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An army of teachers

Utilising qualified retired military personnel could be a force multiplier in the education sector.

January 7, 2014 1:38:20 pm

Thousands of personnel from the armed forces retire every year and resettle in civil society, with many taking up a second career. While attempts have been made by the services and the government to ensure integration of these personnel into society, much can still be done to leverage the wide range of competencies they have to offer. Recent initiatives to give a serious push to the education sector present an excellent opportunity for the three services to offer skilled manpower and help make India a large repository of human capital. In pursuit of this objective, there is a need to induct ex-servicemen into the education sector.

The diversity of competencies and qualifications possessed by retiring personnel makes it important to highlight these, so that matching them with suitable institutions becomes easier. Many personnel below officer rank in the army, who retire from the Army Education Corps (AEC) and other technical branches, may have had an opportunity to acquire a graduate degree through correspondence. Apart from an excellent potential to teach in schools, those from the Corps of Signals, Corps of Engineers and Corps of Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (EME) are ideally suited to teach at vocational training institutes and ITIs. As far as the navy and air force are concerned, a large percentage of personnel who retire between the ages of 35-45 are graduates; a few are post-graduates, capable of being trained and absorbed at college level, and sometimes even at university level.

A majority of officers in the three services retire between the ages of 54 and 56. Many of them are post-graduates with varied competencies. A large number have teaching and instructional experience in institutions of professional learning spread across the services. The number of doctorates among officers is also increasing. While the corporate sector has welcomed retiring officers with open arms, the same cannot be said of education.

Opportunities abound for ex-servicemen to be absorbed in the sunrise education sector if the right approach is identified. Starting with a bottom-up approach, a number of personnel retire and settle down in their native villages or towns, taking up jobs in the unorganised sector or looking after their ancestral property. Those with graduate degrees can easily be motivated to become school teachers after appropriate training, which need not be a BEd. Personnel with a technical background can join vocational institutes. Officers with more qualifications can easily join colleges, ITIs and other vocational institutes as lecturers, administrators and counsellors after appropriate training. Highly qualified officers can be offered professorships, depending on their experience, competence and willingness. On a different plane, the UGC can offer competitive fellowships and visiting faculty positions to highly qualified serving officers for up to two years at prestigious institutions like IIT, NIT, AIIMS. At senior levels, retiring officers could be included in selection panels for positions like deans or vice chancellors of universities.

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The first step would be an inter-ministerial understanding and awareness drive, followed by familiarisation visits by HRD ministry officials and professionals from NCERT, UGC and vocational institutes to training establishments and units across the services. These visits could be coordinated by the Directorate General of Resettlement, and would lay the foundation of a long-term relationship between the services and the education sector.

The next step would be to identify vacancies and training requirements, apart from deciding on remuneration packages. Since higher education is being privatised, bringing the private sector on board is crucial for the success of this initiative. A sustained publicity and media campaign that revolves around nation-building and influencing the next generation with discipline and commitment would go a long way in motivating ex-servicemen to become teachers, administrators and leaders.

One of the major recommendations of the Sixth Pay Commission was to facilitate lateral transfer of ex-servicemen at all levels into the paramilitary, Central and state police forces. A similar move into education may be contemplated by the Seventh Pay Commission. Setting up training capsules and laying down accreditation criteria for ex-servicemen is not going to be easy. Two role models of soldier-scholars across the globe assuming positions of great academic responsibility in recent times have been Lt General Zameer Uddin Shah (retired), a former deputy chief of the Indian army, and Admiral James Stavridis of the US navy (retired), a former Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe. While Shah is currently the vice chancellor of the Aligarh Muslim University, Stavridis has recently been appointed dean of the Fletcher School of Diplomacy at Tufts University. Both have demonstrated an engaging style of leadership, with emphasis on academic rigour and development of leadership skills. Let us not squander the opportunity to exploit the diverse potential of retiring men and women in uniform and inculcate in the younger generation the values of hard work, courage and discipline, along with academic excellence.

The writer is a serving air vice marshal of the IAF. Views are personal.

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