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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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The Role of Military Pedagogy in Creating Internationalised Leaders of Character: The Malaysian Way

Dr. Jowati Juhary

The Role of Military Pedagogy in Creating Internationalised Leaders of Character: The Malaysian Way

Abstract: This chapter provides a comparison of Malaysian and Western concepts of military pedagogy. It highlights how variations exist in existing definitions, philosophies, characteristics and implementation of military pedagogies across different scholars and countries. It then demonstrates how the military pedagogy of the National Defence University of Malaysia, centred upon the concepts of Fikrah (Nature), Amal (Practices) and Akhlak (Attitudes), can be seen as both similar and divergent from Western military pedagogical concepts. This includes variation in areas such as the attributes deemed necessary for military officers, the need for internationalised military leaders, the emphasis placed on student-led learning and digital learning technologies. The subtle contrast found between European and Malaysian pedagogies, it argues, demonstrates how military pedagogy must be tailored to a nation’s cultural contexts.

Keywords: PME, military education, military pedagogy, National Defence University of Malaysia, flipped classroom, student-led learning, intercultural education


This chapter examines how military pedagogy can contribute to the production of capable graduates and internationalisation within military forces, through an analysis of the educational programmes of the National Defence University of Malaysia (NDUM). By providing new insight on variations between European and Malaysian practices in military education, the chapter aims to counteract the broad absence of military pedagogical analysis in the Asian region. It is divided into two main sections. The first section presents selected literature on military pedagogy. The second provides the core analysis and discussion of how internationalisation at the NDUM can be achieved through increased emphasis on military pedagogy.

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The methodologies used in this chapter are observations of the teaching and learning approaches at the NDUM, and content analysis of important documents at the university and other related institutions. Observations have been undertaken over the past six years, in relation to students’ perceptions and critiques of the teaching and learning approaches employed at the NDUM (including approaches used by this author). During the six years of observations, four action research projects were conducted by the author which focussed on students’ behaviour in the classroom, teaching approaches used by staff at the NDUM, and students’ learning activities during classroom sessions. The results of these projects are discussed later in the chapter, and directly inform the two key research questions that this chapter seeks to address. Firstly, what differentiates Malaysian methods of military pedagogy from European practices, where the term and concept of military pedagogy originated? Secondly, how can military pedagogy assist in the internationalisation of military students?

In answering these questions, it is important to note that the term military pedagogy is not as well known in Asia as it is in Europe and North America. The lack of documentation and studies on military pedagogy in these countries may, in part, be due to the use of different terms/phrases to refer to the field. Another potential reason is a lack of understanding surrounding the importance of educating future military personnel and a lack of interest by scholars on the subject of military pedagogy. Given the absence of military pedagogy resources in Malaysia and the neighbouring region, the analysis and arguments in this chapter are based on longitudinal observations on the learning and teaching environment at the NDUM and the approaches employed to teach students. Before proceeding with this analysis, therefore, it is important to contextualise these observations by assessing the underlying notions of military pedagogical theory.

Understanding Military Pedagogy

For many decades, there has been an ongoing debate over how best to educate military officers especially at the tertiary level. The increasing involvement of armed forces personnel in military and humanitarian operations across the world has heightened the need for such debates and for systematic education and training programmes. So, what is military pedagogy? ←146 | 147→Toiskallio (2003, p.52) has argued that “military pedagogy is the part of military sciences that inquires into the philosophies, conceptions, visions, doctrines, aims, methods, and technologies of military education and training”. Schunk and Nielsson (2000, p.13) define military pedagogy as a tool “to solve the problems connected with learning in relation to military education and training.” Falk (2008, p.13) argues that “the term military pedagogy encompasses teaching in a military setting or with a military purpose,” but that “any knowledge and education can be weaponised if there is the political will to do so.” Beyond such definitions, there are a range of philosophies and characteristics that differentiate military pedagogy from civilian pedagogy.

Toiskallio (2003, p.54), for example, asserts that the military’s goal to protect life means that “for military pedagogy everything that protects and enhances human life is good.” Mälkki and Mälkki (2013, p.28) on the other hand, opine that military pedagogy describes the demand to “change or transform soldiership in order to make progress instead of repeating the habits of the past”. Schunk and Nielsson (2000, pp.14–15) underline their philosophy by compiling a set of characteristics integral to military pedagogy, which include: (1) loyalty, willingness and ability of military personnel to undertake tasks “in accordance with the decisions of the political leadership”; (2) personnel with the fitness and skills to survive and work “under conditions of extreme strain”; (3) an emphasis on the successful functioning of the “unit,” in which individual personnel have specific roles; (4) the “condition for learning” that all students are considered to be adults; (5) instructors who are not only teachers, but have other functions such as “tactical commanders and administrators”; (6) educators who have different backgrounds, knowledge and skills, and who train students in multiple and varied settings; and (7) teaching principles that are “valid in all situations and at all levels” and, thus, must “have a common substance”. These criteria also indirectly point to two additional facets of military pedagogy: that instructors are likely to be military personnel, and that students may undergo academic and military training concurrently and are required to achieve well in both aspects.

Although Schunk and Nielsson’s analysis is valuable, scholars such as Paile (2013, pp.280, 288) among others have argued that the education system of each country is different and that this contributes to natural ←147 | 148→diversity in the understanding and implementation of military pedagogy. Caforio (2000, p.11), for example, proposes that one means of assessing these differences is by examining how far a nation’s military education is “convergent” with or “divergent” from the traditional civilian higher education systems, in six key areas:

1. Selection (e.g. entrance exams or previous exam results, such as high school diplomas);

2. Teaching staff (e.g. fewer military, more civilians);

3. Curriculum (e.g. more civilian than military);

4. Military training and studying (e.g. how much is included within the course);

5. Acceptance of the officer diploma (e.g. how many non-military institutions accept or acknowledge this accreditation); and

6. Academy socialisation (e.g. achieved across the institution or within a specific student body).

As argued by Caforio (2007, p.91), in comparison to ex-Communist countries and the USA, officer education in Europe has tended “more and more to resemble the model of the civilian universities.” These two sides of the scale, however, do not contradict each other; they complement one another. Divergence from civilian education ensures that officers receive the military skills required of them to accomplish their core tasks. Convergence with civilian education, on the other hand, equips them to function better as officers and incorporate within society, as well as increasing their eligibility to receive teaching from any civilian education system. As noted by Paile (2013, p.289), ignorant of exactly how convergent or divergent specific institutions are, there exists a broad trend in which higher education for military personnel is becoming more of “an intellectual process.”

How far do these pedagogical philosophies, characteristics and methodologies compare with the Malaysian version of military pedagogy? In the opinion of the author, military pedagogy in Malaysia may be divided into three functions. Firstly, it provides a concept for teaching and learning in a military setting (such as those outlined above by Caforio and Paile). Secondly, it provides a philosophy for teaching and learning, focussed on building the personalities and characters of future officers. Thirdly, it can be considered an approach to teaching and learning, especially in practical ←148 | 149→areas including classroom layout, teaching methods and the use of various learning theories and technologies (such as blended learning). To assess these three functions within the Malaysian context, it is pertinent now to analyse the military pedagogies used to provide students with the attributes of intellectual leaders of character at the NDUM.

Creating Intellectual Leaders of Character: The Malaysian Experience

In order to better understand the practical application of military pedagogy in Malaysia, the teaching and training philosophy of the NDUM must be examined. As the youngest public university in Malaysia, the NDUM is expected by the taxpayers to provide the best learning and teaching environment and experience for its graduates. The Malaysian system combines three concepts within its overall teaching and training philosophy: Fikrah (Nature), Amal (Practices) and Akhlak (Attitudes). This combination is designed to ensure that graduates of the NDUM are given comprehensive education in the skills required to be both a soldier and a global citizen. In terms of its pedagogical objectives, the NDUM seeks to provide its students with six attributes of intellectual leaders of character, including becoming:

1. Graduate officers;

2. Commissioned officers;

3. Spiritual leaders;

4. Sportsmen/women;

5. Black belt holders in an unarmed combat; and

6. Officers and gentlemen/women.

These attributes, which are embedded in the implementation of military pedagogy at the NDUM, arose during long and meticulous discussions in 2009 about what NDUM graduates should be expected to achieve. This process, which started as a profiling exercise for the graduates, was led by the second Vice Chancellor of the NDUM (Abidin and Sembok, 2010, p.11). As shall be illustrated, to achieve these attributes, the learning environment and experience at the NDUM must be adoptive and adaptive to the changes and challenges of an unknown world.

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Obtaining higher education is the first attribute of intellectual leaders of character. Students attend the NDUM to undertake various degrees, such as the Bachelor of Engineering (including Civil, Mechanical and Electronic engineering); Bachelor of Computer Science (including Artificial Intelligence and Security Systems); Bachelor of Strategic Studies; and Bachelor of Social Sciences (including Languages and Cross Cultural Communication). The most crucial part of education and training at the NDUM is that cadet officers are already assigned to their services from their first year of studies, including the Malaysian Army, Royal Malaysian Navy and Royal Malaysian Air Force. This enables cadets to be sent for single service training during their semester breaks and, ultimately, this training moulds them into the officers that Malaysia needs. In addition, graduates sponsored by the Ministry of Defence are obligated to undertake military service for a minimum of 10 years. Only with undergraduate education qualifications will cadet officers at the NDUM achieve their second attribute, to be commissioned as officers into their respective services. This qualification is central to their role as professional officers within the workforce and their potential to be future leaders of Malaysia.

The third attribute of the intellectual leaders of character is that of spiritual leadership. The NDUM should allow for students to not only grow their mental and physical ability but also, of equal importance, their belief in God. To achieve this, the NDUM has designed various supporting programmes to train students in properly practising their faiths. For Muslims there exists in-house training to become Imams (leaders during prayers) and Khatibs (one who reads the sermons) for Friday prayers, mock pilgrimage and so forth. For other religions, students are sent to practise their faiths at churches and temples located outside of the campus. Special arrangements, such as providing transportation or organising religious activities, are catered to these students’ needs. Thus, the graduates are equipped with the cognitive, psychomotor and affective capabilities necessary for all-round development. To match this requirement, academics are also ‘retrained’ to become Murabbis, role models who are not only knowledgeable in their areas of expertise but also in their attitudes and daily practices. For the NDUM, academics should not only teach but should also inspire graduates to become ‘human beings’. As promoted by the Ministry of Higher Education (2015, pp.9–10) in the Malaysia Education Blueprint ←150 | 151→2015–2025 (Higher Education), it is no longer relevant to simply provide students with knowledge and skills, for this must be balanced with ethics and morality (Akhlak). Only through producing students who are “ethically and morally upright, spiritually grounded, compassionate and caring” can a workforce of balanced human beings, with steadfast minds, hearts and souls be developed (Ibid.).

The fourth and fifth attributes require the graduates to be physically robust and fit. All students of the NDUM must participate in at least one individual or team sport/game. They will not only be trained to excel at playing these games, but also to become coaches so that they can later train their own teams. Further, all cadet officers are required to graduate and commission with black belts in one form of unarmed combat, so that military personnel can defend themselves if required without the assistance of any weapons. For the NDUM, a black belt in Taekwondo is the main aspiration. The training for Taekwondo is undertaken every Friday from 3:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., in classes grouped according to students’ competency levels.

Moulding graduates to become officers and gentlemen/women is the most difficult attribute to achieve. This is because it naturally takes longer to inspire and instil great values, and this process starts as early as the graduates’ first day at the NDUM. Students are exposed to the etiquette of dining, socialising and other areas. One reason for this difficulty is that graduates may find it hard to balance the training they receive to become war fighters and defenders of a nation, alongside the process of being moulded into gentlemen or ladies. Yet, the manifestations of this sixth attribute are necessary across all levels of diplomacy from the inter-departmental to the international and can be seen in the way that officers carry themselves in their respective work environments.

Achieving Internationalisation

Although these pedagogical foundations are intricately connected with Malaysian cultural contexts, their implementation at the NDUM occurs hand-in-hand with an emphasis on internationalisation. This priority may be linked both to the increasing importance of defence diplomacy regionally and globally, and the consistent participation of Malaysian forces in ←151 | 152→coalition operations abroad. Since its independence in 1957, for example, “Malaysia has participated in over 30 peacekeeping operations with the deployment of 29,000 peacekeepers from the Malaysian Armed Forces and the Royal Malaysian Police” (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, n.d.). These contexts raise two significant questions which shall now be considered. Firstly, how do the attributes of intellectual leaders of character contribute to the internationalisation of the NDUM? Secondly, how far does military pedagogy (including the Western pedagogical tradition) impact upon NDUM teaching and learning practises and the internationalisation process?

There are two main strategies through which internationalisation could be achieved within the Malaysian version of military pedagogy. The first one revolves around the teaching and training philosophy at the NDUM. As academics are transformed into Murabbis, they are also expected to transform their teaching and training philosophy to provide comprehensive education to graduates. In the NDUM this is done through a teaching and training philosophy that combines three key tenets:

Fikrah (Nature), which refers to the needs of students to obtain higher education and the responsibility of academics to share their knowledge;

Amal (Practices), which refers to the importance of practising what is being taught and shared during classroom learning; and

Akhlak (Attitudes), which refers to the significance of attitudes of both academics and students in their daily life.

Classroom teaching and learning is the most common scenario in which all three components of this philosophy are demonstrated. The classroom environment requires the successful balancing of the nature (Fikrah) of the students (who in the case of the NDUM are usually eager to explore something new), the practices (Amal) of teaching and learning, and the ability of the academics to act as role models to the students, so that the students’ attitudes (Akhlak) are complementary to their targets for academic achievement.

To further illustrate this, it is imperative to consider two specific courses at the NDUM. The first, Language Diversity: Variation, Choice and Change is a course offered under the Bachelor of Social Sciences (Languages and Cross-Cultural Communication). The author, who is also the instructor ←152 | 153→for this course, uses the flipped classroom concept for learning. In line with this, there are no lectures employed, only classroom activities to complement the online lectures and notes that must be read and understood before coming to the classes. The flipped classroom approach gives room for students to be more active, independent and critical in their thinking and learning. The students’ assessments for the course include regular tests, a case study report, a fieldtrip report and a final examination. The combination of all these assessments compels the students to become more aware of their surroundings, more responsible towards themselves and others, and more capable of reflecting upon what is important and what is not. The format of this course, and others similar to it, better prepares the graduates to be part of a professional workforce and eventually to embark upon international endeavours.

This course highlights how students become active and more engaged in their learning if the classroom activities are interactive (i.e. if lectures are minimised or not practised at all). Although some academics are willing to change their teaching approaches in line with this student-led model, a handful of staff maintain that conventional teaching methods are still effective and relevant. Contemporary students, however, are unaccustomed to an old-fashioned learning environment and face challenges in adapting to it. Sometimes referred to as Generation Z or Digital Natives, this new generation of students are prone to multitasking across digital technologies. Thus, as argued by Prensky (2001, p.5), in creating greater interactivity in lessons “the debate must no longer be about whether to use calculators and computers – they are a part of the Digital Natives’ world – but rather how to use them.” One inhibitor towards this necessary shift in teaching practices at the NDUM is the fact that the university does not have a proper documented teaching and learning policy to which its academics must adhere. This policy deficit is something that must be addressed immediately by the relevant NDUM officials since it directly impacts upon the quality, effectiveness and efficiency of teaching and learning at the university.

The second course that bears analysis is Al-Ghazali’s Dialogue: English Communication, a compulsory language course for all students at the university which adopts case study approaches for teaching and learning. This course, started in February 2017, is expected to widen and strengthen ←153 | 154→students’ ability to use English for communication after their graduation. Preliminary feedback from students taking the course is promising. A key factor behind this is that students are ‘forced’ to use English more when they discuss, argue for and against, and present case studies. Furthermore, students are given the opportunity to relate these case studies to real situations that happen all around the globe. Based on the existing courses and academic programmes offered, graduates of the NDUM are well prepared to participate in international activities, in terms of their knowledge, exposure and language abilities. It should be emphasised that this course is a signature course for the English language development programme, and thus also showcases specific strategies used at the NDUM for the teaching and learning of the English language.

Although these strategies possess significant similarities to European pedagogical concepts, their application as part of the NDUM’s wider goals highlights a subtle contrast between European and Malaysian models of military pedagogy. In order for internationalisation to be meaningful for the NDUM, graduates must carry with them a sense of identity and belonging. Regardless of the concept and hype surrounding globalisation, it is crucial that graduates of the NDUM believe in their spiritual roots and socio-cultural values. It is this spiritual aspect of military education and learning that appears to be far subtler than in European pedagogical models. Perhaps it is embedded indirectly or under an alternative guise and, thus, is more difficult to distinguish. Or perhaps it is an aspect that has lost favour in the European tradition. Either way, the Malaysian Armed Forces adheres to the concept that a lack of spiritual values and practices may affect an officer’s ability to function appropriately. This principle informs the teaching and learning philosophy of Fikrah, Amal and Akhlak at the NDUM, in which students’ nature dictates their desire to depend upon God, and this dependency is manifested in their practices of prayers and behaviours, which then lead to a realisation of good conduct of self. What makes the graduates of the NDUM unique at the end of the day is their ability to lead and portray good behaviours that bespeak of their learning and training at the university.

That is possibly the main reason that military pedagogy is viewed differently in Malaysia, as emphasised in the introduction. The education systems of European states and Malaysia focus on different values, ←154 | 155→which reflect the practices and expectations of society at large. As the manifestations of religion also differ in these nations, so do the ways in which the armed forces act and react in their daily routines. In terms of the readiness of military graduates, the author would argue that the NDUM provides the necessary skills for graduates to face diverse challenges locally and abroad. This ability was highlighted by the invitation of 20 NDUM graduates by the Australian Government for a five-day leadership programme conducted by the Australian Institute of Management in Perth in November 2016, together with military and civilian students from countries across the world. The students were chosen not only in line with their academic excellence, but more importantly because of their ‘demonstrated’ ability to adapt to a foreign environment. They showed confidence in communication and were able to make decisions effectively and think analytically.

What Next?

Military pedagogy is a popular subject of discussion mainly in the German-speaking countries of Europe as well as in Scandinavian nations. In the opinion of this author, it is high time that other nations take military pedagogy seriously since it can directly shape and affect the education and training of military personnel. The principles of military pedagogy, however, necessarily depend on each nation’s individual defence policy and education system. Therefore, military pedagogy must be understood and developed locally to ensure successful implementation.

Military pedagogy provides a key foundation for moulding intellectual leaders of character at the NDUM. Since cadets are trained for military purposes in a military learning environment, it is only apt that these future officers and leaders demonstrate the ability to function and adapt to unknown challenges locally and internationally. In addition to defending the nation with their physical agility, they also need to possess the intellectual and academic competencies required to make the best decisions during critical moments, in war and peace.

In order to achieve this, the Malaysian version of military pedagogy is concerned with producing the best leaders for the nation through an emphasis on six attributes of intellectual leaders of character, and a ←155 | 156→complementary focus on internationalisation. The fact that no other universities in Malaysia have a similar pedagogy to the NDUM suggests that military pedagogy provides a unique means of ensuring that the education of future defenders of the nation is systematic and effective. Nonetheless, the implementation of these practices is not university-wide, since few academics are aware of the existence of military pedagogy.

Implementing these practices successfully will require the establishment of a teaching and learning policy, which incorporates Fikrah, Amal and Akhlak, as well as highlighting best practices for educating future defenders of the nation. At the same time, exchange programmes for military students and academics should be arranged with military academies and defence universities in European countries, to enable ongoing knowledge sharing and debate surrounding military pedagogy and its implementation in respective countries. The good news is that all of these steps can be taken concurrently.


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