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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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Creating a Pedagogy for Peace for a New Generation of Military Officers

Andrea Falla Rubiano

Creating a Pedagogy for Peace for a New Generation of Military Officers

“The core of the problem of how to create new forms-subjects – and with them new forms of being, new forms of power, new ways of thinking, new sensibilities – resides, in my opinion, in the type of lines of force that connect the arts of forming the other with those of self-creation. This connection is prototypical of human experience”.

(Sáenz Obregón, 2007, p.82)1

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Abstract: This chapter addresses the challenges faced in designing education for military students in Colombia’s post-FARC era. It highlights how Colombian professional military education must balance the needs of future officers who may be ‘digital natives’ with heightened multitasking abilities, and who have known no scenario other than internal conflict within Colombia. In its analysis of pedagogical techniques used in certain socio-humanistic modules at the Escuela Militar de Aviación ‘Marco Fidel Suárez’ (Military School of Aviation ‘Marco Fidel Suárez’) and the Colombian Government’s ‘Cátedra de la Paz’ (Chair of Peace) initiative, it highlights methods through which this balance may be achieved. In doing so, it demonstrates the importance of providing multiple perspectives on Colombia’s politico-military history and more interactive pedagogies tailored to individual students.

Keywords: PME, military education, Colombian Armed Forces, FARC, peace studies, cátedra de la paz, Escuela Militar de Aviación, EMAVI


However problematic it seems to be to ask the question ‘how’, at some point in pedagogical practices it becomes necessary. By analysing the educational practices of the Escuela Militar de Aviación ‘Marco Fidel Suárez’ (Military School of Aviation ‘Marco Fidel Suárez’ - EMAVI) and in particular the history module of the Programa de Ciencias Militares Aeronáuticas (Program of Military Aeronautical Sciences – PCMAE), this brief chapter aims to show how it is possible to inspire new ways of thinking in a school that remains immersed in the avatars of contemporary Colombian society and anchored to a specific cultural context. The process of forming the future Colombian officer to meet these evolving contexts both requires and results in an act of reformation of teaching methods and teachers themselves.

As noted by Javier Sáenz Obregón (2007, p.75), since its origins in the 15th to 16th centuries, the modern school system has appropriated “a series of practices that were previously scattered and circumscribed to certain social groups” for transmission to the whole population, including customs and philosophies from military, medical, religious and academic institutions, and the aristocracy. For Sáenz Obregón (2004, p.34), however, this system of “traditional education” resulted in a range of effects that were counterproductive to the primary goal of education itself:

“These effects can be summarized as the generation in students of an attitude of docility, passivity, receptivity, and obedience; the hypocrisy and unrestrained and secret functioning of individualism; insensitivity to ideas; loss of motivation towards learning and culture; and their inability to act in situations different from those of the school itself”.

As argued by Philippe Meirieu (2007, pp.43–45), in order to create a fulfilling educational experience, it is necessary “to question the obsolescence of the traditional model that constitutes the class” and to empower students with an active “desire to learn”. Military education, however, is founded upon the premise that “orders are fulfilled or the militia is over” (Valencia Tovar, 2002, p.247). Thus, in the context of educational psychology, it could be said that military instruction is situated in the behaviourist paradigm. Specifically, teaching-learning dynamics are oriented towards encouraging students to reproduce practices by following orders and patterns provided to them by the military instructor, in which ←130 | 131→scenario learning is manifested as behavioural change (Woolfolk, 2014, p.247).

In the case of the EMAVI, however, the training process not only covers military training, but also extends to academic training. This alma mater of the Colombian Air Force educates students in four academic programmes. Specifically, it provides a ‘core’ academic programme on aeronautical military sciences that contains a socio-humanistic component, including modules on law, ethics, history, environment and foreign languages. This academic programme is complemented by three additional programmes on aeronautical administration, mechanical engineering, and computer engineering. Until the 93rd officers’ course, which commenced in 2017, cadets and ensigns at the school were required to study these undergraduate subjects in parallel with their military training.2 From 2017 onwards, however, the academic programmes were studied independently, one at a time, to enhance the study time available to cadets.

The challenge facing the university, therefore, is how to mobilize its students’ desire for learning whilst also mobilizing its humanities teachers to provide students with the necessary tools to become future officers – specifically, officers capable of fulfilling direct orders within the framework of Colombia’s political and legal constitutions, and with a respect for human rights and international humanitarian rights. In order to address this challenge, I will first consider two key difficulties facing military education in Colombia. Firstly, the increasingly ‘digital’ modus operandi of future officers. Secondly, the emergence of a new culture of ‘peace’ in Colombia since the 2016 peace deal with former guerrilla organisation, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – FARC). After a brief assessment of these factors, it will then be considered how socio-humanistic pedagogies can be applied to enhance military educational objectives, with a particular focus on the PCMAE in the EMAVI.

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Strengthening the Culture of Peace for the Digital Generation

As noted by Caulfield and Ulmer (2014), the ubiquity of digital media in contemporary society has led to a scenario in which:

“the adolescent generation (‘digital natives’) have a more adapted working memory to media multitasking than do older generations (‘digital immigrants’) and can perform effectively in the presence of multiple media streams. This could have a significant impact on teaching styles and curriculums with the newfound presence of media in schools”.

This increased capacity to develop and carry out various tasks simultaneously, such as listening to music while reading a news article, or writing an essay while chatting with peers, presents the educator with a range of challenges. For example, when multitasking and distractions are second nature for contemporary pupils, what methods should educators use to attract and maintain their students’ attention in class? This challenge is heightened by the increasing presence of digital devices in the classroom, providing students with constant access to real-time news and information circulated by a range of scholarly sources, online discussion groups and social media channels.

This scenario is not only pedagogically complex from a technological standpoint, but also from a standpoint of cultural diversity. Taking into account the notion of a complex human subject, we must acknowledge that one individual student alone may “belong to diverse social groups, organizations, institutions, inscribed in a specific society and in broad socio-geographical groups”, whilst simultaneously possessing “membership or non-membership to a religion, a socio-economic class, a political regime, a health system, etc.” (Rheaume, 2000, pp.3–4). This constantly evolving web of human relationships is present in both the virtual and physical environments, linking students with friends, family, teachers, social networks and other groups (often in real-time), who all contribute to the continual construction and deconstruction of the individual’s interests, opinions and personal identity. When considering the scope and needs of a training programme, therefore, it is necessary to consider how pedagogical strategies can be used to guard against both informational and cultural fatigue, both for the students and the teachers.

This cultural and technological shift has occurred at a time when the Colombian Government is focusing on a new culture of peace and ←132 | 133→sustainability, after the signing of a peace agreement with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC). In 2014, the Congress of Colombia enacted Law No. 1732, which aims to “create and consolidate a space for learning, reflection and dialogue about a culture of peace and sustainable development that contributes to general welfare and improvement of the quality of life for the population” (LEY No. 1732, 2014, Art. 1, Par. 2). In line with this shift, the curricula and educational plans of all Colombian schools and universities must incorporate a “Cátedra de la Paz” (Chair of Peace), designed to ensure the integration of concepts such as peace-making, education for peace and sustainable development. In combination with Decree 1038 set out by the Ministry of Education (Ministerio de Educación Nacional, 2015), the cátedra de la paz laws have prompted educators to consider a range of alternative pedagogical strategies. At the EMAVI, the syllabus of the cátedra de la paz was formed around three subjects: constitutional law, human rights and international humanitarian law (IHL), and history.

Based on current practices used within the history module of the PCMAE, I shall now outline some potential pedagogical strategies that may be used to engender this culture of peace for a new generation of students.3 This includes a range of interactive teaching methods and the use of multimedia such as songs, videos, stories, poems, images, interpretation of cartoons, animations, and the use of photo-motion applications and technologies. As we shall see, these pedagogical practices seek to respond to the broader educational question highlighted by Phillipe Meirieu, as to how one can provoke students with a desire to learn.

Life Line (Línea de vida)

As presented by the Internationale Weiterbildung und Entwicklung (InWEnt, 2007, p.29), the “Life Line” technique prompts students to draw up a timeline of the most significant events in their lives, and asks them ←133 | 134→to highlight the lessons that they have learned from scenarios in which they achieved their goals or in which they did not achieve their goals, and moments of loss that they have encountered. There are two key aspects to this activity. The first is the page-by-page elaboration of their life histories in a textual or Power Point format, or through other digital methods. The second is the socialization of their stories, which occurs when they present their life lines to their peers. This activity allows students to engage in autobiographical self-reflection, as well as reflecting upon the history of their peers. It facilitates the consolidation of their friendships and the formation of a language community, which enables them to participate in a more active and open manner throughout the other activities they will undertake during the course.

Take What You Need (Toma lo que necesites)

This activity is inspired by photography found on Pinterest, a website and smartphone application that allows users to present collated images on various themes or topics of their choice. Specifically, the teacher organizes a template on a half-sheet of cardboard, upon which are placed lots of small pieces of paper/cardboard with specific qualities and values written on them. These pieces are removable. The teacher then instructs the students to take a specific quality or value from the board and give it to a peer who they feel is lacking that quality. This activity promotes the strengthening of links between students, a recognition of those aspects and qualities that students must improve in themselves, and an atmosphere of reflection and dialogue between peers.

A Look at History (Mirada a la historia)

Based on the concept of “Learning from others to influence oneself” (Dirnstorfer, 2008, pp.21–22), this technique involves the analysis of historical events and experiences, designed to facilitate self-reflection on issues that are either directly or closely related to oneself. It uses memory exercises that investigate historical facts derived from internal armed conflict, and that compel students to utilize their critical thinking skills in analysing the dangers or benefits of repeating history. In this way, “the past becomes a principle of action for the future” (Todorov, 2000, p.31). ←134 | 135→In the Colombian context, this activity reinforces the value of civil-military dialogue as a means of conflict resolution, in contrast to violence and armed conflict.

Analytical Chart (Ficha analítica)

The analytical chart provides a framework by which students can undertake a comprehensive reading of a text, fragment, news article, video or film. This tool is available to students through the Ambiente Virtual de Aprendizaje de la Fuerza Pública (Virtual Learning Environment of the Armed Forces – AVAFP) website, hosted and developed by the Colombian Armed Forces. The goal of the analytical chart is to guide students in terms of the aspects they should account for when assessing the text or specific fragments that they have been allocated for study. These aspects include identifying the thesis of the document and the arguments used by the author to support their proposal. The chart also allows the student to express their point of view in relation to the documents they are studying through exposition and conversations with other colleagues, both within the classroom and, in some cases, on virtual chat forums. This learning activity helps to increase competencies in comprehension, reading and writing, public speaking and debating skills.

Sandbox (Cajón de arena)

The Sandbox method is inspired by the military doctrine of the National Army of Colombia, used to instruct infantry troops. It involves a recreation of a battle with the objective of analysing the military strategies involved in the battle and making alternative proposals regarding these strategies. This teaching method can be achieved with the use of basic materials such as crayons, plasticine, plastic figures and cardboard among others.

Open Digital Educational Resources (Recursos Educativos Digitales Abiertos)

Open Digital Educational Resources (ODER/REDA) are increasingly available online. However, students are not necessarily aware of these tools. As such, educators can promote the use of resources to their students. Key examples include oCam (video recording software), Evernote (note taking, ←135 | 136→organizing and archiving), Tagul or Word Art (word cloud generator), PowToon (animated video creator), Photo Motion (3D photo animator), and Cmap (create and share electronic charts) among others.

These strategies that are used in the socio-humanistic modules of the PCMAE curriculum (i.e. law, ICT, ethics, environment, history and foreign languages), are designed to enable students to be the protagonists of their own learning process. They aim to make the teacher invisible or at least to give them a secondary role, as a parallel participant alongside the student ‘protagonist’. This follows Paulo Freire’s concept of continuous exchange in the roles of teacher and student, or master and apprentice (1970, p.52), with the sole aim of dynamizing the process. This new dynamic generates within the training process a dialogic relationship that enhances the value of training, and that allows for visibility and recognition of the student as an active subject who can make contributions based on their previous experience and knowledge.

This ‘ideal’ pedagogy, however, faces difficulties in transmission across different educational cultures and institutions. Sáenz Obregón (2014, p.201), for example, points out that, at the primary and secondary levels of public schooling in Colombia, there exists “a specific schooling deployment mechanism that regulates teachers’ practices”, and that “tends to intensify their governmental practices on students and to weaken their practices of knowledge”. Despite the inherent differences between civilian pedagogy and military andragogy, it is realistic to acknowledge that both retain a traditional classroom structure and that “as long as the school-form is still alive, it will continue to be a scenario of aesthetic battles” (Sáenz Obregón, 2007, p.84). As we shall now consider, therefore, when one seeks to implement socio-humanistic pedagogies in military educational institutions without transgressing against the institution’s traditional form, it is useful to consider the duality of imagination and policy as outlined by John Dewey (1934, p.348):

“Imagination is the chief instrument of the good […] a person’s ideas and treatment of his fellows are dependent upon his power to put himself imaginatively in their place. […] Hence it is that art is more moral than moralities. For the latter either are, or tend to become, consecrations of the status quo, reflections of custom, reinforcements of the established order. The moral prophets of humanity have always been poets […]. Uniformly, however, their vision of possibilities has ←136 | 137→soon been converted into a proclamation of facts that already exist and hardened into semi-political institutions”.

Using Socio-Humanistic Pedagogies in a Military Context

Taking this into account, how should one teach units of socio-humanistic subjects in a military context? Firstly, the student must be recognized as a complex social subject who, in this case, belongs to a generation of young people and adolescents for whom multitasking is more commonplace and who may also be a ‘digital native’. Throughout their life, this same student has known and experienced Colombia as a country with internal armed conflict but no international armed conflict. Since the signing of the peace agreement with the FARC, however, this student is now facing a potential change in the outlook of their country and a broader denaturalization of national violence. The individual has also chosen to enter the EMAVI, in which they will experience a training process with both military instruction and academic training.

Although a far wider range of cultural contexts exist for each individual pupil, the contexts listed above represent key factors that will likely influence a significant proportion of contemporary students at the EMAVI. In addition to accounting for students’ individual needs and cultural particularities, therefore, teachers must be able to draw the attention of their students through a variety of activities that account for these shared historical contexts. These activities must also acknowledge the educational implications of students with different forms of intelligence, such as a logical-mathematical versus linguistic intelligence, or interpersonal versus intrapersonal intelligence. In order to account for these “multiple intelligences” in education, the teacher should include within their range of strategies those activities that appeal to different senses, taking into account the appropriateness of specific teaching and assessment materials, and the social background of students (Gardner and Hatch, 1989, pp.6, 9).

It should also be considered that students may come from any district of Colombia and, in some cases, from neighbouring and friendly countries such as Panama, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and the Dominican Republic. So, it makes sense not only to teach in diversity but to evaluate in the same way. In this scenario, evaluation should be considered as a ←137 | 138→process and not just a result. Educators should use ongoing improvement as a parameter for evaluation and measure this improvement through a follow-up process, rather than in-course segmentation. Recognizing the plurality of voices, based on respect for difference and, especially in the case of foreign students, through the exercise of listening to others, sharing personal experiences, validating the voices of the most timid, and linking each individual student to each individual activity. Yet, how can one create a pedagogical framework structured around such heterogeneity? As noted by Sáenz Obregón (2004, p.38), this challenge led John Dewey to propose “the formulation of a coherent theory of experience, since its absence does not allow us to develop a pedagogy that is practically operational”. What Dewey proposes:

“is a reflexive form of evaluation for these practices, not through tests and psychometric measurements - in the manner of the advocates of ‘efficiency’ - but through the teacher’s permanent observation and reflection, which allows them to modify the objective conditions of pedagogy for the production of educational experiences. Theirs is not a pedagogy which is forever complete; it is the putting into play of a series of concepts to orient pedagogical practice and to assess its effects, so that it is reformulated and reconstructed permanently: pedagogy as a constant experimentation” (Ibid.).

Taking this into account, how can one introduce alternative historical opinions in order to encourage reflection in students? Specifically, how can one achieve this through the teaching and learning practices of the PCMAE, in the wider cultural context of military training for a culture of peace? In the first instance, we must acknowledge Adela Cortina’s statement from her book Ética de la Razón Cordial, that: “It is reasonable to work for peace, even if we are not sure that it will be established” (2007, p.180). This premise strengthens the pertinence of the culture of peace in the field of education in Colombia and can also be extended to the context of military training.

Although the ratification of the revised peace agreement by Congress occurred on 29–30 November 2016, academics had started to produce a range of initiatives years before the final agreement. These initiatives reflected upon the processes that would be necessary for structuring a culture of peace. This activity found its most notable examples in the aforementioned Law No. 1732, designed to formalize the establishment of a cátedra de la paz in all educational institutions in the country (LEY No. ←138 | 139→1732, 2014), and Decree No. 1038 covering the regulation of the cátedra de la paz (Ministerio de Educación Nacional, 2015). Alongside the framework of the peace process initiated by the national government with the FARC guerrillas from 2012 onwards, these initiatives provided the first steps required to reconcile a country that has been suffering for more than fifty years from an internal, non-international armed conflict.

In order to comply with Law No. 1732 and Decree No. 1038, the Colombian Air Force and its training schools (including officers, NCOs and postgraduate schools) proposed a joint cátedra de la paz for all Colombian Air Force training institutions. From the headquarters of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the military forces, guidelines were created that formed the central axis of this unit of learning. The proposal from the PCMAE of the EMAVI involved the incorporation of the cátedra de la paz in a transverse way by which the contents of the cátedra de la paz were included in the subjects of human rights and international humanitarian rights, constitutional law and the history of Colombia. In addition, the EMAVI founded the Marco Fidel Suárez cátedra, run quarterly every year, which provided a means of discussing subjects of general interest to the academic community, and the opportunity of presenting lectures on topics related to the culture of peace and post-conflict.

In providing a structured space for reflection on peace, the Marco Fidel Suárez cátedra is committed to generating active participation from students, to initiate small-scale historical memory-building processes. This ensures that the dialogic relationship in the classroom is mediated by an understanding of the main events and circumstances in which the Colombian armed conflict developed. In addition, it creates a space for discussion and interaction between the academic community and society in general, to better understand the circumstances, events and phenomena that gave rise to the Colombian armed conflict, and the necessary political agreements and negotiations which led to an end to the armed confrontation and generated the possibility of a post-conflict scenario and a culture of peace.

One notable example of this exercise consisted of a working table with various institutions in the Valle del Cauca region, such as the Mayor of Cali, Universidad del Valle (University of Valle), Universidad Santiago de Cali (Santiago de Cali University), Escuela Superior de ←139 | 140→Administración Pública (Superior School of Public Administration), Fundación Universitaria Católica Lumen Gentium (Catholic University Foundation Lumen Gentium), and the Corporación para la Defensa de lo Público (Corporation for Public Defence). This forum of the cátedra de la paz was conducted on 1 April 2016. As well as strengthening inter-institutional ties, the networks that were created from this forum resulted in new linkages between officials of the PCMAE and a number of other organizations. This included territorial entities, archdiocese, and other technical and higher education institutions. These connections helped fulfil the objectives of extension and projection proposed by the Ministry of National Education.

In line with its participation within these initiatives, it was proposed that the history module within the PCMAE feature a former member of the FARC, engaged in the social reintegration programme of the Agencia Colombiana para la Reincorporación y la Normalización (Colombian Agency of Reincorporation and Normalization – ARN). This demobilized person was able to elucidate their own experience in illegal activities, for the benefit of EMAVI students. In this way, the students (who will be future Colombian Air Force officers) were able to identify how, in some cases, one’s admission into ‘illegal’ groups can be involuntary, due to various socio-economic and cultural factors, and forced recruitment.

Taking into account both the technological and cultural changes occurring in Colombian education and wider society, it is possible to reach two key conclusions on the future requirements for military education. Firstly, it is vital to provide alternative perspectives within the classroom, so that students can identify the importance of understanding the multiple perspectives surrounding Colombia’s history as well as interrogating historical sources more broadly. It is critical both for a culture of peace and wider military thinking, for soldiers to know both the ‘official’ version of events, as well as alternative views and versions told by those who have been agents of such events. The current situation in Colombia provides an imperative to transfer the culture of peace into contemporary education, including the field of military training, with the aim that students should become more familiar with the contemporary contexts that inform the challenges they will face. Secondly, this process of education must occur through far more interactive pedagogies, designed to enable learning ←140 | 141→across the multiple intelligences and complex socio-cultural contexts of each individual student, as well as the broader generational shift towards ‘digital natives’ with higher multitasking capabilities.


Caulfield, S. and Ulmer, A. (2014). Capacity limits of working memory: The impact of media multitasking on cognitive control in the adolescent mind. American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference & Exhibition [online], 11 October. Available at: (Accessed 31 March 2017).

Cortina, A. (2007). Ética de la razón cordial: Educar en la ciudadanía en el siglo XXI. Oviedo: Ediciones Nobel.

Dewey, J. (1934). Art as Experience. New York, NY: Capricorn Books.

Dirnstorfer, A. (2008). Hacia una paz transformadora: una propuesta metodológica a partir de la experiencia pedagógica. Bonn: Internationale Weiterbildung und Entwicklung gGmbH.

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Gardner, H. and Hatch, T. (1989). Multiple Intelligences Go to School: Educational Implications of the Theory Multiple Intelligences. Educational Researcher, Vol.18, No.8: pp.4–10.

InWEnt (2007). Saber hacer: metodología, ejercicios y técnicas de la educación para una cultura de paz. Bonn: Internationale Weiterbildung und Entwicklung.

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Meirieu, P. (2007). Philippe Meirieu: “Es responsabilidad del educador provocar el deseo de aprender”. Interview with Judith Casals Cervós. Cuadernos de Pedagogía, No.373, November: pp.42–47.

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Rheaume, J. (2000). El relato de vida y el sujeto social complejo. Temas sociales, No.30, January: pp.1–8.

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Sáenz Obregón, J. (2004). Introducción. In: Dewey, J. (2004). Experiencia y educación. Trans. Lorenzo Luzuriaga. Ed. Javier Sáenz Obregón. Madrid: Biblioteca Nueva.

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1 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.

2 It should be noted that students are given the title of cadet (cadete) until they reach their fourth year, when they are given the title of ensign (alférez).

3 It should be noted that some of these activities and techniques are inspired by contemporary work in the field of Pedagogy for Peace (Educación para la Paz), particularly that seen in the framework of the course “Creating a Culture of Peace” Dirnstorfer (2008), and the methodological proposals of the Internationale Weiterbildung und Entwicklung (InWEnt, 2007).