Empowering Eklavyas---- digitally

Empowering Eklavyas---- digitally

Roopen Roy

In the ashrama of Drona, the Pandava and Kaurava princes took lessons in archery. Nearby, there lived a bright and talented boy with a love and passion for archery. His name was Eklavya. He had a great desire to learn the art of archery directly from Dronacharya. But Acharya Drona would not accept him as his disciple because Eklavya was a shudra and was not entitled to privileges reserved for princes.

But Eklavya did not give up. Near his house, under a tree Eklavya created a clay idol of Dronacharya. He worshiped the idol as his Guru. He taught himself and with relentless perseverance practised the art of archery. The talented young Eklavya soon excelled and became a master. Even Drona was amazed by his skills with the bow and arrow.

The story of Eklavya in the Mahabharatha holds the key to the paradox : how does India produce students who excel in performance inspite of a decline in the standards of our educational institutions. Many of our institutions are plagued by a lack of funding, political interference, corruption and poor standards of teaching. The towering brands of our premier learning institutions are built more by the caliber of the students (and the stringent selection process) than by excellence in other parameters. Like Eklavya, talented, under-privileged students from rural areas and mofussil towns even today rise to the top through sheer grit, perseverance and the will to succeed and through self-learning and group studies.

Clayton Christensen of Harvard Business School along with two co-authors has recently published a book titled “Disrupting Class” which looks at disruptive innovations that can be introduced in America’s schools. It examines how technology can be harnessed to customize learning around four key goals: affordability, accessibility, capability and responsiveness. Everywhere in the world innovators are looking for new methods of learning and innovative methods of imparting knowledge and education.

Linus Torvalds of Finland disrupted the way software code is written and shared. He is the chief architect of Linux kernel (the core of the software). Only 2% of the Linux kernel was written by Torvalds himself. It ignited an Open Source movement .Using the Linux kernel, thousands of contributors have added, enhanced and enriched it and they contributed 98%.

The Wiki movement is another example of an innovative and disruptive model of gathering and harvesting knowledge. Jimmy Wales-a Finance Professor and Larry Sanger, a philosopher, co- founded the Wikipedia. It is a free and open-content encyclopedia which is based on the belief that collaboration unleashes the synergies of knowledge acquisition and dissemination. Larry Sanger had once said, "Imagine that education were not delivered but organized and managed in a way that were fully digitized, decentralized, self-directed, asynchronous, and at-a-distance.”

A new movement has emerged : the Open Education Resources (OER) movement that has the mission of giving knowledge for free. One example: the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Open Courseware Website (OCW) has placed 1900 courses on-line (www.ocw.mit.edu). OCW is a web-based publication of virtually all MIT course content. OCW is open and available to the world and MIT makes its core teaching materials—lecture notes, problem sets, syllabi, reading lists and simulations openly available for non-commercial educational purposes. OCW publishes these materials in standards-based formats for anyone with access to the Internet. The free on-line courseware ranges from Aeronautics to Foreign Languages and from Computer Science to Urban Studies and Planning.

I reviewed the statistics of OCW usage on their site and I found that 48% were self-learners, 32% were students and 17% were educators. On the site, I found an inspirational story of Kunle Adejumo an Eklavya from Nigeria who is finishing his fourth year of engineering studies at Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, Nigeria. Because broadband internet access is limited to a privileged few, he has innovated and is planning to work with a local radio station to broadcast the material and publicise the site.

Many organizations are working on harnessing the OER movement. OER has a great potential for India in particular if we organize and thoughtfully leverage this movement. I recently met in Calcutta Stephan Thieringer, CEO of AcrossWorld Education Co Inc. which operates from Boston and Tel-Aviv. The company has pioneered a concept of “University-in-a-box”. It enables access to an extensive content “catalogue” from premier institutions from around the world covering a variety of topics and subjects. It has created tools that allow resources to move class offerings in bold new directions.

With knowledge digitally accessible, we are at the cusp of a new revolution. If we succeed in connecting the Eklavyas of the world via the internet and make knowledge in digital format accessible to them for free- we will begin to change the world. It will disrupt the way people learn and it has the promise of transforming the world of education radically.