A Level Playing Field For Learning

A Level Playing Field For Learning

With the evolution of learning encompassing the learner, the provider, and the learning tools and techniques, it is only imperative that the entire methodology of learning will be enhanced.


Eklavya - a model disciple. That is how Indian mythology from over 5000 years ago presents him to us. And, while we get familiar with his journey, the scriptures also teach us a lot more that, in a strange play of cosmic drama, is becoming a reality today in 2020 AD.


For the uninitiated, a brief recount of the story of Eklavya from the “Mahabharata” is warranted at this point; so here goes.


Eklayva was a young tribal boy in the state of Hastinapur, belonging to one of the lower castes. He aspired to learn archery under the wings of the renowned ‘guru’, Dronacharya, the teacher of the royalty, including the stately prince, Arjuna. However, when he did approach the great master, Eklavya was spurned. After all, it was beneath the learned teacher’s dignity to coach an individual who was not from the upper ‘Brahmin’ or ‘Kshatriya’ castes. Undeterred, Eklavya went back to the confines of the forest and built a mud statue of guru Dronacharya. With great reverence, he worshipped his guru, and practiced the art of archery with incomparable passion. Years later, when he chanced upon Dronacharya in person, the latter was surprised to see the extent of Eklavya’s dedication and the finesse of his skill. Not desiring any other mortal being to surpass his cherished student, Arjuna, guru Dronacharya proceeded to ask Eklavya to share this thumb with him, in the form of ‘guru dakshina’. Needless to say, along with losing a thumb, Eklavya would lose the ability to practice archery. Nonetheless, without flinching, Eklavya sliced off his thumb and offered it to his teacher, thus earning the title of a ‘model disciple’.


Perfunctorily, it may be injudicious to pass this off as a bit of mythology or dismiss it as a folk tale. The truth is that this anecdotal story which many a grandparent has narrated to his or her grandchild, has reflected a harsh reality of the world that has existed in India for centuries. A reality in which knowledge and learning has been access-controlled, not unlike the air-cooled server rooms that dot every large-sized corporate’s headquarters and require entrants to key in their digital codes (or scan their fingerprints or eyes, in more sophisticated setups) before they can enter within.


To be fair, governments over the years have taken steps to ensure that knowledge is available to all those who desire to grow. The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act of 2009 lays down that every child between the ages of 6 to 14 years has the right to free and compulsory education and it also presents the guiding approach and penalties for non-adherence. Even higher education is subsidised and well-meaning campaigns like ‘Beti Padhao, Beti Bachao’ further push the masses to understand the importance of education.


Even as these calibrated measures by the government and many other social initiatives by nonprofit, education-focused organisations have taken root and tried to take everyone forward, we have had a very familiar situation playing out. The private sector, as always, has come to the rescue in establishing centres of learning covering the entire play school to post-graduation spectrum.


With higher funds at their disposal, they have managed to deploy the best of faculty and infrastructure to make education delivery a lot more wholesome. While there are several upsides, it is the downsides that should concern us. For a society long segregated by castes and many regional aspects, education has unfortunately also become a divisive factor. The more financially sound individuals, to a certain extent, could ‘create’ their own paths into the hallowed halls, run more as businesses than centres of learning. It seemed for years that the very ‘equality’ that our founding fathers enshrined in the ‘Constitution of India’ would remain a distant dream.


No more! Finally, we seem to be at a cusp of real change. And, there have been a couple of inflection points which have placed us in this position. Taking a cue from the field of science, I am taking the liberty to christen them as below.


1. The ‘Jio’ Effect


In the year 2015, as per a report by TRAI*, for an Indian telecom subscriber, the cost was 226 per GB of data consumed. By the year 2019, this cost was a mere 11.78. It is no secret that this was the result of the foundation of the telecom market being shaken by Mukesh Dhirubhai Ambani’s Reliance Group with the launch of Jio, it’s telecom venture, in 2016.


Backed by high grade infrastructure, the ‘Jio’ telecom network is essentially a 4G network, built ground-up, that carries ‘Voice over LTE’, over a fiber-optic backbone. It has enabled high volume of data to be carried across the length and breadth of our large nation and played a transformative role. What this means is that along with emails and social media posts, it also has enabled the speedy transfer and download of data heavy videos. It is these ‘videos’ that are serving a yeoman service in ‘bringing the tutor to the home’ for many of the unprivileged students or those who are not in a location where high-quality education is easily accessible.


Today, it is not uncommon to find a feisty, young girl from one of the smallest towns in our hilly regions to win a reality dance contest, beating participants from across the rest of the country. Her teachers? None other than her ‘gurus’ on the internet whose moves she has followed with reverence, but never met, just like Eklavya from the early ages.


2. The ‘Lockdown’ Effect


While the growth in internet connectivity continued its spiral upwards post the launch of ‘Jio’, the break-out moment for education and learning truly came about due to the ‘lockdown’ triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic. With the entire nation or parts of it in a lockdown for over four months now, the online world has become the lifeboat for everything, be it, entertainment, business, health, or more importantly, learning. Encouraged by the Government, the academic world was swift to move onto online delivery of classes to ensure that the learning journey of its students was not impacted adversely by the lack of incampus classes. Many professionals who discovered additional time at their disposal due to their workplaces being shut, took to the online learning platforms to build their skills. In a strange turn, one even witnessed a ‘gold rush’ for online certifications, a trend mainly triggered by the student community. With the aim of bolstering the value of their resume, click-happy individuals proceeded to pursue one course after another, often in varied disciplines and without a clear perspective of the end objective.


At this juncture, therefore, the question that arises quite appropriately is this - What is the future direction for learning? Clearly, there is a tectonic shift that is playing out and it involves the below:-


1. A Mindset Shift: Traditionally, a premium has been attached to on-campus learning. Even if professionals have taken the initiative to invest in ‘distant learning’ through programmes that offer weekend classes or the like, the qualification obtained has been seen through coloured lenses by hiring managers. Today, thanks to greater proliferation of online programmes, many offered by some of the world’s most renowned centres of learning, there is a higher acceptability of such certifications. As we move forward towards what Human Resources experts call a ‘skill-based economy’, the importance of ‘what one has learnt’ will overshadow ‘from where one has learnt’. Truly, a mindset shift.


2. ‘Anytime, Anywhere’ Consumption: Additionally, we are also seeing an uptick in the adoption of learning platforms such as Coursera, Udemy, Upgrad and the like. With learning now available in an ‘Anywhere, Anytime’ mode preferred by today’s consumers, the spread is only bound to increase, bringing into fold learners who have been denied access, either due to lack of funds, societal norms or simply, lack of easy access.


3. Enhanced Supply: The technology backed evolution of the distribution of learning will also provide a much-needed boost on the ‘supply’ side. Today, anyone with a computer, a web camera and an internet connection, can be a provider of learning, be it skill, knowledge or experience. While we have always been accustomed to our tutors being embellished with fancy degrees, the future will see and value ‘gurus’ anointed by the ‘student consumers’ themselves, in a manner not very different to how we are used to rating restaurants on a food delivery platform.


With the evolution of learning encompassing the learner, the provider and the learning tools and techniques, it is only imperative that the entire methodology of learning will be enhanced, leading to more rapid development in thoughts and knowledge across disciplines.


With this perspective, let us rewind to the times of Eklavya to see how his ‘thumb-less’ future played out. It will thrill the cockles of everyone’s heart to be reminded that even after the loss of his thumb, Eklavya was able to rebuild his skill of archery using his index and centre fingers, becoming exceptional at it. He gave birth to a new technique of archery that forms the basis of the modern form that is practised by sportspersons to this day. It lends credence to the fact that once we decide to put our minds to achieving a goal, nothing can stop us. However, we must keep in mind that when we create a framework that makes learning more absorbing, accessible and affordable, we ensure that it benefits the larger population. And, therefore, to see a more level playing field for learning emerging, not only in India, but globally, is truly exhilarating!




Vikas Dua is an accomplished HR and recruitment professional, a TEDx speaker, and a Vlogger and Blogger on HR practices. With over 15 years of high-quality experience in the field of IT and ITES, he has worked with both start-ups and large corporations like Wipro and Concentrix. Currently, he is Chief HR Mentor at Attayn. He is also an Advisor to the BRICS Chamber of Commerce and Industry's Young Leaders Programme.


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