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Need for a change in education

INTRODUCTION

1. Education, in the military profession, is the process of culturing a person to the future needs of the organisation. This process of grooming an individual to suit the wide-ranging requirements of the system is of paramount importance. Airmen of tomorrow will have to undertake operations which are not just network centric but also knowledge centric. As the world changes at an unprecedented and accelerating rate, the concepts of war, peace, and conflict merge with each other. Humanitarian assistance, war against terror, insurgencies, and insurrections now occupy the centre stage for most armed forces. Success in any operation will come from sound training and quality education. Professional Military Education (PME) will play an important role in ensuring that the IAF transits onto a more effective learning environment. Effective PME will play a crucial role in the effectiveness of any fighting force in the future. There is often confusion in the pattern in which military education should be conducted and the manner in which the officers have to be groomed. IAF requires officers who are educated so that they are able to find solutions to the multitude of unexpected challenges that are bound to confront them in the course of their careers.

2. Education is a continuous process. If any organization does not recognize the importance of education, it surely is not evolving. It is a ‘must vision’ for an organization like Indian Air Force to have its officer cadre strong in professional knowledge, flexible and growing in thought and imagination. Amidst growing national security challenges, Professional Military Education (PME) has to evolve to cater for the demands of a more complex and technology intensive environment as we head towards our vision of tomorrow. In fact continued and comprehensive education program is indispensable to develop intellectual abilities amongst officers to undertake diverse missions in an intricate security scenario.

AIM

3. The aim of this paper is to analyse the essentials of education process and to give pragmatic and practical suggestions to modify the conduct of professional military education for officers in the IAF, catering to the complexities of future wars.

UNDERSTANDING EDUCATION

Difference between training and Education

4. Training and education are two different processes despite being associated with the similar needs of learning. The concept of training is normally designed to acquire specific skills. These acquired skills make a person more employable and specialized in any profession. Thus training is more specific, more focused on a particular task and is for a limited period of time. Education on other hand is more broad based and is related to acquiring knowledge and enhancing intellect. It is a process of complete mental and moral development. The methodology of training is through specialized courses while education is a continuous lifelong process. Another glaring difference concerns the limited scope of creative thinking and prescriptive methods used in training. In the training process a person is introduced to right methods leaving little scope for original creative thinking. Education, in contrast focuses on creating independent thinkers. It is the process of preparing officers to solve problems and deal with situations not yet known or defined. Military education focuses on the art of war and on developing insights on how to fight the wars smartly. It enables the personnel to perceive future threats, engage in creative ways to resolve conflict, select the right tools and methods, and achieve the desired effect.

6. In a complex and fast changing world, there is need for a comprehensive, wide ranging and all inclusive educational frame work encompassing an academic curriculum which trains for the certainty and yet is diverse enough to be able to educate for uncertainty.

Need for a change in Education Pattern

7. Rapid advances in technology and easy availability of information dictate a serious rethink into the manner in which military education is conducted. Technology has revolutionized modern war fighting. Essentially what it means is easy access to knowledge and in general an increase in knowledge. In the days to come the entire art of war fighting will get technology driven at an even faster rate thereby increasing the necessity to educate and intellectually equip officers to keep pace with this change. In simple terms, officers will have to possess necessary intellectual skills to handle automated systems and exploit the plethora of information in the battlefield. In any case newer capabilities would mean newer roles which will require specialized skills and above all a mindset to change. A well structured educational pattern will play a crucial role in preparing officers to understand and face these challenges. Officers will require special skills to think, understand and express the effects of modern technology.

Importance of Critical thinking

8. The profession of arms presents numerous occasions where officers are confronted with diverse and complex problems. Teaching well thought solutions may help officers master some of these problems. However, the key lies in critical thinking which provides the tools for finding specific solutions for a multitude of unfamiliar problems. Critical thinking pertains to the ability to evaluate information and mental thought processes in a structured manner. The underlying principle is to be able to asses and understand information more comprehensively. In short it is all about making the right judgment. PME in the IAF needs to promote critical thinking so as to enable officers to arrive at rational and well reasoned decisions. A critical thinker should be able to sift through plethora of informational inputs available to him and spot exactly what is illogical and irrational. It is essential to cater for the highly intricate and unstable nature of environment that the officers face nowadays. PME within the IAF needs to fill up voids created by lack of formalized education for developing critical thinking. To start with there is need for a vision in this field. Appropriate academic curriculum and specialized courses can thereafter be defined. The academic program designed should promote thinking skills which remain untaught in other educational courses. Thereafter, IAF can go on to develop non traditional methods to imbibe critical thinking skills in its officer cadre. Web-based collaborative learning environments can be effectively utilized to educate officers using simulations of contemporary military problems.

PROPOSED MEASURES FOR INTELLECTUAL DEVELOPMENT

9. One of the most challenging tasks of a well planned PME program is to produce imaginative, innovative, adaptive and critical thinking officers. The key lies in adopting an educational program which targets intellectual development and in a continuing manner. Some methods of ensuring overall intellectual growth are as given below:-

Comprehensive Educational Framework. PME template has to be complete in all respects in order to cater for comprehensive intellectual growth. This would imply choosing and targeting the right subjects at an early stage of an officer’s service career. Most existing PME programs in IAF deal with basic professional and service specific subjects and lack scope for intellectual growth. In current scenario IAF is likely to be involved in a wide spectrum of operations including multinational operations requiring all officers to have an in depth understanding of complex subjects such as Strategy, International Relations, Geopolitics, International law, Economics and Military operations. These subjects need to be introduced and taught from an early stage of an officer’s service career so as to develop appropriate awareness and consciousness right from the beginning. PME programs presently target limited cross section of officers and are not spanning the entire service career. In-service courses in the IAF have been classified as mandatory, desirable and need based courses. While basic courses such as BASCO, ISCO, APKC and the Air staff Course are mandatory for all officers, there are other courses such as LDMC, HDMC, Higher Command, NDC etc which are just desirable or need based and not done by all officers. Education is an essential tool for officers at all levels of seniority. IAF may even think of outsourcing military education and encourage officers to avail study leave and take up educational courses in civilian universities or with professional institutes abroad. Any form of quest for higher education should not be a hindrance to career advancement, but instead should be complementary and mandatory to career progression. Most in service courses have now been made assessable and contribute to career progression at least at the junior level. Assessment in courses will only give scholarly output and may not necessarily give out the actual intellectual level of an officer. In any case assessment should never be ultimate the aim of any form of education, instead it should be intellectual development. PME should be mandatory for all levels of officers, only the requirements at each stage should vary. Some thought also needs to be given to the kind of faculty we employ for conducting PME. Often bulk of our teachers come from within the service and may not possess requisite educational experience or professional teaching skills. Specialised subjects would require experienced teachers who are not just qualified but also competent.

Adapting Educational Programs to suit modern-day conditions. Security environment in the world and within the country has changed over the years. Indian military preparedness has changed from being merely Pak centric to modern day concerns like internal security, securing our maritime borders, international terrorism, cyber warfare and nuclear issues. PME also needs to change as per the demands placed on the present day IAF officer. Academic programs need to be diverse enough to prepare IAF officers not just for tactical operations but also strategic and operational levels of operations. In simple terms, PME must equip IAF officers with suitable academic abilities to deal with current problems and also stay relevant to the extended roles.

Adequate time for Assimilation. All education programs have to be focussed to ensure maximum assimilation, knowledge augmentation and enhanced understanding. Towards this IAF must adopt educational paths with well spaced out academic curriculum. Education is a lifelong process and cannot be enforced. Instead there is a need to nurture and kindle quest for knowledge. Various learning methods could be adopted varying from distance learning to web enabled learning packages. Scenario based virtual learning methods and decision simulations can be used to refine learning experience. Besides the content, adequate thought needs to be given to manner in which the education will be conducted. Often inadequate time and lack of focus by the organisation towards educational programs tend to put off a learner. The current distance learning program implemented for junior officers in the IAF is an example. In short IAF has to have a vision Any kind of PME program in IAF must ensure dedicated learning time for officers.

Education for life. The service life of an officer can be broadly categorized into different stages of development starting from the time he joins the service to the time of retirement. At each stage, the type of mental grooming and education requirements are specific yet interlinked. A comprehensive educational program with ample depth and breadth has to be defined for the entire service career of every officer. Learning has to be wide ranging, broad based and continuous. The different stages are:-

Early Stage (till 6 years of service). This is the most crucial stage of mental grooming and undoubtedly the most important period in an officer’s career. This stage lays the foundation for all subsequent intellectual growth. Education during this period should mainly be concerned with professional subjects with an aim of preparing a sound professional. Apart from this educational programs could also be utilized to instill a strong sense of pride in country and service, camaraderie and espirit-de-corps. Complex subjects such as leadership, management, ethics, strategy and international relations need to be introduced at this stage in order to nurture a thinking mind at a later stage. Availability of time is often a constraint to effective implementation of any kind of educational program at this stage and there has to be a balance between professional training activities and educational programs providing intellectual growth.

Stage II. This stage is from 7 to 18 years of service. The officer in this stage must be educated in core competencies of professional activities. Career progression normally is the focus during this stage. The officer must be encouraged to hone his planning and executive skills. The traits that need to be watched are over confidence and misplaced sense of achievement. Educational focus should now start shifting from service-specific proficiencies to joint operations. Once again emphasis has to be on developing a thinking mind. Self learning has to be encouraged and rewarded.

Stage III. Stage III is from above 18 years of service. During this stage an officer gets a chance to command an independent unit and goes on to work in various command and staff appointments. Good knowledge of executive functions, effective financial, material and human resource management are some crucial requirements at this stage. In addition educational programs have to transform selected officers into strategic analysts and advisors. Officers in this category have to mature as military leaders with a balanced, open and academically complete mind. Quest for education has to be promoted by encouraging doctoral and masters’ degrees in strategy-related disciplines at reputed civilian universities both within the country and abroad.

Encouraging Critical thought. Problem solving and critical thinking skills have become necessary for all categories of officers and not just for senior Air Force officers. Critical thinking is an area that needs to be consciously addressed in PME programs.

Blending Education with experience. In this context, the need for education and experience are critical to the officers in the future environment. The modern defence strategy demands us to maintain a combat capability across the entire spectrum of conflict and we must do so in an environment of reduced resources being available for purchase of new high technology equipment. As well, the selection of what high technology equipment is to be purchased will become more important as we try and maintain interoperability with allies in the future.

Finally, there is a need to invest a new concept of what it means to be a thinking soldier. What is needed is not soldiers advised by scholars – but rather soldier-scholars, or soldier-linguists, or soldier-social scientists, at appropriate levels.

CONCLUSION

Education of officers within the IAF is a critical and fundamental investment. Any educational program is borne out of experience over the years. It is an evolving process, which changes from time to time, keeping the complexities needs of the organisation in mind. The quality of PME within the service will define The human resource policy on manpower utilisation

Sept 2010 (Jaspreet Singh)

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