Officer Selection and Training System Needs Re-Appraisal and Correlativity – Overhaul Needed

"The psychological impact on adolescent cadets in India's Pre-Commission Training Academies have been adequately analysed in the perspective of mass and excessive punishments leading to cognitive dissonance."


Officer Selection and Training System Needs Re-Appraisal and Correlativity – Overhaul Needed

Unauthorised punishments often lead to ‘cognitive dissonance’, which impairs learning, creativity, slows down problem solving skills and increases forgetfulness, leads to inhibitions in creativity. Similarly, unauthorised punishments like manhandling, ground swimming or rolling down the stairs can result in ‘concussions’ to the tune of 30-60g force range.

Emotionally, the above symptoms may lead a person to be aggressive, impatient, impulsive, and prone to low self-esteem, creating major disruption to an individual’s ability to perceive and assimilate. Some of them may also suffer from post-traumatic hypopituitarism with reduced muscle mass, decreased exercise capacity and depression.

“The damage to the brain in such a force is not easy to detect because it is usually not structural in nature and severe enough to interrupt normal functioning and cause physical and cognitive symptoms, some of them immediate, others delayed for weeks, even months. This leads to dizziness, headache, fatigue and change in sleep patterns, which are normally the complaints during ‘sick reports’ by the cadets at NDA.”
NDA cadet sitting inside his cabin, in isolation; File Photo

The policy of officer selection for the Indian Armed Forces is jointly decided by the Chief of Staff Committee and the Defence Institute of Psychological Research (DIPR) under the DRDO. Ever since Independence, three major revisions have taken place, with the last revision being made in 1998, wherein the screening process was introduced due to substantial increase in the number of applicants.

The fourth revision is under consideration by the DIPR and is at the trial stage. The Services Selection Boards (SSBs) conduct one of the finest selection processes over a period of five days and recommend potential officer cadets with high trainability factor to the service Pre-Commission-Training Academies.

The cadets undergo training for a period of one to four years depending upon the type of commission, before they are commissioned into the Armed Forces. Notwithstanding the world class infrastructure and sufficient budgetary support for training of cadets, the National Defence Academy (NDA) has an annual attrition rate of 14-16%, while the service specific pre-commission training academies have a 5-7% attrition rate.

Although attrition in terms of withdrawals, medically unfit and physical casualties are unavoidable in military training establishments all over the world, the high rate of attrition at NDA, one of the premiere military institutions in the world, is a matter of grave concern.

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In this context, Clinical Psychologist, Col P K ‘Royal’ Mehrishi’s analysis on the evolution of ragging, unauthorised punishments and psychological impact on adolescent minds is highly relevant with regards to the training of cadets at NDA and other parallel academies in the Armed Forces. His observations provide valuable inputs for re-appraisal of selection and training methods for our future leadership. Hence, we need to consider de-novo transformation measures to enhance the quality of our officers.

“NDA has an annual attrition rate of 14-16%, while the service specific pre-commission training academies have a 5-7% attrition rate. Although attrition in terms of withdrawals, medically unfit and physical casualties are unavoidable in military training all over the world, the high rate of attrition at NDA, one of the premiere military institutions in the world, is a matter of grave concern.”
Shubham Gupta, 25, sustained major injuries during training, which rendered him disabled; File Photo

The psychological impact on adolescent cadets has been adequately analysed by Col Mehrishi in the perspective of mass and excessive punishments leading to cognitive dissonance. In 2011, a study undertaken by the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States, found that cognitive dissonance can lead to impairment of the ability to learn, create inhibition in creativity, slow down problem solving skills and increase forgetfulness.

The above factors seriously hinder learning ability amongst cadets. Similarly, as afformentioned, unauthorised punishments like manhandling, ground swimming or rolling down the stairs can cause ‘concussions’ to the tune of 30-60g force range.

The damage to the brain in such a force is not easy to detect because it is usually not structural in nature and severe enough to interrupt normal functioning and cause physical and cognitive symptoms, some of them immediate, others delayed for weeks, even months. This leads to dizziness, headache, fatigue and change in sleep patterns, which are normally the complaints during ‘sick reports’ by the cadets at NDA.

Emotionally as afformentioned, the above symptoms leads a person to be aggressive, impatient, impulsive, and prone to low self-esteem, creating major disruption to an individual’s ability to perceive and assimilate. Staying amongst peers in a highly competitive environment, many cadets turn to artificial stimulants and drugs, harming their adolescent body and mind. Some of them also suffer from post-traumatic hypopituitarism with reduced muscle mass, decrease exercise capacity and depression.

“The symptoms may lead a person to be aggressive, impatient, impulsive, and prone to low self-esteem, creating major disruption to an individual’s ability to perceive and assimilate. Some of them may also suffer from post-traumatic hypopituitarism with reduced muscle mass, decreased exercise capacity and depression.”
NDA cadets armed with bayonets; File Photo

Hence, it can be surmised that the three essential factors of learning as brought out by Col Mehrishi; attention, retention and re-production are severely compromised through unauthorised and excessive punishments, prevalent in the Academy, for which there is a high rate of exodus in the form of withdrawal, relegations, and absconding. To address the issue, we need to follow a ‘3-S’ policy of ‘specialisation’, ‘segregation’ and ‘scientific’ physical training at NDA.

Specialisation: There is an urgent need to create a new Dept/Wing for ‘Physical Training’ controlled and supervised by qualified persons both military and civil, with responsibilities to plan, execute and monitor the complete (360 degrees) aspect of physical training of cadets to include physical exercises, sports, drill physical adventure/co-curricular activities, and also authorised physical punishments as laid down.

Physical training as a specialised training component and subject needs serious attention and can no longer be left to inexperienced Divisional Officers or senior cadets. All major military training academies of the world have already incorporated such measures since ages. Details of organisational and command structure can be worked out on a functional basis.

Segregation: All new entry cadets to be kept separately in their first two terms; for which one Battalion with 4-5 squadrons could be earmarked. Minimum two terms are recommended considering the time required for the muscles and bones to be set on a scientific basis.

Scientific: The overall weightage of physical training to be enhanced to 60% from the existing 30% for first two terms. Subsequently, scientific monitoring of body mass-muscle ratio bone development, identification of physical strength and weaknesses, spotting of potential sports persons, and scientific and medical treatment with the help of sports medicine specialists, counselors etc could be planned. On completion of two terms, the cadets can be distributed to other squadrons with the physical training ratio gradually reduced to 20% by the VIth Term.

“Unauthorised punishments often lead to ‘cognitive dissonance’, which impairs learning, creativity, slows down problem solving skills and increases forgetfulness, leads to inhibitions in creativity. Similarly, unauthorised punishments like manhandling, ground swimming or rolling down the stairs can result in ‘concussions’ to the tune of 30-60g force range.”

Selection

There is also a strong need to review our selection process to assess their cognitive and physical capability and link it with the training at the service Academies. Certain recommendations in the selection system as given below could be considered:

A fundamental shift required to move from existing personality-based selection to a cognitive based selection process for the following reasons:

  • Existing personality variables/Officer Like Qualities (OLQs) focus more on social effectiveness and adjustment, derived from the Freudian concept of behavioral process and observable responses, neglecting the mental process which meditates the stimulus and response (Hilgard & Atkinson, 1975).
  • Cognitive assessment provides time course for information processing, reaction-based measurements to provide baseline of assessment and subsequent monitoring.
  • Rise of reliable cognitive function assessment tools such as British Army Recruitment Battery (BARB), Cognitive Screen AE (US) and Australian Computerised Cognitive Assessment Tool (ACCAT).

Physical Efficiency Test (PET) can also be introduced at the Services Selection Boards (SSBs), to include:

  • One-mile shuttle run
  • Pushups (30 reps)
  • Sit-ups (30 reps)
  • Chin-ups (18 reps)

The above tests should be assessed on a gradation scale and marks obtained to be included in the overall assessment.

  • Screening Test (Day-1): Based on Picture Perception & Description Test (PPDT) to be replaced by Cognitive Assessment Test (CAT) and the Physical Efficiency Test (PET).
  • The Psychology Test and GTO assessment could be suitably modified on cognitive assessment tools to reduce the scope and duration so as to complete the test in one day; thereby reducing the overall duration to four days, instead of present five days.
  • In addition, to reduce the load of non-UPSC entries at the SSBs and reduce the vast rejection on the Screening Day, we could consider their shortlisting through established public examinations like GATE (Tech Entries), SAT/CAT (Non-Tech Entries).

Correlativity Assessment & Training: There is a need to develop software to assess the correlativity between assessment and training to be shared periodically between the assessors and trainers to review their own mechanisms. The existing procedure is outdated and devoid of sincerity in purpose. This aspect, being Tri-Service in nature, should be under the control of CIDS.

(Brig. LC Patnaik was an Infantry Officer having vast experience in all theatres of war and types of operations. He has handled crucial military diplomatic challenges in the Middle East, peace keeping operations and training of foreign armies. He has a substantial experience in selection process in the Indian Army (President – SSB) and in the government. He served as the Chairman of the Odisha Public Service Commission (OPSC), where he had also served as a Member. He can be reached at Email: lcpatnaik@gmail.com)

(This article has been reproduced from our book 'Mission Victory India: A Key to Quality Combat Leadership (Lessons in Military Leadership by Veterans & Academicians)'. Available on Amazon.)

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