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Professional Military Education

A Cross-Cultural Survey


Edited By Duraid Jalili and Hubert Annen

This book brings together non-Western viewpoints on military pedagogy and professional military education (PME). In doing so, it seeks to provide a counterbalance to the predominantly European and North American bias found within the research field, as well as generating new insights on Latin American, African and Asian pedagogical commentaries and critiques. The collection contains essays from PME researchers and practitioners across fourteen countries, on subjects including large-scale educational reform, civil-military and academic influences on military pedagogy, internationalisation, cross-cultural collaboration, and interoperability within military education.

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Military Education and Educational Modernization: The Argentine Case

Lieutenant Colonel Dr. Marcelo J. Alem Troncoso

Military Education and Educational Modernization: The Argentine Case

Abstract: This chapter addresses the pedagogical reforms implemented in late-20th and early 21st century Argentina across both civilian and military educational institutions. It argues that the overt emphasis on research competency within these reforms, alongside a failure to account for students’ own preferences, resulted in an incorrect balance between theory and practicum, a reduced emphasis on professional competences, and the loss of military pedagogical concepts that remain vital to the basic functioning of a military force. The chapter contends that a potential solution to this scenario can be found in the field of ‘labour pedagogy’ and the wider principles of competency-based education.

Keywords: PME, military education, military pedagogy, labour pedagogy, Argentine Army, Colegio Militar, Military College, CoNEAU


This chapter seeks to assess the impact of evolving pedagogies in Argentina, by comparing the civilian and military educational spheres. Although the term pedagogy derives from the Greek paidagōgos (παιδαγωγός), meaning ‘to lead a child’, this chapter uses the term pedagogy in its broader sense, that is, the field of knowledge that has education as the object of its study. As established by Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, education is a lifelong endeavour (Heafford, 1967, pp.74–78) that seeks to create “the achievement of freedom in autonomy for one and all” (Soëtard, 1994, p.308).

Although many educators subscribe to various learning taxonomies, it is self-evident that pedagogies and educational philosophies necessarily vary across sectors, institutions and individual educators. Underlying this chapter, is the perception that military pedagogy must be understood both alongside and separate to wider educational philosophies, since the intentionality of military training has particularities that distinguish it from the liberal or independent professions. The goal of forming soldiers for the act of war has its own specific complexities and requires diverse and integrated competencies.

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It could be argued, for example, that Military Pedagogy constitutes one subcategory within the wider field of Labour Pedagogy. If we consider the definition of Pineda Herrero (2002, p.29), we can say that Labour Pedagogy is a science of education that adapts the basic principles and norms of pedagogical knowledge and applies them to the context of employment. Pineda Herrero identifies two types of relationship between education and work. Firstly, the initial preparation of a person to practice their chosen profession. Secondly, the need to provide employees with continuous training, to update them and empower their skills. This second goal is designed to generate multipurpose professionals who are adaptable to new situations. It is necessary due to the nature of organizations as social entities that are constantly evolving in line with continued social and cultural change.

Based on her analysis of the different definitions obtained from Edwards et al. (1983, p.103) and Rodriguez and Medrano (1993, p.10), Pineda Herrero (2002, pp.35–36) also establishes four conditions for training in a labour organization:

It is a process.

It is linked to the job of the person who is being trained.

It is aimed at eliminating the difference between the abilities of a person and the demands of their job.

Its ultimate goal is to help the organization achieve its central objectives.

Pineda Herrero does not provide a specific example of these conditions in practice. However, these principles could easily be applied to the education of an individual solider with a specific specialty (e.g. tank driver) and function that will in turn help that soldier’s platoon to fulfil a range of missions.

In accordance with these principles, we will now consider the pedagogical changes that have occurred in both civilian and military education within Argentina, with a specific focus on the Argentine Army. These changes are the result of a major socio-cultural shift that took place in the late 20th century, which was astonishingly close to the predictions of Alvin Toffler. As argued by Toffler, in this new era the “prime objective” of education would be to develop students “who can weave their way through novel environments” and to increase “the speed and economy with which [they] can adapt to continual change” (1970, pp.402–403).

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Amongst other things, this shift meant that traditional educational methods such as “lectures must inevitably give way to a whole battery of teaching techniques, ranging from role playing and gaming to computer-mediated seminars” (Ibid., p.361). Yet, whilst civilian and military education in Argentina did change in line with these modern pedagogical priorities, the process by which this change was achieved resulted in an uneasy balance between the teaching of theory and practicum, and a vision for national education that did not necessarily account for the needs of students themselves.

Pedagogical Disputes in University Education

It is a practical certainty that the educational systems designed several centuries ago and fully deployed towards the end of the 19th century no longer respond to the realities and needs of the 21st century. In Argentina, this need to achieve significant pedagogical improvements in the national education system led to the creation of the Federal Education Law of 1993, by which education was reoriented at all levels (Ley Federal de Educación, 1993).1 In the same year, the government created the Comisión Nacional de Evaluación y Acreditación Universitaria (National Commission for University Evaluation and Accreditation – CoNEAU).

In addition to implementing an accreditation process for postgraduate academic careers, CoNEAU developed standards and evaluation methods for the accreditation of educational offerings across different universities. This was done in order to ensure quality within higher education and facilitate the recognition of university professionals across every field. As part of its wide-ranging reforms, in 1995 the Argentine government issued the Higher Education Law seeking the integration of all higher education institutions in Buenos Aires, and at the provincial and national level. This integration was mandated to occur regardless of whether they were military or civilian institutions or whether they provided artistic, sociological ←101 | 102→or vocational education (Ley de Educación Superior, 1995, Art.5). Such institutions, therefore, lost significant autonomy in determining key aspects such as their curricula, statutes, instructors and job titles.

Amongst other achievements, these government reforms placed greater emphasis on the pedagogical training of university professors. Although many of these professors were highly recognized professionals in their research fields, they possessed minimal pedagogical training. As Zabalza Beraza (2002, p.14) points out, there exists a difference between the university professor and the teaching profession:

“university professors present their own cultural characteristics (in the way they construct knowledge and present it to their students, in the way they conceive their work and their professional career) largely due to the selection process and their socialization as members of the ‘university faculty’”.2

This cultural characteristic may be compared to that of a physician, whose role is to treat a patient rather than to teach anatomy. Each role requires specific competencies and therefore specific training. In order to create a “balanced and effective” faculty, a university should seek to combine “people with strong pedagogical training alongside others with broad experience as teachers of specific disciplines” (Ibid., p.162). Unfortunately, the new emphasis placed on pedagogical training was not always well received by university professors, especially those who had been teaching for a long time and who retained “a certain vision for the profession and the conditions for exercising it” (Ibid., p.15).

Another area of significant change was in the teaching methods used at universities. Traditionally, university education revolved around the use of lectures, that is, the presentation of content to a group of students, whose role is limited to taking notes and repeating these notes punctually on the day of their exams. This traditional learning format requires teachers with significant content knowledge and students with a considerable capacity for memorization, but it does not ensure the acquisition of knowledge. ←102 | 103→Nor does it ensure the competencies required to apply that knowledge in professional life.

At the beginning of the 21st century, there occurred a new emphasis in higher education within Argentina, focused on the need for professional competencies. This emphasis was derived in part from “the dominant Anglo-Saxon paradigm” (Mollis, 2011, p.321) imported particularly from Europe, and had a direct correlation with key proposals of the International Labour Organization and the professional standards that were being promoted by the European Higher Education Area (Bologna Working Group, 2005).

In order for students to develop these professional competences during their college experience, it was necessary to integrate a greater level of practicum within curricula. This new emphasis allowed students to discover, from the very beginning of their career, the day to day realities of the profession, and thus to have greater confidence in their career choices. This practice was, of course, already common in courses for the medical sciences. such as medicine, dentistry, or nursing, and vocational courses such as engineering or architecture. Yet, due to variations in how practicum was integrated within these courses, sometimes occurring throughout the course and sometimes with trainee jobs after graduation, there existed no ‘best practice’ model of how to apply this more widely.

As such, there was contention surrounding the question of how to integrate practical training within curricula, with some academics arguing that “practicum makes more sense if its functions are linked to different modules or training blocks integrated across different subjects” and other specialists arguing the complete opposite (Zabalza Beraza, 2011, pp.39–40). For some prestigious academics, this cultural shift from content-centred learning to student-centred learning, and the new emphasis on practical sections of study was considered detrimental to the quality of teaching. This opinion was based on the traditional ideal of university education as a method of imparting a diversity of views, critical thinking and academic skills, with a focus on deepening students’ abilities to carry out scientific research in their own fields of knowledge.

These debates, however, often overlooked the perspective of the students themselves. Indeed, the question that must always be considered before deciding what emphasis to place on professional competences versus ←103 | 104→research skills in higher education, is what the students themselves wish to achieve: greater professional skills or broader research and thinking skills? This question does not have a single answer since no individual solution can be applied across the “complex and heterogeneous” range of public and private universities in Argentina “consisting of more than 1700 establishments at the non-university tertiary level and 102 universities” (Mollis, 2011, p.315), each with its own vision and development objectives, politico-economic agendas, and social, religious and geographical influences.

This solution would also have to be applied across many different professions, each with their own inherent particularities. In reality, content specialization in different fields such as law, medicine and architecture requires different teaching methods. Awareness of these requirements, however, can only be achieved if educators are able to put aside their role at the higher management level of the university system and place themselves at the level of the student. In a dialogue with my own students at the Catholic University, for example, the question of what could be done to improve the learning process led to a clear answer ‘we want more practice of what we have learned’. This need to provide more practicum within university courses, in order to help students prepare for the world of work, has been reinforced in discussions with colleagues from diverse subject areas during pedagogical cycles at the University of Salvador, and in wider academic studies conducted at the local level by the Universidad de Oviedo (González Riaño, 2011, p.223).

In order to ensure the development of research competence and as a precondition for gaining the professional certificate itself, students in the majority of university courses are required to present research papers with certain scientific standards and formalities. Their ability to plan and produce a piece of investigative research is then confirmed again through a final degree paper or thesis. Undoubtedly, research is one of the central axes of any university, along with teaching and wider community services (known as ‘extension’), but not all students participate in extension or teaching activities. In general, these are offered as elective options for those select students who are interested. The question remains, therefore, why should we practice testing and competition in the area of research and not in other general areas which are equally relevant to a student’s future profession?

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The case study of civilian universities within Argentina reveals that educators should listen to students and interpret their interests far better. This includes realizing that not all students are interested in the field of research, but that most need to know how to develop their professional skills in the daily life of a specific career. This dispute is likely to continue into the foreseeable future, with a range of different potential solutions related to individual universities and career paths. Moreover, as we shall now consider, this central question of just how far professional-specialization and practicum should overtake broader learning and thinking skills within education has also affected military education over the last several decades and can be seen especially in the pedagogical evolution of the Colegio Militar de la Nación (National Military College – CMN) before and after the Malvinas War.

Pedagogical Disputes in Military Education

Military education has undergone a major process of change in Argentina since the 1980s. As we shall consider later in this section, many of these changes are related to the return of democracy and the withdrawal of the armed forces from domestic political issues. One issue that military education institutions have faced throughout this period, however, is balancing the need to train officers for specific roles whilst also educating them to adapt to broader, rapidly evolving challenges (as predicted by Toffler).

This issue is particularly conspicuous in the work of the Colegio Militar de la Nación (CMN), which is charged with the initial formation of officers. In over 140 years of history, the CMN has undergone many changes to meet the requirements of the national education system. At the heart of these changes is one key question: how far should junior officers be trained to understand higher-levels of strategy? This problem has been faced by many (if not all) military academies throughout modern history. Yet it is especially relevant today in Argentina considering the continued prominence of wider debates on practicum within higher education. Should the training of young cadets focus on the task they will perform when they graduate from the CMN? Or should the CMN focus on higher-level conceptual skills and educate its students in accordance with Napoleon´s famous assertion that “every soldier carries a marshal’s baton in his rucksack” (Bowyer, 2004, p.25).

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Although these arguments are complementary, in that both options are designed to form a military leader, they remain highly contested. If we consider the Colegio Militar de la Nación in the 1980s, for example, the training of officers was divided between the content provided in the fields of ‘academic studies’ and ‘military instruction’. Even though both areas contributed to the established objective of the academy, there existed a clear lack of coordination and articulation between the goals of ‘academic’ studies and military instruction, and the junior officer’s career path.

The military instruction provided on ‘tactics’, for example, gave students training on brigade- and division-level organizational and operational warfighting. Cadets also learned the operational functions of the echelons below that of ‘company’, until they reached their 4th year where they qualified as a section leader of their branch. This training was designed to create combat organizations (company, section, group and patrol) composed of cadets, and was achieved through classes led by junior officers and the use of practical field exercises.

Meanwhile, the academic subject of ‘military history’ focused on the great campaigns and operations of ancient, medieval and modern warfare, and the great conflicts of the 20th century, including their causes and consequences. This included studies on higher command, theatre warfare, and battle command of the Second World War. This wider historical focus was supported by an abundant bibliography, including a formative use of the Manual de Historia Militar (Campos, 1975). Moreover, military history was only one subject of many within an academic field that included education in disciplines such as mathematics, physics, argentine history, geopolitics, language, philosophy, political sciences, electronics, branch technique, chemistry and military justice.

In the mid-1980s, however, this system began to be questioned (along with many other practices in the Argentine military), due to the defeat suffered against the British Armed Forces in the Malvinas War of 1982. In the CMN, the debate focused on the significant amount of teaching provided on combat and operations for junior officers who would ultimately graduate with the rank of Sub Lieutenant and with the role of platoon leader in a battalion, and, therefore, would not have to deal with these higher operational and strategic challenges until much later in their careers. Among other arguments, it was pointed out that during a ←106 | 107→standard military career there are other formal stages of education where these aspects of leadership and command skills are deepened. Here, we find another point of coincidence with Pineda Herrero’s (2002, p.31) assertion regarding the need to provide workers with continuous learning that makes it possible to update, strengthen and evolve their competencies on a regular basis.

As part of this debate, military educators started to question the use of prevailing pedagogical models and to reorient their focus from content-based to student-based education. This did not mean that cadets were able to decide what form their training would take, but instead it allowed teachers to alter their classes in ways that better motivated students and clarified the purpose and meaning of the topics which they were being taught. The subject of military history, for example, was altered so that its contents became more focused on the development of battles, including logistical difficulties, manoeuvres, tactical errors and examples of military leadership, rather than on the political leadership surrounding the wider conflict. This helped significantly in improving students’ interest in the subject matter.

By the 1990s, with the creation of organizations such as CoNEAU and the implementation of various educational laws, the armed forces also underwent many changes that were not specific to them as an organization, but that were part of wider reforms occurring throughout the nation’s higher education system. In 1990, for example, the Argentine Army founded the Instituto de Enseñanza Superior del Ejército (Higher Education Army Institute – IESE). This organization was designed to bring Argentine military education and the formation of officers into line with the standards of the national education system, achieving a “permanent culture of educational quality through the diagnosis, evaluation and continuous feedback of the system” (Sarni, 2005, p.32). This remit provided the IESE with the responsibility to reform all of the Army’s higher educational academies, including institutions that had achieved significant historical recognition and had pre-existed the IESE, sometimes by over a century, such as the Colegio Militar de la Nación, the Escuela Superior de Guerra (Superior War College – ESG), and Escuela Superior Técnica (Army Technological College – EST).

As part of the new legal framework for education, the IESE requested accreditation for its careers by CoNEAU in 2000 and renewed these ←107 | 108→accreditations in 2008. This certification demonstrated the quality of education that was provided at the military institutes. Yet, as within the civilian universities, this process required the military to achieve a difficult balancing act between the theoretical and practical aspects of education. The pedagogical currents that had circulated in the general education system over the last decade of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st century stressed the need for greater freedom, less supervision and less formality for students.

Under the auspices of the Ministry of Defence’s 2007 modernization strategy, which advocated the “Adaptation of subsystems for civil and military education and training” (Ministerio de Defensa, 2007, p.9), officials within the political hierarchy started to question and challenge the educational methods being used within the military profession and recommended new pedagogies. This resulted in greater flexibility in the types of courses, schedules and level of supervision required of cadets; a reduction in the level of interaction required with their drill officers; and an increased emphasis on academic research which in turn reduced the time available for experiences in tactical leadership. Finally, in line with the predictions of Charles Moskos (1982, p.299), these reforms created a shift in educational priorities from the goal of forming military technicians to the “democratic formation” of public officials, prompting students to consider themselves as state employees, with reduced institutional and professional commitment. This process undermined the sense of sacrifice that had previously permeated the education of officers and that remains vital to the basic functioning of a military force in a conflict scenario.

Although these new learning methods were not always effective, the Argentine Army acquiesced to political pressure and implemented the recommended modifications. This course of action was not supported by many officers at the lower levels, who believed that these new educational methodologies would have potentially negative effects in the medium-term. Many military professionals, and even cadets, argued that greater demands and formality were necessary, and that the changes would bring little value to their duties on the battlefield.

Critics of the reforms also noted that, instead of balancing the need to study topics such as military history from both an Argentine and international ←108 | 109→perspective, the new model sought simply to emulate other armies, without adapting their logic and traditions to the various socio-cultural and politico-military requirements of the Argentine security context. Indeed, cultural traditions such as naming military units in honour of those people, battles and paradigm-shifting leaders that preceded them, still provide a vital foundation, reference point and impetus for the Argentine military.

It is important to note that, especially in the years immediately following the CMN, junior officers in the Argentine Army can undertake specialist training in areas of command, diving, parachuting, hunting, special operations or air assault, among others. This process allows cadets and junior officers to gain in-depth practical experience in combat tactics, leadership and command of troops, which cannot be properly transmitted in the classroom. As junior officers, they also continue to gain further practical learning and experience in their daily roles, as is traditional within both the military-specific development path and in general labour pedagogy.

Upon promotion to the ranks of Captain and Major, these officers can then attend courses at the army staff college (Escuela Superior de Guerra ‘Teniente General Luis María Campos’), where they are trained for staff roles at brigade-level or even higher echelons. This is followed by the ‘Master’s in National Defence’ which is performed at the rank of Colonel. These higher officer courses have also undergone changes in their pedagogies, schedules and content. In the 1990s, for example, specialist courses and wider curricular reforms were implemented at the staff college level due to clear deficits in the areas of logistics management, both in terms of personnel and materiel, which had been highlighted by the Army’s performance in the Malvinas War.

This need for adaptation is likely to continue in line with the rapidly evolving character of conflict in the nation, the region and the world. Indeed, as in most Western countries, legal norms for defence and security in Argentina have become more complex. In order to achieve an integrated national security strategy, it is necessary to train specialists who can collaborate in the administration of state resources and personnel, in positions that range from the lowest tactical units to the highest levels of government. Such specialists will require an ability to assess the challenges facing military campaigns and to analyse and propose doctrinal improvements appropriate to current and future conflicts.

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In accordance with this, it could be argued that the tension between divergent views on the initial formation of officers within the Argentine Army has resulted in an intermediate learning path, which has managed to both adhere to and mitigate the political impositions of the Argentine national education strategy. This path has required the military to take advantage of proposals for pedagogical improvement, whilst simultaneously altering its educational and strategic orientation in order to successfully prepare cadets who can develop and adapt to the complex and changing world they will face as future officers.


The purpose of this chapter has been to relate the disputes that have developed in the civilian university sector to the pedagogical changes seen in the higher education institutions of the Argentine Army. In making this comparison, it is possible to find contact points between those officials in military education who wish to train cadets to be ‘Generals’ rather than junior officers, and those officials in civilian universities who wish to train students to be academics rather than professionals. In practice, the number of military students in a cadet class who can reach the rank of General does not ordinarily exceed 3 %, as no more than 5 Colonels are allowed to be promoted each year, unless there are exceptional political circumstances. It can also be expected that the number of civilian graduates who find academic careers dedicated to the field of research they studied within university will be within the minority.

This imbalance has led to a scenario in which students do not have all of the tools required to develop efficiently in their chosen professional field. If the educational system is unable to correct this imbalance through higher levels of practicum within curricula, it may still be possible to find a range of useful tools for the development of these professional competences in the field of labour pedagogy. Perhaps the most valuable aspect of this labour pedagogy is that, as previously discussed, it can be applied both to military and civilian professions.

Above all, civilian universities and military education institutions need to listen far more to the needs and opinions of their students rather than relying on the opinions of higher-ranking staff and politically orientated ←110 | 111→policy makers. Only by increasing the impact of student feedback on curricula and pedagogy can civilian and military universities fulfil the responsibility that they owe to society: to help produce future generations capable of succeeding in the professional roles required for a functioning society, as well as the specialist research skills needed to expand the breadth and depth of scientific knowledge that can be used by nations, organisations and individuals to adapt to future challenges.


Bowyer, R. (2004). Dictionary of Military Terms. London: Bloomsbury.

Campos, L.M. (1975). Manual de Historia Militar. 3 Vols. Buenos Aires: Escuela Superior de Guerra.

Edwards, J., Leek, C., Loveridge, R., Lumley, R., Mangan, J., and Silver, M. (1983). Manpower Planning: Strategy and Techniques in an Organizational Context. London: Wiley and Sons.

Bologna Working Group. (2005) A Framework for Qualifications of the European Higher Education Area. Bologna Working Group Report on Qualifications Frameworks. Copenhagen: Danish Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation.

González Riaño, X.A. (2011). El Practicum de la Licenciatura de Pedagogía: estudio empírico desde la perspectiva del alumnado. Revista de Educación, 354 (January–April): pp.209–236.

Heafford, M.R. (1967). Pestalozzi: his thought and its relevance today. London: Methuen.

Ley de Educación Nacional No 26.206, de la República Argentina. (2006). Argentina. Buenos Aires: Congreso de la Nación.

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Ministerio de Defensa. (2007). La Modernización del Sector Defensa: Caracteres y Fundamentos del Modelo Argentino. Buenos Aires: Ministerio de Defensa.

Mollis, M. (2011). The invisible topics on the public agenda for higher education in Argentina. In: King, R., Marginson, S., and Naidoo, R. ←111 | 112→(eds.) Handbook on Globalization and Higher Education, pp.306–323. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing.

Moskos, C. (1982). La nueva organización militar: ¿Institucional, ocupacional o plural? In: Proceedings of the Conferencia de Inauguración de las II jornadas de Sociología de la Asociación Castellana de Sociología, Madrid, 1982, pp.297–306.

Pineda Herrero, P. (ed.). (2002). Pedagogía laboral. Barcelona: Ariel Ediciones.

Rodriguez, J.L. and Medrano, G. (1993). La Formación en las Organizaciones. Madrid: Eudema.

Sarni, M.A. (2005). Educar para éste siglo. Buenos Aires: Dunken.

Soëtard, M. (1994). Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi (1746–1827). Prospects: The Quarterly Review of Comparative Education, 24(1/2): pp.297–310.

Toffler, A. (1970). Future Shock. New York: Bantam Books.

Zabalza Beraza, M.A. (2002). La enseñanza universitaria: El escenario y sus protagonistas. 2nd Ed. Madrid: Narcea S.A. de Ediciones.

Zabalza Beraza, M.A. (2011). El Practicum en la formación universitaria: estado de la cuestión. Revista de Educación, 354 (January–April): pp.21–43.

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1 It should be clarified that in 2006, the Argentine Government also passed the National Education Law No. 26.206, which continued and expanded the process of change that had already begun with the 1993 Federal Education Law (Ley de Educación Nacional, 2006).

2 All quotes which were originally written in Spanish have been translated into English by the author of this chapter. Although it has not been explicitly indicated which quotes were originally in Spanish, the bibliography has retained the original publication language for all articles used within this chapter.