UPSC Should Consider Shortening The Exam Cycle: Pranay Aggarwal

UPSC Should Consider Shortening The Exam Cycle: Pranay Aggarwal - Sakshi Post

Meet Pranay Aggarwal, a sociology faculty at IAS Gurukul, who's mentored thousands of civil service aspirants. In an exclusive interview with Sakshi Post, Pranay Aggarwal talks to Reshmi AR about what goes into UPSC preparation.

Teaching, especially mentoring, is not easy. What inspired you to take up this career?

I have always been academically inclined. Since a very young age, I began teaching those younger than me. As I grew up and was at a crossroads as regards the direction of my life and career, teaching was a natural choice. I initially taught UPSC aspirants on a part time basis but began pursuing teaching as a full time career soon after. Now, I have been teaching IAS hopefuls dedicatedly for more than a decade.

Grooming IAS aspirants is a herculean task and requires more dedication than the civil service hopefuls. How do you sustain your interest?

Firstly, I sincerely believe that the task of civil service aspirants is far more challenging than that of us, their teachers. What sustains my interest as a teacher is the love and affection of my students. If teachers put in hard work, the students see and appreciate that. Success of some of my students and their acknowledgment of my role in their journey also serves as a morale booster. Admittedly, being close as a mentor to UPSC aspirants can be an emotionally exhausting journey as one partakes in their failures as well.

Do you think the UPSC exam pattern needs an overhaul? If yes, what changes do you propose?

Absolutely, it needs an overhaul. The examination scheme as it stands is excessively long drawn and wasteful of our nation's human resources. Some of the changes I propose are:

1. Reducing the length of the exam cycle. UPSC should consider shortening the exam cycle to 9 months and/or conducting the prelims twice a year. 

2. The present examination pattern rewards candidates for memorizing huge chunks of information. This seems unnecessary in today's information age. Instead, the exam should test the candidate's abilities for rational thinking, critical analysis and decision making.

3. UPSC should more aggressively infuse technology in the conduct of the exam. This will help to shorten the length of the exam cycle.

Thousands of students spend years preparing for the civil services, yet their success is not guaranteed. Do you think there must be some kind of reward (in terms of posts) for those who lose the cut off by a whisker so their efforts aren't wasted?

It's true that the efforts of many students come to naught if they don't make the cut and are eliminated at any stage of the multi-stage civil services exam. Often, the difference in intelligence and capabilities of those who succeed and those who miss by a whisker is minimal. One thing that the government can consider is to create a pool of candidates who reach the interview stage in the CSE. This talent pool can then be tapped by PSUs, various government departments and even corporates. 

You must have trained scores of students till date. What is the one big challenge that civil aspirants face during preparation?

Developing and maintaining the requisite mental strength is in my view the single biggest challenge of this examination. The UPSC exam is as much a mental challenge as it is an academic one. Most candidates, including those who eventually succeed and those who don't, face bouts of self -doubt, fear of failure, uncertainty regarding their careers and social pressures of all kinds. Many UPSC aspirants are prone to depression and anxiety. To deal with all of these requires immense mental strength.

To develop mental strength, aspirants are advised to sleep well, eat healthy, exercise regularly and practice yoga and meditation. Pursuing a hobby and maintaining a small social circle of people who provide emotional support also helps to tackle the pressures.

What's your advice to the IAS hopefuls?

I advise IAS aspirants to follow a schedule, limit their resources and undertake multiple revisions. Ensure comprehensive syllabus coverage and focus on developing conceptual clarity, particularly in subjects like economics, ethics and optional. Stay abreast of current affairs by reading the daily newspaper. If possible, devote two to three years full time to UPSC preparation. Before the prelims, take at least 40 to 50 mock tests. For the mains exam, undertake sufficient answer writing practice.  

How do you keep yourself updated on the subject?

I try to update my sociology knowledge base by reading the latest research in the field. I also actively participate in the deliberations of the various research committees of the International Sociological Association and the Indian Sociological Society of which I am a member. I make it a point to read at least a couple of new sociology-related books every year. Reading sociology journals, periodicals and research papers also helps me stay updated with the latest in the field. Even reading the newspaper gives one insights into the latest developments in our society!

What kind of innovations do you think are required in pedagogy and curriculum?

The pedagogy and curriculum in our schools and colleges leaves much to be desired.

The current pedagogy is too exam focused and emphasizes on root learning. It kills the joy of learning. It needs to be made student centric. It should encourage inquisitiveness and creativity in the child. To do so, teaching needs to be made far more interactive than it presently is. There is also ample scope of wider implementation of ICT in classrooms. 

The curriculum can be updated to particularly include financial literacy and vocational training. Students should be at least introduced to new technologies like robotics and AI at an early age.

The FM highlighted reviving reading culture and teachers' training in the budget. Your comments?

Low levels of literacy have implied that a mass reading culture has not been able to develop in the country. Social media usage has shortened attention spans. . As per the Annual Status of Education Report 2022, the reading ability of children worsened due to school closures during the pandemic.

The 2023 budget initiatives to promote a reading culture are welcome, whether it is the setting up of national digital library, setting up physical libraries in villages or roping in NGOs.

Teachers' training is crucial to impart quality education, but it is antiquated and underemphasized in India. Many of the ills of our education system can be directly or indirectly linked to poor quality of the teachers and teaching. The attention given to teachers training in the budget is not a day too soon. The curriculum and pedagogy of teachers’ education needs urgent updation, which the budget promises.

What is your take on education access in rural India? Do you think the government is doing enough to improve numbers in rural schools?

Literacy rates in rural India are much lower in comparison to urban India across different age groups. Literacy rate in rural areas it was 71 per cent compared to 86 % in urban areas. One of the reasons for it is poor access to schools in rural India. Some reasons for lack of access are poor road connectivity and absence of gender friendly settings like separate washrooms for girl child.

Schemes like Samagra Shiksha have been launched for strengthening rural school infrastructure. However, a lot can be done in sphere of student teacher ratio, flexible learning hours and quality of infrastructure.

Once a teacher, always a teacher. What kind of professional growth have you seen since you started off?

A career in academics can be highly rewarding, provided one has the temperament for it. Personally, I have only gained from and grown in this profession. Apart from an increase in the numbers of students and successful candidates, growth has come in the form of an enlarged role in the lives of my students. I have evolved from being only a teacher to being a mentor and friend of many of my students. The credit for same goes entirely to my students who have allowed me a greater role in their lives. 

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