The article, Crisis in the Cradle-Redux by Admiral Arun Prakash gives a critical and well-reasoned analysis of the shortcomings in our training at the National Defence Academy (NDA), and by inference is suggestive that the other Training Academies may not be faring too well either. There are certain additional factors that bear merit.
Whilst we have had a glorious history, our immediate past since Independence has had its fair share of the pangs of a new nation, struggling to come to terms with its penury and potential. The stock of the Services Officers’ Corps comes from the same pool as the rest of our countrymen, and would therefore reflect their attributes. How do we then find and mould the officers who are paragons of virtues and role model citizens? It is quite possible that the metamorphosis for the better or for the worse is brought about by the customs and traditions of our Institutions. In fact this is the underlying deduction of the aforesaid essay. Let us therefore examine some additional issues
The transformation of our society and polity, its continuous descent into darkness and resurrection, is palpable by the constant focus on the efforts in politics to stay in or to acquire political power. Whilst it is a reflection of the churning of our democratic processes, the uncivil discourse, undermining of the law and a lack of concern for the fellow citizen, takes its toll in the making of the young mind. Let us look at two issues which directly or indirectly affect the quality of our intake, Education, and Duties and obligations of our citizens.
About 65% of India’s children are educated in Government schools. The Right to Education Act was enacted in 2009, with the laudable view to ensure that all children get a school education up to the 8th standard. The quality of teachers and infrastructure was defined. The ASER report 2018 brings out the grave deficiencies that continue to exist, both by way of learning outcomes and facilities in government schools, almost a decade after the Act was enunciated.
There are states where close to 50% schools do not have provision for drinking water or toilets for girls. In the Act, the Government seems to have tacitly acknowledged its inability to meet its statutory obligations, by providing that the private non-minority schools would be required to take in 25% of the intake from the economically weaker section of society, despite their own schools being under subscribed to.
So what is the quality of the student that the country can expect at the end of the education process? One who is discerning and learned, or one who has half formed minds and ideas, driven by the images on social media and by the local politician? Without having quality school education present in our country, how are we to have quality national institutions?
Therefore what sort of background of children should the induction into our Academies be from? Can we trust the quality of cadets who make it through the selection system, having been ‘coached’ on preparation and SSB methods? Is it possible to induct cadets into the tenth standard, whilst the young minds are still relatively virtuous and easier to mould?
Let’s examine another aspect of the milieu that the citizens are brought up in. The Preamble to the Constitution of India resolves to secure for its citizens, Justice, Liberty, Equality and promotion of Fraternity. The original constitution did not have the Fundamental Duties and obligations expected of its citizens in its body or reference in the Preamble. These were added in 1976 by the 42nd Amendment and further amended by the 86th Amendment.
The duties are not enforceable. In such a setting, we have had generations of our citizens focussing on their rights but being apathetic and callous of their duties and obligations. This is manifested in a distinct lack of civic behaviour and a glaring disrespect for the law. The young cadets too come from the same environs, observing the focus on ‘rights’, an ability of citizens to bypass the law, but no idea or understanding of their duties and obligations.
It’s within the portals of our academies, and the ethos of our Services, that Duty and Rights being two sides of the same coin, and that often Duty has primacy over Rights, is sought to be instilled. Perhaps the rest of the country could follow the model, through necessary legislative changes or is that utopian idealism and an unreasonable expectation?
That academics cannot be taught by inadequate, untrained and temporary staff is a no brainer. The erstwhile Naval Engineering College had through an arrangement with the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), professors who were DRDO scientists. It provided the student officers in the college, outstanding education, and a ready influx due to retirements.
There were service officers of the Engineering and Electrical branches on faculty, but they were principally for professional subjects. The officers from the Education branch were not quite up to the mark required for a degree level college, and did not often find a billet. A proposal had been mooted about 15 years ago to run the academic curriculum at the new Naval Academy (NAVAC) by Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay [IIT(B)], with faculty from IIT(B), and a degree in Engineering from IIT(B).
The genesis was the problems related to the faculty for the NDA possibly manifesting at NAVAC, and was developed after a study of the system at the Australian Defence Force Academy. A provision had been made to upgrade the Academy to post-graduate work with a view to foster research, build academic excellence and attract faculty talent. Whilst the Academic Council of IIT (B) had accepted the unusual proposal, considering it as a service to the nation, it was Service Headquarters, which for some reason, did not see merit in it!
The question of excellence and recognition in academic standards will always remain, unless quality faculty is cultivated, provided and sustained. A Faculty requires growth potential, and association with a top of the line University could resolve the problems.
Maintenance of Buildings & Roads and Electrical & Mechanical installations has always been a vexed issue. We do see extremes, both highly satisfactory maintenance as well as crumbling infrastructure in service. Having experienced, and managed both these first hand, I felt it to be a function of the availability of funds, quality of planning and the attributes of the Executive. I have seen Garrison Engineers produce outstanding results, and obdurate individuals, lying down on the job to loaf.
It was therefore quite evident, that there are no systemic lacunae, just one of application. Institutions like our Training Academies indeed deserve the best by way of support staff, highest quality of roll on plans and adequate funds, for what the young trainee observes, becomes the norm for the future. If India is looking towards becoming a power to reckon with, assuredly we can have the budget to look after our infrastructure.
Children imbibe observed behaviour, and this goes to shape their adult life. My experience in the school that I help run is that troubled children come mostly from insecure homes, homes where there is a communication deficit, there are no quality role models to emulate and they are low on self-esteem. This is further exacerbated by a deficiency of reading habits, and a flood of negativity in today’s social media.
Children are an empty slate, and their minds are moulded by their environment. The instilling of self-esteem and self-belief have been the two main factors which have helped to mould children into good citizens. A perceptible change is observed in the students who are in the tenth and those who are in the twelfth, with the former more amenable to discipline, suggesting that it would be easier to mould a younger mind.
Much has been written about leaders and leadership styles. For the military, a leader has a fine blend of strength of character, humility, integrity, an ability to achieve the required outcomes, dedication to the state and the team, the power to motivate and adapt, the ability to listen and high levels of empathy.
The military leader is required to build his team and mentor future leaders. He is seen to be professionally competent, high on emotional intelligence and aware of the light beyond his own shadow. How then do we identify and build these attributes? Many of these traits are developed through observational learning.
Our intake to the NDA is from a shrunken pool, with institutions like the Rashtriya Indian Military College, Sainik Schools, Military Schools and lately, the Kendriya Vidyalayas, and public schools of the three Armed Forces, providing a fair number. Out there in our vast hinterland is a huge talent pool. The number of students exiting 12th class is around six million every year, about half of them males.
The question is, can we locate the right talent? The school knows the antecedents of a student, and it may therefore be worthwhile to get a recommendation from the school Principal and Class Teacher, on the suitability of the individual to protect the nation, in essence, their lives.
During my tenure as CO INS Shivaji, I had observed that the 10+2 Naval Engineering Course cadets were of an exceptional calibre, and despite, their small numbers, limited resources and facilities, matched up to the NDA in activities like Basketball and Camp Torna. An analysis suggested that it was possibly due to higher intellect levels, as the entry into the scheme had reached 85%+ in Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics as cut off.
In a nutshell, intelligence matters. We could therefore consider a minimum 80% marks in 10+2 Board Exams or being in the top 10 percentile, as a prerequisite for entry to the NDA.
The other alternative is to consider the formation of an NDA Junior wing, with the induction being after the tenth standard. A proviso of keeping a minimum of 80% in Board exams would provide for a higher intellect. The measure would prepare the young cadets in terms of their physical fitness, culture conditioning and service orientation, by the time he reaches the NDA. In The junior Academy, emphasis would be on academic excellence, building up physical fitness and developing communication skills.
The Academy does have issues, some of which are derivatives of the society that we live in and some a consequence of the circumstances and proceedings at the institution. However, some measures would assist in improving the training outcomes. The response is concluded with five recommendations.
Without adequate quality faculty, the learning outcomes will always be suspect. In the absence of suitable growth potential in a singular academy it may be difficult to attract and retain talent. Quality faculty will be the key to providing the vital inputs to a cadet. In the past, it was required of the cadet to be physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight. A fourth dimension needs to be added, to be technologically sound. Consideration can be given to run the academic content by a suitable university. The academic content of the suggested Junior Wing could be run as we do an Armed Forces Public School.
Infrastructure upkeep is essential for the impact it has on the young trainee. It is quite achievable, given the funds, planning and highly motivated executives. These are well within the ambit of the Service Headquarters and could be met with attention to the requirements.
Developing Leadership Attributes
The formative years develop the individual’s leadership skills through a process of observational learning. Whilst academic and physical development does take place through a system of reinforced learning, it is through observation and impact of the environment which has the greatest impact on the development of leadership skills. It therefore becomes even more imperative that the Officers and senior cadets in the Academy follow an exemplary code of conduct.
Selection of Cadets
There is immense potential and desire in our youth to serve in the Armed Forces. It remains a question of matching the supply to our demand. A method of talent spotting and promotion from the hinterland and across the length and breadth of the country can be adopted in which intellect, physical fitness and character are the principal virtues. The selection to the NDA can be made contingent to getting 80% in 10+2 Boards and favourable recommendations from the Principal and Class Teacher.
The objective is to induct a more malleable cadet. The induction after the tenth is recommended to be in a separate Wing, where emphasis is on academics, physical conditioning and development of communication skills. This would help to mitigate the issues of trying to cope with the demands of developing sinews and a degree level course at the Academy.
(RAdm Vineet Bakhshi, an alumni of NDA, served as Commanding Officer INS Shivaji, Director General Naval Projects (Mumbai) and Chairman and Managing Director of Goa Shipyard Ltd. He can be reached at [email protected] Views expressed are the authors own, and do not reflect the editorial policy of 'Mission Victory India')