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 Change is Imminent: Defence Review’s Perspective on Education
 By Capt Ntokozo Ntshangase, AD ASTRA Magazine
 

Part One

Defence Force Review is not only a strategic document meant to provide military direction and long-term objectives, it is also a government’s attempt to redefine and reposition the Defence Force so that it remains relevant to the needs of the Republic. Defence Review (DR) is people-inclined and subsequently effect or outcome-based. It is a progressive document, which imagines the Defence Force that ploughs back to the community. Institutions like the Defence Force, in the constitutional democracy, are structurally designed to provide much needed social support. Military institutions provide skills development to the youth (skills that could easily filter back to the society and contribute immensely to economic growth), instil patriotism, ensures that people of the Republic enjoy the country’s sovereignty as enshrined in the Constitution and meaningfully participate in finding a lasting solution to all socioeconomic challenges facing the African continent.

Amongst many topical issues covered in the DR document is education and skills development. Education is like a sword cutting through the umbilical cord of poverty. Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”. Like many other educationalists, he believed that it is only through education that we can change our circumstances.

DR looks at education and skills development as a pathway towards economic emancipation and sound leadership. “Leadership lies at the centre of organizational excellence. The importance of exemplary military leadership cannot be over-emphasized as any failure of the Defence Force in the execution of its mandate has dire and disastrous consequences for the state. It is for this reason that the Defence Force cannot compromise on the education, training and development of its leaders. Military leadership is rooted in the burden of command and there can be no compromise in the development of confident and competent men and women who will be placed in positions of authority”, DR 11-1.

DR correctly views education not as an expenditure but an investment to the future. The document is clear that there is no room for mediocrity and illiteracy in the Defence Force. The efficient and responsive Defence Force will always be in a better position to deliver in its mandate. DR directs that the development of confident and competent men and women should not be done just for the sake of adding numbers or appearing as developmental in our approach. Instead emphasis should be on the ‘return on investment’. The desired outcome is that such leaders should be placed in positions of authority. However, those with integrity would agree that this is not the case.

The future of any society/organization, no matter how unique and sophisticated, lies with its youth. The current international practice has seen governments, companies and political parties entrusting young, educated and innovative leaders with leadership responsibilities. The argument is quite simple, one cannot plan the future of the next generation without their meaningful input. The exodus of qualified personnel from various organizations, particularly in the public sector, is not only about greener pastures. Professionals want recognition and a platform, not to dictate how things should be done, but to provide progressive and innovative ways on how organizations could remain relevant and in touch with its stakeholders. These are the fundamental imperatives and objectives of the DR.

The document needs volunteers to drive it to its meaningful and tangible realization. Volunteers are individuals driven by a desire to promote a common agenda. In most cases, volunteers are not premier league caste but the enlightened within any community, no matter how primitive that society may be. DR calls for volunteers who will stand firm in their conviction, who will invest time in understanding and practicing every aspect of the Military Code of Conduct; by being the epitome of discipline, developing themselves and those around them; and by educating themselves about the organization, its business and envisaged outcomes, founding principles and doctrines.

There is a common denominator between the DR and other government policy documents. Such documents are heavily dependent on competent volunteers (Defence Force) and public servants to implement. DR calls for the awakening of the sleeping giants. “Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it”, said Frantz Fanon. Today’s generation of volunteers need to discover their mission, which could be centred around “improving the capabilities of the SANDF by maintaining discipline, safeguarding property, developing skills and knowledge, and performing my ‘their’ duties diligently and professionally” (Code of Conduct).

The realization of the above extract is solely on the doorsteps of young volunteers, who will not relent even at the face of resolute resistance. Improving the capabilities of the SANDF would require a paradigm shift. The departure point would have to deal with dissociating the rank from individual genius. Being old does not mean one has matured or one possesses absolute knowledge on everything imaginable. The enlightened mind has the ability to supersede 20 years of service. The Defence Force has such minds in abundance. The question is, are they afforded an opportunity to contribute towards a stronger, professional and forward thinking organization?

“Nothing limits achievement like small thinking; nothing expands possibilities like unleashed imagination”, quoting William Ward. What does small thinking mean? Small thinking is associated with insecurity and resistance to change. Somehow, the two factors (insecurity and resistance to change) contribute to stagnation and frustration of any achievement. It is only when we ‘develop skills and knowledge’ that we could unleash imagination and expand possibilities. Generally, education is “directed towards the cognitive development of individuals to think independently”, DR 11-3.

Educated volunteers are not a threat to anyone or any organization. On the contrary, they possess intellectual weapon that could be utilized to transform and professionalize the organization. Defence Review, that is, its implementation, needs to deal with the current narrative, which is premised on the perception that education has no value in the Defence Force. The proponents of this school of thought advance the argument that seniority (irrespective of whether the member possesses any intellect or required skills) supersedes education, and on the false presumption that the rank makes one to think well than those on lower ranks. The resistance is also perpetuated by the unfortunate fact that promotion is based on the number of years served in a particular rank and the completion of specific promotional courses. This situation directly trivializes the role and importance of education in the Defence Force. The situation is in direct contradiction to the prescripts of the Defence Review 2014.

Notwithstanding the aforementioned resistance, the Defence Force has made noticeable strides in skills development. The continuous exodus of qualified and skilled personnel, while regrettable, is the sign that the Defence Force has the facilities, resources and training programmes that allow members to be competitive in the private sector. Part two of this article interrogates how the South African Air Force’s (SAAF) education and skills development programme relates and promotes the objectives of the Defence Review. The Directorate Education and Training Development is charged with ensuring that SAAF volunteers are well educated and adequately trained to execute their task and are able to provide effective leadership.


 

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