The Barefoot School is a project in Rajasthan, India, started by Bunker Roy (above). He was a wealthy boy from the city who decided to build an alternative school in a rural village – one only for the poor. When he first started in 1986, people thought he was mad, but he was resolute in his vision and has made a remarkably quirky but effective school, working with a distinctly local philosophy.
When it comes to choosing teachers, Roy doesn’t just look for educators with PhDs or Masters. He looks for professionals from all vocations. His argument is that professionals are everywhere, and their skills can all be harnessed and then learnt. No one is paid more than $100 a month and no certificates are given to students. The school is based on the principles of Mahatma Gandhi; people eat, sleep and work on the floor. Roy argues that you are “certified by the community you serve”.
The college is 100% solar powered, and since there is plenty of sunshine, there are few power outages. Even the food is solar cooked. The fact this solar cooker was made by illiterate women serves to exemplify his methodology of empowering the students to build what they need around them. Similarly, all rainwater is collected from the roofs, and nothing is wasted – “barefoot technology”, in his words.
The Barefoot School also works with local people to help them learn about what is useful to them, such as their civil rights (what to do if they are arrested, for example). Another subject is animal husbandry, teaching people to care for their sick animals. This is all run in a democratic way, and the school has elections and a prime minister, who is 12. He is a goat herder by day and PM by night.
Due to the low literacy rate, much of the communication is done by a puppet made from recycled World Bank reports (see the picture). This shows the eccentric style of the school’s creator. With this sense of humour, alongside the practical skills he offers, he aims to empower people to improve their lives with what they have in front of them.
The alternative styles of communication extend to sign language, which Roy has used to teach women from Afghanistan to solar electrify whole villages. The amazing thing is the initiative that the students take with a small amount of education, and these women have gone on to electrify 100 villages, all without speaking a word of the local language. This Barefoot training philosophy has now been put into practice in Sierra Leone and Gambia, where Roy has again helped emancipate local women without any education.
Roy’s overarching idea is about listening to people and looking for solutions in what is available, no matter how little that can appear. Of course, within the contexts he is working he faces a lot of resistance, but he doesn’t let it phase him. He reasons that, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, and then you win.”
Hi, my name's Phil. I am a Content Writer and Producer. My background is a mixture of education, social media and management. I've spent a lot of my career working in Latin America and Spain, and I have a love for languages and education.