How Kerala students top the UPSC exams
The Civil Service Academy in Thiruvananthapuram that trains the Civil Service aspirants has attained national attention with three of their students getting the first, second and fourth ranks at the All India level this year. However, the Academy is not just meant for aspirants from Kerala, insists Dr D Babu Paul, Chief Mentor Emeritus of the Academy.
The Academy started in 2005 by the Centre for Continuing Education with guidance from Dr D Babu Paul, who retired as the Additional Chief Secretary, now have students coming from Mumbai, Bihar and Jammu & Kashmir.
“We are not parochial!” says DR Paul as he talks about the Academy and what the young aspirants should keep in mind in this rare interview with Shobha Warrier.
You are the person behind the Civil Service Academy that has become a big name all over India now. What was the reason behind the Kerala government starting the academy?
It was during the last term of Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, and somewhere, the conversation cropped up between the Chief Minister, the Education Minister and the Secretary of the Centre Continuing Education about the need to have a good coaching centre for the Civil Service Examination.
Then, they asked me to run the institution. I said, I had retired and had no plans to work again. That was how I was made the Chief Mentor!
Was it because there were not many from the state who got selected to the Civil Service that the idea cropped up?
Not exactly. The idea cropped up because of two reasons. The facilities given by the state government were not adequate. Nobody was getting selected from the place which was in existence.
Secondly, the Centre for Continuing Education under Mohan Abraham was running Engineering Colleges which many others are also doing. We felt Civil Service was a kind of niche area and we should do something.
That was how the idea came along, and not because there were not enough Malayalis getting selected to the Civil Service but because there were not enough facilities to help the local people. Those who interested had to go to Chennai, Delhi etc. for training. So, we felt we should do something about this.
In 2005, we started in a small way, and got satisfactory results that year itself.
Photographs: Shobha Warrier
'We are not parochial!'
How did you conceptualise the course?
What we did first was, identify the faculty on full time basis. We had decided that the course was to prepare students for the examination and there would not be any 10 to 5 lecture classes. We also cannot have teachers for all the optional subjects like Chemistry, Malayalam or for that matter any such subject. So, if there are a couple of students who need training in an optional subject, I tell them to meet so and so as we have identified experts for all the subjects in Trivandrum (Thiruvanathapuram).
We are more interested in getting them the best teachers and not interested in selfishly appropriating the credits.
We decided on a core faculty and also on some whom we can depend on to send our students to on a one-to-one basis.
We also built a good library, enough computer terminals and video conferencing facilities for all the students.
We wanted them to sit around, work and discuss among themselves.
Did you have a test to select students?
When we started, we took anybody who came! But from last year onwards, we conduct an entrance examination in May. We have two batches, June and November. I am told that more than 1,000 applicants were there for the June batch this year, and around 450 students are selected for the 6-month course.
The results started improving with every year. We got a fourth rank, seventh rank and this year it was a miracle to have first, second and fourth ranks. Out of the top 50, we have 5 ranks and in the top 100, we have 10 ranks. It has been very satisfying.
Now that we got the first, second and fourth ranks, anything else will only be going down.
Once they pass the prelims, the state government adopts them and after that, they do not have to pay any fees. In fact, once you clear prelims, your fee is refunded.
We take care of their trip to Delhi (by flight), their stay at the Kerala House, etc. We also see to it that officers from Kerala meet them and advice them on the interview.
Will the Kerala government adopt a student if he/she is from some other state?
If he has studied at our academy and passed the prelims, the state will adopt irrespective of the state he is coming from. We are not parochial!
Image: Dr D Babu Paul, Chief Mentor Emeritus of the Civil Service Academy
Photographs: Shobha Warrier
'We are not parochial!'
What is your role at the Academy these days?
I have no role at all these days! When they commence the training, I go there and talk to the new batch of students. I don't even have the patience to sit through the model interview. Yes, I do arrange people to sit for that. I ask the young IAS, IPS officers to do the interviews as they are the ones who have faced the board recently. I took the examination 50 years ago, in 1963!
I also see to it that serving and retired IAS and IPS officers pop in and out of the Academy so that the students get inspired. T P Sreenivasan, KPS Menon, Jr, Lalithambika, Dr Alexander Jacob (DGP, Prisons), and many such people are regulars at the Academy.
Every year, when they graduate, I say that we bask in the glory of our students. The fact is, they have the material and we are only the catalytic agents.
Do the students ask you questions?
They do. They have all kinds of interesting questions like, how to tackle politicians, the kind of pressure in civil service, etc.
The Academy was started to help the students of Kerala. Do you still restrict yourself to only Keralites?
Yes, we had only Malayalis in the beginning but this year, we have a few non-Keralites too; like one from Kashmir, Bihar and Mumbai. In fact, we started the Academy to cater to students from all over India but we were not getting students from other parts of India. Earlier, we were not famous enough to attract people from all over India.
Another interesting thing is, I see that most of the successful candidates are either doctors or engineers.
Do you agree with doctors and engineers becoming Civil Servants?
I took this examination after my engineering and the question was relevant at that time as there were not many engineers then. I prepared for the examination after my engineering, and got through with seventh rank in my first attempt itself. But today, it is not. When we graduated, we graduated as engineers and doctors but today, these guys graduate as engineering graduates and medical graduates. They become doctors and engineers only after a PG or a couple of years’ experience.
Suddenly if someone feels, he needs a course correction and this is a good option. But I would probably be against a PG qualified doctor becoming a civil servant. There is a gynaecologist with PG as a civil servant, and I don't know whether she did the right thing. Now, they are even joining IIMs; IIM Kolkatta had two medical doctors last year.
What is your advice to the young aspirants of Civil Services?
My advice is this: this is a good option because its gives an opportunity both for self satisfaction and also serving the nation. But this is not the be all and end all. Don't get frustrated if you don't make it.
Those who are preparing for it should keep themselves updated on what is happening around, using their time effectively and efficiently.
In the personality test, just be honest and be yourself. Remember, people who sit on the board are not your enemies.
Once you are in, remember two things. One is, keep your hands clean as the integrity of an officer can be lost only once. Two, don't get attached to any chair. You should be sufficiently “arrogant” to believe that you are bigger than any chair you sit on.
For details on the various courses and classes, you can visit the Civil Service Academy website http://www.ccek.org/ or call The Director, Centre for Continuing Education Kerala, Anathara Lane, Charachira, Kowdiar P O, Thiruvananthapuram-3. Ph: 0471-2313065, 2311654.
Photographs: Shobha Warrier