Barefoot Revolution is an approach to grassroot action by a small group of determined individuals, who had graduated from a sound education system, who felt it was necessary to look for alternative ways of living, thinking, and looking for rural solutions. With few resources, they chose to start a process of relearning in different rural parts of the country by living in remote villages with the people.
Members of the grassroot action focused their efforts on trying to find out the needs and priorities of village communities in order to improve their standard of living and quality of life. The idea was to upgrade their existing traditional skills and knowledge through training, and to help them take control over basic services at the grassroots level. The group identified and worked for only poor and margnalized farmers, landless peasants, rural artisans, women, children, scheduled castes, and tribes as its target groups. An individual’s education, gender, caste or class does not make her or him any less or more valuable.
Context Within NORA
Meaningful Livelihoods and self-expression – An individual’s education, gender, caste or class does not make her or him any less or more valuable. The physically challenged and lower caste groups in India face many difficulties in rural communities. They live a life of dependency on family members, with very limited prospects in marriage and employment, deprived of education, knowledge, and awareness; some are socially ridiculed and for traveling may be extremely difficult. The College gives these marginalized, neglected, and vulnerable people the space to be creative, provides them access to education and vocational training, and encourages them to be productive members of society engaged in a meaningful livelihood, and by doing so it slowly and patiently develops their self-confidence, competence as well as independence.
Opportunities to learn – The opportunities to learn should not be limited only to individuals who have diplomas. Schools should offer these opportunities to those people who need them the most. Children at a young age should not be enslaved to meeting the financial needs of their family. They should be allowed to freely choose their dreams and goals in life.
Solar– Developing rural solar systems helps many poor families escape from the dependency on the oppressor. The installation of a solar system helps many families to light their house, which in turn increases the level of productivity for a family in order to earn sufficient income to sustain the family. Solar technology works effectively in many rural areas, especially in dry and desert lands.
Knowledge needs to be shared as a common good. Individuals are encouraged to engage in the communities and to give back to others what they have learned from the school in order to give others the same opportunities to learn.
Committed services or sales cluster – Schools in general have a relationship of at least several years with their students, and this one also has a long-term relationship with the larger community. Existing talents of the poor are cultivated at Barefoot College. These talents then later are used to be more connected with the larger community. Knowledge, education, and social services are encouraged to be shared in common.
History of Barefoot College
The founder of Barefoot College, Bunker Roy, was born on 2nd of August 1945, in an influential family to mechanical engineer father and trade commissioner mother, in Burnpur, Bengal. He attended Doon School from 1956 to 1962 and St. Stephen’s College from 1962 to 1967. He earned a Master’s degree in English and was national champion of squash for three years. He had his whole life ahead of him. He was sent to attend law school to become a diplomat, but he opted to devote his life to social service, shocking his parents. The turning point of his life came when he volunteered and visited slums in Bihar, where he witnessed starvation to the point of death. Roy then told his parents that he wanted to live in a remote village and dig wells for five years. He realized the many extraordinary skills that most poor people have, who were never respected or brought into the mainstream. Roy felt that it was necessary to look for alternative ways of living, thinking and looking for rural solutions.
Bunker Roy started his rural village development work in the Christian missionary program in 1969, where he learned how to use education to empower all sections of the rural community, including women. He met Rambaba, member of an untouchable caste, who requested Roy to come to Tilonia in 1971 to independently set up and work for the Social Work and Research Center, which later became known as Barefoot College. The organization was established to solve grave problems like drinking water quality, female education, health and sanitation, rural unemployment, income generation, electricity, power, as well as social awareness and the conservation of ecological systems in rural India. Every founding staff member has contributed significant skills to create practical Barefoot solutions to address these problems, from organizing women's development groups on wage equality to training on water harvesting. The first project that Roy worked on was a water well; they then expanded the work at Barefoot College to solar, education, and livelihood programs. The mission of the organization changed from a focus on building a well to provide water and irrigation in remote villages, to empowerment of minority groups and fostering a culture of sustainability.
“Based in Tilonia, Rajasthan, Barefoot College was built around the Gandhian concept.“The long term objective of the project has been to work with marginalized, exploited, and impoverished rural poor.” The philosophy of the Ghandian projects focuses on sustainable development, self-government, and non-violence. More background on Gandhian economic concepts can be found in the work of Joseph Cornelius Kumarappa, "a pionnering economic philosopher and architect of the Gandhi economics approach. His life work was driven by a passion for freedom and justice" (Source: Kumarappa and his Economic Philosophy).
At Barefoot the dream was to establish a rural college in India that was built by and exclusively for the poor. Gandhi's central belief was that the knowledge, skills, and wisdom found in villages should be used for their development, such as building homes for the homeless, or collecting rain water in rural schools. The Barefoot College introduces only technologies that can be understood by the rural people to improve their quality of life. Second, Gandhi believed that technology should be used in rural India, but it should be in the hands and the control of the poor communities so that they are not dependent or exploited. Uneducated poor have the right to use technologies to improve their life and skills. Third, Gandhi said that there is a difference between literacy and education. The Barefoot College believes that ‘literacy’ is what one acquires in school, but ‘education’ is what one gains from family, traditions, culture, environment, and personal experiences. Everyone is considered a source of education, the literate as well as the illiterate. Therefore, Barefoot College deviates from the traditional concept of a ‘college’. Gandhi believed in the equality of women. Women who are single mothers, middle aged, divorced, physically challenged or illiterate are prioritized for training over others because they need the employment opportunity and income the most.” (Source: Barefoot College website)
These approaches to education can be likened to the ideas and practices of Ivan Illich (Deschooling Society) and Paulo Freire (Pedagogy of the Oppressed). In his book Deschooling Society, Illich's intention was not to end schooling, but to liberate education from the state and move the control to socially organized grassroot movements. He advocated the de-establishment of the school as institution. Illich's understanding of history, his late critique of education as discourse, and his understanding of free learning were integral to his search for freedom in God. During this period of his intellectual life, education was one of the certainties that Illich critiqued as being the result of tools shaping our view of reality. The establishment of school is for the purpose of improving education. "School monopolized the possiblities of education in the same way that the Church had progressively come to dominate spiritual life in the Western world." Deschooling philosophy represents a broad conceptual, educational approach encouraging more flexibitlity, creativity, self-reliance, and freedom of choice about what is learned. "The traditional educational system uses inefficient and ineffective methodologies which limit students growth and experience. It subjugates the individual's uniquie creativity, ability, and capacity , as well as intelligence , to predesigned expedient process which does not necessarily respond to the student's needs or interest." (Source: Limitation of Deschooling as Viable Model)
In addition, Paulo Freire in his book, Pedagogy of the Opressed, argued that teachers are to think of themselves as 'culture workers' and 'trasformative intellectuals.' Freire favored the 'liberatory,' politicizing education to guide students to collective action against capitalist oppression and cultural domination. Freire's primary claim about education is that education must be the central feature of building movements for social change. "For Freire, being critical thus means recognizing oppression, acting against it, doing so in solidarity with others who seek revolutionary change, and doing so continously." (Source: Sitting in the Waiting Room)
Regardless of context it is through education that consciousness about one's position within the social order is obtained. Freire's critical work became helpful for many especially to those who labeled their project critical pedagogy in thinking through and passionately articulating how and why schooling, and education should be harnessed in the push back against an unjust social order.
The education at Barefoot College pursues similar aims as those expressed by Illich and Freire. It demonstrates that illiteracy need not be a barrier to the rural poor, by developing skills of their own. This education system is used as means for creating self-esteem and appropriate skills. It is used to raise awareness about the environment and the forces that dominate development, and lastly to achieve skills that guarantee the sustainable development of rural communities.
In contrast to Barefoot College, formal education in India is only used to prepare children for government and professional employment, and to seek individual prosperity and move away from local community. People with the baggage of formal education can be harmful in the village as they often look down on the poor. It destroys initiative and creativity, because it expects you to do everything the way they say, the way they do.
Why Barefoot?- Social Work and Research Center started by the name Barefoot College in the early 1980's.
“All over the world the rural poor walk barefoot. The college believed that in order for any rural development activity to be successful and sustainable it must be based in the village as well as managed and owned by those whom it serves. Therefore, all barefoot initiatives whether social, political, or economic are planned and implemented by a network of rural men and women who are known as Barefoot Professionals.” (Source: Barefoot College website)
The title is also used as a symbol of respect for the knowledge of the poor. The term originally comes from the Chinese health workers (barefoot doctors) who were villagers trained to assist their own rural communities in the 1960's. The name emphasizes the organization's commitment to poor, neglected and marginalized sections of society.
Why College?- The Barefoot College deviates from the traditional approach of ‘college;’ this college is a center of learning and unlearning, where the teacher is the learner and the learner is the teacher. No certificates, degrees or diplomas are given. Value is placed on the dignity of labor, of sharing with those willing to work with their hands. Everybody, regardless of caste or literacy are welcome to come, work, and learn. (Condensed from: Barefoot College website)
Barefoot Code of Conduct
The Barefoot College espouses the following code of conduct:
- Live and work in close proximity with the rural community.
- Create space for creative and constructive personal growth, and not discriminating against caste, religion, or political thinking.
- Ensure gender equality within the organization.
- Have intrinstic belief in the democratic political process and not follow partisan political agendas or include partisan politicians on the board.
- Judge the worth of people by their willingness and ability to learn, and not by their paper qualifications.
- Believe in the law of the land and have commitment towards social justice through non-violent means.
- Have respect for collective, traditional knowledge, beliefs, wisdom, and practices of the community.
- Be committed to the preservation of natural resources and not endorse processes that destroy, exploit, or abuse natural resources.
- Use appropriate technologies that sustain the community and not encourage technologies that deprive people of their livelihoods.
Sectors of Work
Access to drinking water, groundwater management and rain water harvesting, Education, Medical care, Women's programmes, Agricultural extension, Rural industry, Animal husbandry, Communication and use of traditional media
Barefoot principles are a yardstick of the success of the movement, these include:
- Equality- The program treats all members as equal, regardless of sex, class, education, or caste.
- Collectivity- Collective decision-making practiced by one and all.
- Self-reliance-Members are helped to work together to develop the community.
- Decentralization-The program is committed to local decision making, and grassroots level.
- Austerity- The staff members lead a simple life committed to generating a close community and stimulating, creatinve environment.
Understanding the Patterns of Abundance
Using grants from the United Nations and private foundations, Roy traveled through the developing world seeking potential students. Uneducated men and women are now directing major programs for community sustainability through Barefoot College. The approach rests on the idea that anyone can become anything, from architect to solar engineer, and these goals can be achieved without formal education.
“Technology is useless if it doesn’t address human need.” Roy mentions that the key to sustain rural jobs and development is to use technology that can be managed by the local community, such as solar lantern or rainwater collectors. Any technology that brings dependency on anybody outside is not going to work.
The flagship course at Barefoot College is a six-month hands-on program that teaches the basics of making, installing, and repairing circuit boards for solar lamps and panels. Where necessary in order to overcome language barriers (as when women from Afghanistan were brought to India to learn), they use hand signals to teach, along with the drawings that help communicate with people who cannot read. Despite the setback of communicating skills, every student excels. Students can learn to be solar engineers, hand-pump mechanics, groundwater experts, teachers, midwives, accountants, photographers, and other skillful activities.
One of the most notable aspects about the program is that the women are trained in non-traditional occupations, such as solar engineering and hand-pumps mechanic. Roy has always said that he prefers to train mothers or grandmothers because they stay in the village, instead of migrating to the nearest city to find a job. When women go back into their communities, they install solar power and are paid a certain amount of money each month.
Kamala Devi, from a remote village in Rajasthan, became the first woman solar engineer. Born in a poor family, she worked during the day and attended night school. Since her childhood age, Kamala has had a fascination for solar lamps. Kamala also wanted to teach other children in the village when she grew up. Later in 1977, she was selected for training at a barefoot solar engineering workshop in Beejarwada village. Many people in the village, especially men, refused to believe that a woman could handle engineering work and would make fun of her. Undeterred, after six to eight months of training, she learned to repair solar power units at Kadapmura along with other duties, and shared her knowledge with other women in the village. (Source: Lead kindly light)
The video, “Solar Mamas,” co-directed by Mona Eldaief and Jehane Noujaim, tells the story of a mother of four from a remote Jordanian village who was given the opportunity to train as solar engineer, along with 27 other women from poor communities around the world. In the film, Rafea the main character, recounts that she always wanted an opportunity to use her brain, and for that reason, she was recruited to come to Barefoot College. Rafea’s village was very much entrained in the cycle of poverty and hopelessness. She is a stay-at-home mother; as in most Muslim countries, women are meant to stay in the home and avoid work opportunity, it is shameful for them even to get an education. Her husband does not have a stable income, and is unemployed. They lived in a hut, in the middle of the Jordanian desert. On top of that he has multiple wives. Despite the challenges at home, and her deviation against the norm of the culture, Rafea completed six months of solar engineer training, and now she is bringing solar engineering technology to her village and training other women in the village to receive education and to promote a culture of sustainability. (Source: Solar Mamas)
Video on Solar Mamas: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ON_NQ1HnRYs
Additionally, Roy recruits many individuals from other impoverished communities in other countries, such as Kenya and Pakistan. After graduating from the program, the college encourages the community to take responsibility for their energy needs. Each community must form an energy committee and choose its own candidates for training. At least 30% of the committee members must be women. The committee is responsible for deciding how much each family must pay for the system and for administering the system. Solar committees are formed by ‘Barefoot professionals’ who have graduated from the program and teach others in their respective communities or villages. Every single member in the community shares responsibility in decision making. With the support of United Nations Women, Barefoot College will supply households with solar equipment, as well as sending trainees, and workshop material, so that they can teach others the barefoot approach. Each barefoot training program is set up under some form of common management. They ensure that each community can be served by meeting their needs of access to water, education, solar lighting, etc. These approaches are adjustable to cultural differences in each community. In Pakistan for example, women would struggle to work, and faced many gender inequality issues. In many cases the individuals who were recruited into the Barefoot College, come back to their own community and teach others about what they have learned. This expansion started with a few individuals, and then it grew in numbers.
As of December 1, 2009, 20,000 solar lightning systems and 65 heating systems have been installed in 753 villages, not only in India but in other parts of Asia and Africa. Success according to Barefoot College is measured by improved lives. (Source: solar energy brings light and employment)
450,000 rural people have light, and 700 women solar engineers have been trained in 49 countries.
195,000 liters of kerosene have been saved, by replacing generators and oil lanterns with solar power.
Around 125 night schools are set up not only in the villages of Rajasthan but also in states like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and Madhya Predesh.
Learning from Barefoot Movement
Barefoot College exemplifies a story of what is possible if the very poor people are allowed to develop themselves. What the College has effectively demonstrated is how sustainably the combination of traditional knowledge and modern skills, accompanied by proper technology, can be used to alleviate suffering when the tools are in the hands of those who are considered ‘very ordinary’ and are written off from society. The Barefoot approach can easily be replicated by the poor and for the poor in neglected and marginalized communities anywhere in the world.
In addition, Barefoot College gives us a perfect example of how social entrepreneurship can be beneficial to the community and at the same time safeguard against exploiting their employees. The project encourages men, women, and children in impoverished communities to attain education where it could serve to make individuals feel equal and responsible for society, regardless of caste, gender, or economic situation. Empowerment of the local villagers in the interest of rural sustainability becomes the cornerstone of Barefoot College. Roy redefined the word, ‘professional.’ He thinks that engineers, midwives, mechanics from remote villages who receive no formal education are professionals. Roy aims to mainstream these knowledge and skills, and showcase them throughout the world. The biggest contribution of the barefoot approach comes from the development in the solar, education, and livelihood program.
Solar energy has opened new opportunities for work and study, especially for girls, in both majority Hindu and minority Muslim communities, because girls are traditionally restricted to household chores. Since the introduction of solar lightning units in rural communities, children have been able to study even after dark. In addition, it is estimated that a rural family in Africa burns around 60 liters of kerosene a year to light its home. After food the highest expenditure is on lighting, and a kerosene lamp in Africa spews out an average of a ton of CO2 in less than 10 years. To make matters worse, families generally cook indoors on wood fires. The health impacts of burning kerosene, coal, and wood are staggering. Toxic smoke causes respiratory disease that kill 1.6 million women and children every year and causes severe respiratory problems for tens of millions. Finally, The Barefoot College has applied solar energy not just to increase income but also to foster a sense of financial self-reliance among women by having longer earning hours that are not restricted to the daytime. (Source: Barefoot College website)
Night schooling is used to asses the community needs and to broaden the education of people in the rural areas. Night school teachers, day care teachers, midwives and village education committees define what rural communities need to learn regarding government programmes and legal literacy, collective problem resolution, to form sustainable communities and pressure groups to influence policies, and lastly to avoid exploitation by literates.
At Night scholing, the teachers use folklore, songs, puppetry and theater in classes, as well as training and learning groups.Although written manuals are limited, those with traditional knowledge and those who are 'professionals' share their knowledge, which has made the village a more self-reliant, sustainable unit. The College has helped to facilitate a revival of people's technologies that are tried, tested, and approved by communities, and applied them on a wide scale to solve problems. Local staff such as women who run the day care programmes and the night school teachers come from the villages where they work. The training sessions bring together local midwives, day care workers and night school teachers, where they share education and health information for all three sectors and ensure a coherence of philosophy between the sections.
The Barefoot College education program is geared for overall development of rural children, and literacy is only a part of it. It is viewed as a radical departure from the traditional concept of a ‘college’ because it encourages hands-on or learning-by-doing process of gaining knowledge and skills, rather than imparting it through formal classroom teachings.
Night schooling emphasizes environmental issues where students are taught the value of wasteland development and the destructive effects of cutting down trees for fuel and fodder. Additionally, the curriculum addresses agriculture, animal husbandary and the daily activities that go on in the village.
The night schooling helps children in India to attain this knowledge, because during the daytime children are caring for the cattle, and night school education works effectively: they can generate income through raising cattle during the day while learning how to better manage and care for the cattle and the farm at night. When they teach the kids, the teachers emphasize the importance of understanding and studying. “Around 125 night schools are set up not only in the villages of Rajasthan but are also functioning in neighboring states like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and Madha Pradesh.” In the sector of education Barefoot College is not only equipping the poor with skills and hands on experience, but they are also focusing on raising up the next generation of children to be breaking the cycle of poverty.
Curriculum of Night Schooling
Language (Hindi), Arithmetic, Social Studies, Science, Geography, and Environment.
Class 1 & 2- Idea of reading and writing Hindi, simple addition substraction and multiplication.
Class 3- Letter to words and words to sentences, information on household, self-government and caste system.
Class 4 & 5- Geographic knowledge of district and village, socio- political structure of the country, local fairs festival and traditional stories, social and political thinkers and famous personalities, vocational training- carpentry, sewing, etc.
Additionally, children's parliments are created to implement leadership among the classrooms, and to recognize good candidates among the students as well as to better child-empowerment.
The Barefoot College is one such source of livelihood, through which adult members of the rural community irrespective of gender, caste, ethnicity, age, and schooling, can work for the development of rural communities, as well as provide basic services and sustainable solutions through combination of modern technologies and traditional knowledge and skills. These are done through several areas in health care, craft, and communication.
In conclusion, there are many lessons we can take away from Barefoot College. Social entrepreneurship and the success we have should come from the people that we work with and not the profit that we make or the amount of money we generated. They emphasize progress and advancement in life rather than fame or temporary things that we seek after.
Other Educational Links
Brara, S. (2012). Lead Kindly Light. India: The Hindu.
Bruno-Jofré, R., & Zaldívar, J. (2012). Ivan Illich's Late Critique of Deschooling Society: 'I Was Largely Barking Up the Wrong Tree'. Educational Theory, 62(5), 573-592. doi:10.1111/j.1741-5446.2012.00464.x
Elkington, J., & Hartigan, P. (2008). The Power of Unreasonable People: How Social Entrepreneurs Create Markets that Change the World. Boston: Harvard Business School .
Fox, K. (2012). Documentary makers join forces to expose the evil of Global Poverty. United Kingdom: The Guardian.G., H. (2012). Interview with Bunker Roy. New Internationalist, 53.
Govindu, M. & Malghan, D. (2005). Building a Creative Freedom: J.C. Kumarappa and his Economic Philosophy. Economic and Political Weekly, 1-10. Web.
John, M. (2003). Children's Rights and Power: Charging Up for a New Century. New York: Jessica Kingsley Publisher Ltd.
Lazaro, F. d. (2008). School in India Teaches Women to Improve Lives, Towns. PBS.
Limitations of Deschooling as a Viable Model. (1982). Education, 102(4), 377.
Misra, N. (2000). India's Barefoot College Generation. UNESCO Courier, 19.
Roy, B. (2012). Barefoot College. Retrieved March 6, 2013, from http://www.barefootcollege.org
Sayer, J., & Campbell, B. (2004). Science of Sustainable Development. New York: Cambridge UniversityPress.
Roy, Bunker. (2011). Bunker Roy: Learning from a barefoot movement. TED Global.
Zorn, J. (2001). Henry Giroux's Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Academic Questions, 14(4), 69.
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