The Barefoot College education programme is geared toward fostering childhood development in rural areas, and literacy is only a part of it. The College is a radical departure from the traditional concept of ‘school’ because it trades formal classroom teaching for a hands-on, learning-by-doing process of gaining knowledge and skills.
Lessons are focused on developing literacy, fostering traditional skills and valuing the power of indigenous knowledge. Skillsets that support sustainable living in rural communities as well as literacy are considered important for holistic development. Teachers are from the village community and receive rigorous training and ongoing support in their villages.
The programme has always differentiated between the ‘literacy’ that children acquire in school, and the ‘education’ that children gain from family, community, environment and personal experiences. Teachers build a curriculum around practical, familiar examples from the local environment and way of life. Any rural child between the age of 6 months and 14 years—irrespective of caste, religion, gender or economic status—is eligible to join the programme as a student.
Since most children help out at home and tend to livestock in the daytime, classes are held in the evenings. The teacher-student relationship has been redefined to allow both children and adults to become sources of education, knowledge and skills. The College believes that every teacher is a learner and that every learner is also a teacher.
Barefoot College draws on the same philosophy in training members of the rural community to be educators in local schools. This is done to reduce dependency on external aid as well as to reduce migration by generating employment within the rural communities. The College gives little importance to urban experts with paper degrees, because most of them do not have the patience, listening skills or humility to respect traditional knowledge and skills and are unfit to live and work in remote areas.
The Barefoot education opportunities include balwadis (rural creches), Solar Bridge Schools, bridge transition school, and day school. In total, the College’s education programmes have graduated over 75,000 students since it began in 1975.