The armed forces are the most disciplined, trustworthy and responsible citizens of the country. They are the most respected too.
A large number of men and women in uniform retire every year. Army, Airforce and Navy put together churns out thousands of retiring officers at a reasonably young age every year. They are a big asset to the nation as a talent pool. The officers retiring as Lt, Col, Colonel and Brigadier are in the age group of 54 to 59 years. Most of them are well qualified in different disciplines. All of them are physically fit and mentally agile. While there may not be a direct equivalence of Armed forces internal courses to academic degrees, they do a lot of value addition to a person’s knowledge. In certain cases more than a plain university graduation. I can vouch for this.
A shift in our outlook
In recent years armed forces have realized that academic degrees do matter – especially for post-retirement employability-and hence serious, concerted efforts have been made in this direction. The Industry unfortunately views these degrees as mere ‘Thappa” or a rubber stamps of approval required as a criterion for employment in certain positions. Of course there have been a lot of criticism that our graduates are not employable, which too is a hard fact. This can be discussed till the cows come home, without making much of a headway. Lot of research is being done in the field of education- I am not sure what are they searching for almost seven decades but the search is not abandoned and is still on for that missing link. Even the Prime Minister on the floor of the house has expressed his concern regarding this. Be that as it may, they still require these so called educational qualifications to make the ‘cut’.
For the last several years, therefore all cadets passing out of NDA- National Defense Academy- get a bachelor’s degree in science, technology or arts from JNU. This has been the most sensible thing done by the armed forces in keeping with times. It gives a level playing field to officers who have been trained in the most sought after institution which is one of the best in the world. Let me say that there is no better academic curriculum and holistic training added to it to make you a perfectly rounded personality- no graduate coming from even the best universities in India or even abroad can match up to an NDA cadet passing out of this great institution.
Crème de la crème
Most technical Arms or services in the army encourage officers to do a post-graduation in technical subjects. They end up getting a Masters in Engineering in disciplines like Computer science, Communication engineering, Satellite communication, structural design, Environmental Engineering, Geoinformatics, Hydraulics and Water Resources, Engineering Infrastructure Engineering and Management, Structural Engineering, Transportation Engineering, automobile, aeronautics, ship building and several others.
When they quit service with loads of practical experience at 54 years of age armed with these degrees they become a National Asset.
Is the nation using this National Asset properly?
One word answer is a big NO. People retiring at a ripe- yes intellectually ripe too- can be utilized as a human resource to build the nation. I feel there are two simple broad avenues or streams to use this 24 carat resource for.
- The Industry. In India Industry has been utilizing the services of veterans, effectively. Companies as respected as Tata, Birla and Reliance to name a few, have benefitted tremendously. Industry may not bother too much or lay emphasis on academic qualifications but are a bit concerned about the age factor. The industry is looking for younger profiles preferably below 40 years which is not possible in this case. It is difficult to fit retired services officers in very senior industry positions directly because of lack of industry exposure. And it is difficult to fit a person above 50 years into mid managerial level positions which becomes non lucrative for both parties. Therefore there is always a struggle to get this going at Pan India level.
- The academic profile-education. We are struggling with our education system right from school upwards.
There are approximately 15 Lakh or 1.5 Million schools in India.
As per the latest data from UDISE (Unified District Information System for Education), the total number of schools in India is 15.1 lakh. The total number of Government schools in India is 10.32 Lakh in the academic year 2020-21. The total number of students in India is 26.44 Crore. The total number of teachers in India is 96.96 Lakh in the academic year 2020-21. Statistically there is a happy state or near happy state as there are 1 crore teachers for 26.5 crore students a near acceptable figure of 1 teacher per 27 students. At a macro level this looks nice. But stats are after all stats only.
I can say for example, that there is no dearth of water for 8 billion people on the planet as oceans are full. But can you drink that water? The answer is no. The quality of teachers is far from satisfactory or even pathetic in many schools. No one can say otherwise. If in an ocean sitting in a boat you may therefore say ‘water water everywhere but no water to drink’. With a bit of stretch one could say ‘Teacher teacher everywhere but NO GOOD teachers to teach’. I don’t want to be insulting towards the teachers but yes there are lot of good teachers and several bad ones too. Let us not get involved in exact numbers but the trend is clear and not debatable. But you cannot challenge the fact that one bad teacher has horrendous effect on 27 students as per stats. And reverse is also true regarding good teachers.
Good/bad schools are going to impact 26 crore Indian kids who are our future – 20% of our population. For a school brick and mortar is important but not a life line where as a teacher is. Building is hardware and teachers and staff are the Operating system and software. A computer without a software is a piece of steel and silicon- worthless. Similarly a school with a great infra is a piece of concrete and bricks without good teachers. This is where veterans can chip in. They all are parents and know what kids need and they are qualified enough to be teachers and principals too- with leadership and administrative experience. If you can have lateral induction in civil services why not in schools?
- Colleges and higher education
This is another pain point in our education system. Veterans can contribute immensely in higher education. Academia has a lot of flexibility. I look at it as flexibly inflexible or inflexibly flexible- take it the way you want.
Minimum qualification is the basic problem. PhD has been made as a big stepping stone in academics. It is taken as a passport to teaching in universities. Yet the UGC has made some provisions to offset this.
A PhD is mandatory only for the post of a Professor. Professors are teaching and research positions.
According to the UGC Regulation 2022, the minimum eligibility criteria for the assistant professor, JRF (junior research fellow) or equivalent posts in the UGC Approved Universities are as follows:
SET/SLET qualified NET certificates and a Master’s degree. This has given some flexibility.
As reported by Times of India- ‘In a major move to rope in industry experts and professionals
the University Grants Commission (UGC) is doing away with the mandatory PhD requirement to teach in central universities. Special positions — professor of practice and associate professor of practice are being created.’
If you have Industry or relevant experience you can get into higher echelons in higher education too. I have seen several good people from the Industry who love to teach and are experts in their subject matter. Students love their lectures as they have loads of practical experience in addition to educational qualification.
This is where one can have retired armed forces officers who can teach and deliver well. At 54 you are neither old nor are you young. It is like a fruit- just ripe. The age between 50 and 65, these are your most productive years and your creative juices flow like Niagara Falls! Why don’t we tap these? Harness this massive source. Let me tell you that Armed forces have some of the best training institutions, where degrees are awarded. Most of the teaching staff is from the uniformed fraternity called instructors. Most of them are very good, dedicated and energetic.
There may not be great research being done in these finest institutions as the focus is on teaching, but must every teacher be a researcher? That is the moot question.
I being in the education sector for more than two decades have seen several PhD qualified teachers who cannot teach to save their life! What good is your research when you cannot get across to the lowest student in the class? Idea of India, which is now on the cusp of becoming a super power is to have deliverables -even in education. To become Vishwaguru we must have all hands on deck. If Industry requires brawn (young guys who can clock 16 hours a day), teaching requires healthy, willing to deliver ticking brains. You may require 4 hours preparation to deliver a two hour lecture. An instructional tenure of three years in an army college should be given enough weight towards employability in civilian colleges. Let there be a proper scientific mapping. Let me give an example of AFMC- Armed forces Medical College- in Pune. This College produces the best doctors in the country who serve the nation and armed forces.
I would like to mention that Joan Clarke was one of the women who contributed immensely to breaking the German cypher code- enigma- in Blechley Park near London, during world war two. This was the biggest scientific breakthrough that changed the outcome of the war. She was only a BA in math from Cambridge. There were several others like Michael Arbuthnot Ashcroft, who were not doctorates but were an asset to the Allied forces in more than one ways including research of high order.
“Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” —John Dewey
Let PhD not become a stumbling block. You may and will miss out on a very good teaching resource because of this.
I do not undermine the importance of research- after all knowledge needs to be generated before it can be delivered. If you have only Electricity generators and do not keep pace with transformers and distribution system you will not be able to light up the whole country! You need scholars and researchers but you also need good people to distribute this knowledge.
There are Vice Chancellors of universities who are non-PhD and are doing a great job.
You require research, solid research in pure sciences and say biotechnology for instance, else how will you invent vaccines, chips and cutting edge technology. But entire Silicon Valley may not be doing research! They produce products, application software too.
A.P.J. Abdul Kalam never earned an academic doctorate through research, but had as many as 40 conferred doctorates. Universities were vying with each other to confer doctorates, including a few from abroad, on him. But Abdul Kalam never flaunted his degrees. He didn’t even have a teaching degree but he turned out to be the most sought-after teacher in India during his later years. So it’s not the ‘title’ or degree that matters, but the ‘substance’ within us. He was the scientific advisor to the government of India and later headed the DRDO too.
Additional spin off
Inducting Veterans into administrative or acedmo-administrative jobs like registrars will also help in streamlining education institutes of higher learning as several of them in the name of freedom of speech create ruckus at national level. Of course having veterans as teachers will add value in terms of nationalism and cultural values besides discipline as a fundamental requirement that country requires.
New education policy
New education policy has been created very recently and still being relooked at. I feel this is the time to formally include this idea of inducting Armed forces personal into education system. Though without this too, many are contributing their bit. But to get the maximum bang for the buck we need to close the fist at the highest level, coordinate and make a punch to get this done.