Distance learning in mythological times

Mahabharata, one of the two great epics of India, mentions the story of Eklavya who learnt the art of archery by practicing in front of a clay image of Guru Dronacharya. He used to hide at a distance and watch what the Kauravas and Pandavas (the Royal Family of Hastinapur in ancient India) were taught by Guru Dronacharya because he could not have learnt it directly from the Guru as the Guru was mandated to teach only the princes of the royal family. Eklavya not only learnt the art but excelled in it to such an extent that Guru Dronacharya felt he might be able to defeat Arjun, his favorite and most accomplished disciple. This prompted Dronacharya to ask for the thumb of Eklavya’s right hand as ‘Guru Dakshina’ (gift to teacher by a student which when asked specifically by the teacher could not be refused by a student).

Eklavya’s story is possibly the earliest description of distance learning. It clearly signifies that when a learner has a strong desire to learn, distance learning does not prove to be inferior to face-to-face learning in any respect. The modern day distance learning through e-learning technology similarly succeeds only when the learner has an inherent desire to learn.

The ease of access to knowledge is far greater in the age of Internet and digital technology than ever before. Therefore, a strong desire to learn is the only pre-requisite to transform one-self to a modern day knowledge warrior.

Srikant Acharya – 27 August 2013

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