are in the MOST Phase I website (1994-2003).
The MOST Phase II website is available at: www.unesco.org/shs/most.
|Best Practices on Indigenous Knowledge||MOST/CIRAN|
The Barefoot College - promoting productive employment for youthDESCRIPTION
A hundred years ago, when villages in India had no urban-trained professionals with impressive paper qualifications, what did the villagers do? They developed their own knowledge, skills and wisdom to solve their basic problems of drinking water, health, education and employment. The Barefoot College has been reviving and giving more respect and dignity to knowledge, skills and wisdom that have been devalued and discarded by modern-day planners and ‘experts’. The idea is to apply traditional, indigenous knowledge and skills to solving these basic problems, and thus to reduce villagers’ dependency on the expertise from outside which is so often inappropriate and irrelevant. Villagers are encouraged to depend more on their own common sense, on their indigenous institutions, and on their own practical skills and ability to judge what is possible.
The skills taught at the Barefoot College are aimed at providing the basic services villagers need: safe drinking water, sanitation, education, and health care. The College is a non-formal training institute where young men and women are taught practical skills by village teachers, many of whom have no formal qualifications. Teaching and learning are based on the day-to-day needs of villagers. The approach has given the College a grassroots base, made the training low-cost, and demonstrated the sustainability of community skills that have never been endorsed by any recognized university or college. Up to now the practice of using village knowledge and skills has only been paid lip-service; it has never really enjoyed real confidence or been given a full opportunity.
The College has over 400 staff members working full-time in various activities related to basic services. They have no formal qualifications for the job they are doing. With the help of a cadre of barefoot engineers, doctors, teachers, designers, chemists, accountants and traditional communicators, communities are using expertise they acquired from their ancestors. The concept of communities depending on themselves has revived. Indigenous institutions and decision-making processes have been activated, and villagers have gained new confidence. They increasingly recognize their own strengths and assign value to their own skills--something that was never felt before.
All changes emerge from a conflict of ideas, approaches and methods. The Barefoot approach has challenged the urban-based, ‘paper-qualified’ experts in the belief that this totally non-violent conflict will be beneficial to the communities over the long term. Already the benefit has been amply demonstrated.
Economic sustainability is achieved as people depend on and compensate each other for exercising their skills and providing services. Nothing is free.
Environmental sustainability is served by using solar energy instead of fossil fuels, and by collecting rainwater instead of drawing on groundwater for drinking.
Other types of sustainability are achieved by using traditional media, such as puppet and street theatre, to convey messages on social issues (minimum wage, gender equality, etc.).
STAKEHOLDERS AND BENEFICIARIES
The main stakeholders and beneficiaries are rural communities that are socially and economically poor but culturally rich. More specifically, the College trains members of these communities who are otherwise not eligible for work in public service because they are semi-literate and from vulnerable, socially deprived groups. Such people account for 95% of the College’s full-time staff. They are trained to provide valuable service to their communities as barefoot engineers, doctors, teachers and traditional communicators.
The staff of the Barefoot College and the members of the communities they serve number some 50,000 to 70,000 people.
STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES
The strengths are obvious. Local technologies based on traditional, indigenous knowledge and skills have stood the test of time. They have been accepted without question by village communities, and have been used extensively. Their low cost makes them easily replicable wherever similar problems exist. If the people were left to themselves they would use such technologies more widely.
The practice could be transferred to other places and situations, but it is essential that several conditions be met:
The organizers of the Barefoot College are prepared to help replicate the approach anywhere in the world where there are problems of unemployed rural youth and where there is a high rate of illiteracy, which means that there is a rich and vibrant oral tradition and that indigenous knowledge remains to be identified and utilized.
The College does not encourage visitors to drop in unannounced. It prefers to receive advance notice and to confirm dates, and asks that visitors respect this.
The Barefoot College was winner of the 1995 ESCAP HRD award, an award given by the Human Resources Development (HRD) section of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP). More information can be found at their website: http://www.escap-hrd.org/abarfoot.htm.
Organzation that provided this information:
Social Work and Research Centre (SWRC), Barefoot College
To MOST Clearing House Best Practices on Poverty and Social Exclusion
To MOST/CIRAN Database of Best Practices on Indigenous Knowledge
To MOST Clearing House Homepage