Recently, I talked to a group of people who wanted to open a coaching institute once the COVID-19 pandemic is over. But they were hesitant to start a civil service coaching institute because they feared they may not get enough students. One person felt bank examination coaching was a better option since it attracts a lot of people while another vouched for the Kerala Public Service Commission (KPSC) examination coaching.
They unanimously stated that most of the students in Kerala think that civil service examination is beyond their capacity. The number of aspirants as well as winners from Kerala are still lesser when compared to states like Tamil Nadu or Bihar. So, there is a valid point in the above argument. Why do the students think this way? Let me make some observations.
Most of the parents as well as their wards think that one needs to be a topper in school and college in order to even consider the possibility of a career in administration. Along with that there are certain fixed ideas like one should be an alumnus of a prestigious institution and one should speak impeccable English, etc. All this makes many reluctant to prepare for the civil service examination.
When we take the case of Tamil Nadu from where a lot of candidates clear civil service, people’s perception is different. In my five years in Chennai as a trainer, we had one NIT student and every other person was a graduate from some obscure engineering college. Majority of them came from very rural backgrounds and did not read any newspaper till they started civil service preparation! As most of the schools and colleges in Tamil Nadu do not encourage extra-curricular activities, most of these students did not have hobbies. So, in quality they were in no way superior to their Kerala counterparts. But on an average, they are hardworking.
Another thing is candidates from Tamil Nadu are not hesitant to use English even though they make mistakes unlike those from Kerala who are over conscious about their English skills, especially while talking. In the end, these persistent candidates make it to the list while candidates with better academic qualification from Kerala fall by the wayside.
Many people from Kerala choose colleges in Chennai to get a better foundation for civil service. This is again a hangover from the past. When Malabar was part of Madras Presidency, the Chennai colleges were a symbol of status and quality but that is not the case any longer. Most of the students from the Chennai arts and science colleges like Loyola and Stella Mary’s choose to go abroad rather than enter civil service.
Another reason for states like Bihar and Tamil Nadu having a greater number of civil service aspirants is because of the highly corrupt state public service commissions. The culture of bribes makes it difficult for an honest person to get a government job in these places. This motivates people to aspire for examinations conducted by the Union Public Service Commission in which they have faith. The KPSC still works better compared to these and that is why Keralites prefer to attempt the tests conducted by it.
When it comes to Tamil Nadu, because of the huge number of engineering colleges, those working in the IT sector are also high. But that does not decrease the attraction towards civil service. In societies with extreme inequalities like caste discrimination, more people want to be part of the government system which gives them power. Aspiration for Indian Police Service is high among candidates from Tamil Nadu because of the same reason. In Kerala the aspiration for government jobs can be seen only in certain places and people in government jobs prefer to work closer to their homes. Also, those who favour private jobs and professional courses stick to the same and do not aspire to be part of the government.
Recently, because of the increase in the number of winners, a lot of students in Kerala have started to think about civil service as a career. But the misconceptions are pulling them back. The Indian civil service is offering opportunities for those who work with discipline. It's high time students from Kerala realised they are as good or even better than the rest of India. Use this avenue with confidence.
(Remya Roshni, ex-IPS, is a civil service trainer and author of "How to Ace Civil Service Interviews")