to no proper hearting arrangements in the examination halls and no washroom facilities it was more an examination of their physical and psychological strength than knowledge. In this case, female students were the worst victims whose performance was affected badly.
However, when the result of written part of the examination was announced, although shocking for many, it was welcomed by the candidates and those who couldn’t qualify the written part, kept on supporting their fellow candidates to make a difference in the final selection duel—via voce.
The interviews were conducted about three months later and results announced but it left many dumbfounded, heartbroken and frustrated. All the candidates who were interviewed and who later took out their Detailed Marks Sheets (DMCs) were of the opinion that interviews of the candidates were not given due weightage and all were given almost marks in a pre-set margin. This directly benefited those candidates who fall under the group of high scoring subjects. Their inter-personal skills, confidence level, analytical power and psychological make nothing mattered for the worthy selection panel.
Following this bitter experience, independent analysts are of the view that if BPSC is making selection for a single vacant post like Assistant Commissioner or Section Officer, it should take an examination on uniform grounds, making all subjects compulsory or at least majority of them. Secondly, examination should be conducted under proper arrangements so that no external factors affect candidates’ performance. Thirdly, interview should not be a general knowledge and memory test of the candidates, it should rather be transformed to modern interview taking techniques to check the inter-personal skills, psychological make-up, communication, and analytical skills of the candidates.
It may also be suggested here that candidates who fail in written part of via voce should be awarded their online DMCs on the patterns of Federal Public Service Commission without charging of any fees as the current practice is too outdated where candidates are required to submit Rs. 200, write application to Secretary BPSC and wait for weeks to get their DMC. It is their constitutional right to get DMCs right away online.
Last but not the least, BPSC should conduct research regularly and take input from candidates for the reforms periodically and should also review its examination taking pattern through introspective methods or by hiring consultants in this regard so that youth find BPSC really as a symbol of merit than frustration.
The writer is a freelance journalists and a former reporter for Daily Times Pakistan. He can be contacted at: Masmoomshahwani786@gmail.com