I was reading William Dalrymple’s White Mughals
at the central public library the other day. It was a great read, and I was fully engaged in the book, when suddenly, I felt the table I was reading on shaking fiercely.
At first I thought that there was an earthquake. I became anxious.
However, when I checked the table, I realized that someone else sitting at the table had been shaking the table whilst audibly memorizing the book he was reading.
I made eye contact with the fellow and he immediately retorted: “I can’t memorize without shaking my body.” And I observed that this was the case at almost all tables in the reading room.
About 95% of the people there were memorizing from some book in the same way.
The book they were memorizing from was, apparently, a guide book for the Bangladesh Civil Service recruitment exam. Interestingly, public libraries are a popular hotspot for BCS examinees to try and shake it and make it.
Libraries are nothing more than a place for them to set-up shop and memorize from a BCS guide book while completely ignoring the thousands of other tomes that they can learn so much else from. I suppose it’s a sign of how “dedicated” they are to the cause of working in the government, but I will leave determining the exact nobility of this endeavour to you.
Everyone wants to be a BCS cadre
The reason is obvious: If you can secure a first-class government job, you have it made. This is totally normal, of course. However, the problem lies with the fact that almost everyone wants to join the civil service. This is not normal. I have heard that there are many medical doctors who join the BCS as administration cadre or for foreign service.
The same can be said about a lot of engineers. In fact, I have even heard stories that most meritorious students prefer first-class government jobs even to a teaching post in our public universities.
One obvious reason is, of course, the scope for power-play.
A first-class government officer is able to exercise tremendous power, to the point that, in some cases, he or she can control the entire local administration in any given district. It is my personal finding that people who have disputes over land and other issues in our rural areas want their children to be BCS cadres.
BCS cadres are respected by everyone in our society. In fact, there are people who sneer at anyone who is anything less than a BCS cadre. To be fair, given the volatility of the private job sector, I guess it kind of makes sense to deify the whole BCS scene.
In a government job, it is almost guaranteed that, by brown-nosing the right people, you can get to the top with relative ease. There are ups and down in government posts as well, of course, but it is nowhere near what we observe in our private sector.
Recently, we have seen a rather substantial pay rise in government services. For a considerable amount of time, government employees were paid peanuts in comparison to jobs at private companies.
There is now a significant gap between a government and non-government job in terms of salary, since, after the declaration of the pay-scale, living costs have skyrocketed -- with the rocket crashing somewhere down the line, leaving passengers marooned in the deep space of financial ambiguity.
BCS cadres are respected by everyone in our society. In fact, there are people who sneer at anyone who is anything less than a BCS cadre
To my knowledge, the private sector hasn’t experienced anything similar to the government pay-scale. As such, many graduates who are in good positions in non-government organizations sit for the BCS recruitment test if they are still within the eligible age group.
A private sector supervisor once told me that, for many private employees, the job is only a transitional phase, and that they are actually preparing for the BCS test all the while. I guess the recruitment test guide books that I often see from time to time in private offices testify to that fact.
Reform in question patterns
A certain public service commission chairman once told me in an interview that in Bangladesh, the BCS test might as well be the ultimate academic examination. Interestingly, many graduates wait several years in preparation for the BCS exam, doing nothing in the meantime. All their time is spent memorizing from BCS guide books, not even thinking about any supplementary sources of income.
Many even start preparing for the exams soon as they get accepted by a university.
This voluntary unemployment affects our economy, not to mention the career opportunities of the graduates. And all this is due to the glorification of a BCS post -- the exam which is subject to a rather faulty question pattern, I must add.
We need reform in the BCS recruitment exam so that questions are framed in a way that a candidate does not have to memorize from guide books. The exam must include questions that are analytical, and the candidates have to read books in different subjects to answer the questions.
Otherwise, you are just getting paid for successfully being able to remember what our national fruit is.
Mushfique Wadud is a freelance journalist.