THE system of competitive examinations for the public service, of which I have laid before the section a brief history compiled from the reports, is one of those radical innovations that may ultimately lead to great consequences. For the present, however, it leads to many debates. Not merely does the working out of the scheme involve conflicting views, but there is still great hesitation in many quarters as to whether the innovation is to be productive of good or of evil. The report of the Playfair Commission, and the more recent report relative to the changes in the India Civil Service regulations, indicate pretty broadly the doubts that still cleave to many minds on the whole question. It is enough to refer to the views of Sir Arthur Helps, Mr. W. R. Greg, and Dr. Farr, expressed to the Playfair Commission, as decidedly adverse to the competitive system. The authorities cited in the report on the India examinations scarcely go the length of total condemnation; but many acquiesce only because there is no hope of a reversal.
The question of the expediency of the system as a whole is not well suited to a sectional discussion. We shall be much better employed in adverting to some of those details in the conduct of the examinations that have a bearing on the whole education of the country, as well as on the Civil Service itself. It was very well, at first starting, for the commissioners to be guided, in their choice of subjects and in assigning values to those subjects, by the received branches of education in the schools and colleges. But, sooner or later, these subjects must be discussed on their intrinsic merits for the ends in view.
I shall occupy the present paper with the consideration of two departments in the examination programme the one relating to the physical or natural sciences, the other relating to languages.
This second topic is one of very serious import. It concerns the Civil Service competitions only as a part of our whole scheme of education. I mean the position of languages in our examinations. While the vast field of natural science is rolled up in one heading, with a total of 1,000 marks, our Civil Service scheme presents a row of five languages besides our own—two ancient and three modern—with an aggregate value of 2,625 marks. The India scheme has, in addition,
- From advance-sheets of a paper entitled "The Civil Service Examination Scheme considered with Reference 1.—To Sciences; and, 2. To Languages," read at the recent meeting of the Social Science Congress in Aberdeen, Scotland.
- This part of the address is omitted for want of space.