The author has known Eklavya for many years through his parents and teachers, and through Eklavya's children's magazine 'Chakmak'. In the past one year he has visited Eklavya at Hoshangabad and worked with them.

The Eklavya Legend

The legend is well known. Eklavya, a Bhilyouth, wanted to learn the art of archery. He approached Dronacharya, guru of the Pandavas, but to no avail. So he decided to master the art on his own. He watched Dronacharya imparting lessons to his pupils and followed these instructions on his own. In the physical absence of a guru, he made an earthen bust of Dronacharya, paying due homage to it in the classical guru-shishya parampara.

The keen sighted, intelligent youth soon became more than proficient in the use of bow and arrow. His remarkable skill inevitably came to the notice of Arjuna, the star pupil of Dronacharya, and Arjuna asked his guru to investigate. Dronacharya discovered the master archer to be none other than Eklavya. The Bhil youth was in the act of paying homage to Dronacharya's image. So the guru demanded his dakshina (fee), asking for Eklavya's thumb. With not a moment's hesitation, Eklavya sliced off his thumb and placed it at the feet of his guru.

The story is often quoted as a supreme example of this tradition. But it is open to several interpretations. Why did Dronacharya refuse to teach Eklavya? Why did he demand the right thumb as guru-dakshina? One interpretation is that Dronacharya refused to take Eklavya as a pupil because he wasa lowly tribal and archery was the preserve of the upper class warriors. When this tribal acquired the skill on his own andposed a threat to Arjuna himself, Dronacharya nipped thechallenge in the bud by demanding the thumb, so crucial tothe art of archery. It is also said that Eklavya subsequentlylearned to use the bow and arrow without his thumb and soonreached his earlier level of proficiency. In fact, it is said thatBhils hold the arrow to the bow without the help of the thumbto this day.

The Eklavya legend forces us to question the exclusiveness of education. It also inspires self-effort to master skills and knowledge. The legend permeates the philosophy of the Eklavya group, which has taken the name of this remarkable youth for itself. The Eklavya group's endeavour is to assist Eklavyas of today to refuse to part with their thumbs.

Eklavya's inception and growth

Eklavya was the response of a group of young scholars in India, who felt strongly that the education they had received should be shared with the disadvantaged. Turning their backs on career and position, they gathered together in a small town in Madhya Pradesh to explore what needed to be done for science education in rural India. Eklavya grew out of three beliefs:

  • that meaningful innovation in education is possible only by bringing together professionals, teachers and children
  • that it is necessary and possible to change the functioning of the government for implementing innovations on a large scale
  • that science and technology are not esoteric spheres of thought and activity but should be rooted in people's knowledge and understanding and addressed to their needs.

Eklavya's first school programme (Hoshangabad Science Teaching Program - HSTP) was started in 1972. It was an experimental programme, run in sixteen middle schools of Hoshangabad. district, Madhya Pradesh, by people at Friends Rural Centre and Kishore Bharati. Additional resource support was provided by Delhi University, TIFR, IITs and colleges of Madhya Pradesh.

Eklavya was registered in October 1982 under the Societies Registration Act of t 860 as a non-profit voluntary organization. It presently works in several districts of Madhya Pradesh through field centres in the state and a co-ordination centre at Bhopal. The main areas of work are innovations in school education, publication of educational literature, science-society issues, and facilitating participatory development. Eklavya's resource group consists of subject experts, field level workers, and college and school teachers.

Eklavya's Work

  • Eklavya has evolved innovative curriculum, teaching methodologies and educational material for Science, Social Science and Primary Education:
  1. Science: The school science program (Hoshangabad Science Teaching Program - HSTP) was started in 1972. Presently over 500 schools are covered, with 80000 students each year in classes 6, 7 and 8. There are over 2000 trained teachers and around 200 resource teachers.
  2. Social Science: Curriculum and textbooks have been developed in social science for classes 6, 7 and 8. Presently this program is being run, on an experimental basis, as a pilot project in eight middle schools.
  3. Primary School: Initially, this program was run, on an experimental basis, as a pilot project in 25 primary schools, including tribal schools. Presently, the program is being field tested in over t 20 schools encompassing a whole block of Shahpur in Betul district.
Eklavya intensively tests these programs under field conditions and constantly revises them on the basis of feedback collected. It seeks to implement these innovations on a large scale through government structures like government schools. It also seeks to strengthen such innovations across the country by networking with other groups and agencies.
  • It publishes magazines and books on science-society issues for children, teachers and general readers. Libraries function at most centres of Eklavya. Some of Eklavya's publications are:
    • Sandarbh - focuses on issues of interest to teachers and educationalists; bi-monthly.
    • Chakmak - monthly children's science magazine
    • Srote - science feature service; sends weekly dispatches to over 200 local newspapers, radio and television stations; it is also published in the form of a monthly magazine
    • Textbooks - Textbooks and workbooks for the various educational programs are designed and produced.
    • Booklets - Several booklets for children are published for popularizing science. Plays, stories and poems for children, and writing by children are also published.
    • Translations - Translations in Hindi, of classics in education, are published for adult readers.
  • Children's Activity Centres - run by children's groups - provide a space for children to do various activities like science experiments, origami, painting etc. Children in these groups often conduct 'bal-melas'. Plays and dramas have also been staged at various places. Children running these centres are given regular training through monthly workshops and meetings.
  • Eklavya also looks at rural health issues and rural technologies. Surveys have been done on traditional health practices by women and also on home remedies. Workshops and awareness programs are conducted on health education. Eklavya has initiated programs in fisheries, leatherwork by artisans, low cost construction, watershed development etc.
  • Eklavya's Planning and Development programme is an effort to evolve and tryout innovative models of microlevel planning in the rural areas. Some of the core ideas in this program are to support community organizations to strengthen the participative process, link community organizations with panchayats to strengthen gram-sabha functioning, attempt an integrated approach for activities with a focus on education, health and natural resources, and enable the setting up of a Panchayat Resource Centre that will act as a backbone to the planning, training and strengthening process in panchayats.

The Challenges Ahead

In the past years, Eklavya has demonstrated the effectiveness of innovative programs. This comes along with a lot of other people and groups involved in alternatives. The need today is to combine all these alternative efforts and try to influence mainstream education. This is a complex and challenging exercise involving public opinion, mainstream institutions responsible for education and political opinion. This is a task which cannot be accomplished by anyone group or organization, but by pooling together all that has been done in this direction.

The future agenda of Eklavya, therefore, includes providing resource support to a growing number of institutions and nongovernment organizations working in education in different parts of the country. With its long experience in academic and administrative aspects of education, Eklavya is suitably prepared to take this role.

The text of this report is from an Eklavya publication: 'EKLAVYA - AN INTRODUCTION'

Eklavya can be contacted at: EKLAVYA, E- 1/25 Arera Colony, Bhopal 462 016, Madhya Pradesh. Phone and Fax: 0755 - 563380