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Enigma of personality development

Muhammad Asif

JEAN Piaget, a Switzerland psychologist, known for his work on child development, placed great importance on education of children. He believed; “Only education is capable of saving our societies from possible collapse”. Theories of personality development have often held that personality is largely formed from childhood to the end of adolescence. Majority of modern psychologists agree with William James that by age 30, personality is “set like plaster”. Most psychologists believe that hereditary and environment, which includes religious beliefs, social norms, education as well as the influence of family members and peers, are the major chiselers that shape the personality.
During thirty-one year service in the Army, I had the opportunity to interact with and closely observe the personality and character traits, conduct and dealings of all ranks right from soldiers and potential officers to the four-star generals. I had the privilege to observe the behaviour of Army personnel from almost every angle; as an instructor, assessor, senior, colleague and a subordinate. In addition to serving at the Pakistan Military Academy (PMA), I had the honour of serving at a few other prestigious Army institutions including Military College Jhelum (MCJ), Army Burn Hall College (ABHC), etc. I have always maintained that armed forces academies and their feeder institutions virtually function as the “Leadership Academies”. The three generations of Gentlemen Cadets I taught at PMA, in late 1970s, mid 1980s and at the beginning of 21st century, are serving in the Army from the rank of Lieutenant Colonel to General. The cadets, I taught at MCJ in mid 1990s have also made it to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, while the students, trained by me at ABHC in my humble capacity as the Principal, from 2004 to 2007, are serving in different civil and military departments as disciplined, responsible, proud and productive members of society.
A very very singular distinction of armed forces institutions (most of the common people may not be aware of) is that the youth undergoing training at these institutions are drawn from all strata of society, including labourers, wealthy businessmen, industrialists, landlords, generals and even ministers. Two sons of ex-Prime Minister, Mir Zafar Ullah Khan Jamali, are also PMA graduates. During training at these institutions, and even after commissioning as officers, wards of soldiers and generals are entitled to the same privileges, treatment as well as rights and responsibilities. This way armed forces are a unique platform in our society, where individuals are provided with equal opportunities to progress and achieve, commensurate to their ability, talent and effort. There are countless examples of the sons of soldiers and junior commissioned officers, who rose to the rank of Field Marshal and 4-star Generals, and served as Commander-in-Chief, Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee and Chief of the Army Staff vis-à-vis the sons of three and four star Generals, who retired as Majors or Lieutenant Colonels.
After retirement from Army in 2009, I have been serving at prestigious educational institutions in different capacities. Making use of my 31-year experience of serving as an instructor and head of different departments and institutions in the Army, I tried that in addition to educational and academic training, efforts were made to ensure the all-round grooming of students. While serving as the Principal OPF College for Boys, Islamabad and Director General OPF educational institutions from 2010 to 2013, I tried to introduce the culture, traditions, ethos and values of public schools and cadet colleges at the OPF educational institutions with a view to inculcating the habits of truthfulness, punctuality, hard work and a sense of responsibility, self-discipline and self-reliance among the students.
I believe that the students of such institutions are the privileged lot. In addition to well-planned and organised study scheme, they are exposed to non-formal and environmental training that enables them to develop their latent managerial, athletic, creative and leadership talent. Generally, the graduates of these institutions perform better at the armed forces and civil services academies and subsequently in practical life. The graduates of the boarding schools and colleges are usually well-mannered, confident, courteous, polite and modest.
In our country, however, majority of the people believe that the oft-repeated cliché; “Educated people have done more harm to Pakistan than the illiterate masses”, is an undeniable reality. If the performance of a few educated individuals, including the ex-servicemen and graduates of boarding schools, in politics and other fields is not very enviable, education or educational institutions cannot be blamed for that. A few months ago I had the opportunity to attend a talk on a topic related to terrorism by a Pakistani scholar, who had been working at some university in the US as an associate professor of English literature for about twenty years. I was told that he was an alumnus of MCJ, and had served in the Army for about ten years before moving to the US for Ph D in English literature. His views about terrorism understandably reflected his tilt to the US hypocritical policies and propaganda against Pakistan and Muslims as the sole perpetrators of terrorism.
His tone, tenor and body language, while answering questions asked by some highly learned and experienced educationists, were pointlessly arrogant and snobbish to the extent of being insolent. Some colleagues, knowing him intimately, shared with me that he was always arrogant while interacting with the ordinary Pakistani menfolk. Basing on such observations about the conduct of a few educated individuals, the views of Jean Piaget and other psychologists about education cannot be undermined. Our interaction with such individuals brings home to us that hereditary and home environment are as important as schooling in shaping the personality of students. Though I still have not reconciled how an egotist had been surviving as a teacher of English literature at a university in the US, my faith in education as an effective means of chiselling and polishing personality, and in the reputed civil and military educational institutions, as our valuable national assets, is completely unshaken.
— The writer, a retired Brig, is professional educationist based in Islamabad.