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UPSC row: Big language barrier
Aspirants blame Google translation, English bias
Aditi Tandon
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, August 1
The UPSC must be increasingly realising that it’s not such a good idea to bank on Google translator to translate English passages into Hindi for the all important Civil Services Examination (CSE) which annually gets nearly five lakh applicants.

Reason: no Hindi medium applicant will get the answer right if the question comprises faulty translation of an expression. For instance, who can comprehend a passage if “land reform” is translated into “aarthik sudhaar” in Hindi version of the paper?

Govt against scrapping, delaying exam on Aug 24

Even as the government panel looking into the UPSC row in its report has advised against scrapping or advancing the upcoming prelims exam on August 24, inquiries reveal complex translations in one of the two papers of CSE Prelims are at the heart of ongoing protests in which Hindi-speaking applicants are demanding scrapping of one particular paper.

The new pattern

CSE pattern was revised in 2011. The new pattern comprises two papers in Prelims exam – General Studies 1 (to which students have no objection) and Civil Services Aptitude Test-CSAT to which students have several objections.

While both these prelims papers carry 200 marks each, General Studies paper tests general subject knowledge of applicants and CSAT tests their analytical, decision making and English comprehension skills.

The problems

The first problem candidates have is — 35 questions in CSAT relate to a candidate’s ability to comprehend language. Now picture this: CSE exam is set in two languages, English and Hindi, the official languages of India. Students’ main problem is that the UPSC is using Google translator to translate 35 CSAT questions related to comprehension. These questions are too literally translated from English to Hindi compromising the soul of the language and making comprehension for readers difficult.

For instance, “Steel plant” is being translated as “Ispat ka paudha” in the Hindi version of the paper. “Such translations are putting Hindi-medium applicants out of competition as each question carries two marks,” says Imran Ansari, a protester.

Another problem of Hindi-medium applicants is — 11 questions in CSAT test English comprehension of a candidate; each bears two marks totaling 22 marks. Birender Kumar, another protesting applicant, says: “UPSC already has a full-fledged English paper in the Mains. Every candidate must qualify that exam to be eligible to appear for the interview. Why should CSAT then additionally test us on English knowledge?”

CSE Mains’ English qualifier exam is of 300 marks and candidates must score 75 to qualify. CSAT is of 200 marks and 70 are needed to pass.

What both sides say

Candidates further feel that CSAT questions are more favourable for applicants with technical background vis-a-vis humanities. “Most questions in CSAT test mathematics and reasoning and are difficult for non-technical students. IITians and IIM graduates have an edge. CSAT must be scrapped as it is creating a bias against non-English and non-technical background students,” says Mahesh Singh, another protester.

UPSC sources, however, say while the translation concerns can be addressed, the mental block against a 22-mark set of English knowledge questions is uncalled for. “English is the working language of the world. The few English passages which test candidates’ English knowledge are of Class 10. That should not be a problem,” said a former UPSC member who was at the helm when the CSE pattern changed in 2011.

Hindi representation in services dipping

* UPSC data shows between 2005 and 2010, an average of 40% Hindi-speaking applicants used to clear prelims, which has come down to 15 per cent since 2011 when CSAT was introduced

* Hindi-speaking applicants who succeeded in CSE between 2005 and 2010 averaged 15%; in 2009 the percentage shot to 25; in 2013, the post-CSAT era, it came down to 2.3%

* 1,122 candidates succeeded in CSE 2013. Of these, only 23 were Hindi medium, 53 were Hindi and other language medium educated and the rest were English medium

What is CSAT

* The CSAT-II paper carries questions on comprehension, interpersonal skills, including communication skills, logical reasoning and analytical ability, decision-making and problem-solving, general mental ability, basic numeracy, and English language comprehension skills

* Under the revised pattern, there are two papers now each of 200 marks. Also, there would be two common papers in the preliminary examination which provides a level playing field for all candidates





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