for Children who work with their parents all
Level: primary school, secondary school
The ‘Barefoot College’ came into being through an initiative by a benevolent organisation Social Work and Research Centre, SWRC. The founder of the SWRC, Bunker Roy wished to break away from the ‘social work tradition’ which, in India was aimed at the urban middle classes and had an academic orientation. He imagined an organisation based in the village of Tilonia which would attract young professionals from the city to work with the villagers and would thus be immersed in the reality of country life.
The SWRC, which has been active since 1972, in collaboration with local teachers, representatives of the Sanitation Department and solar energy engineers, seeks to implement a global development plan with and for the poor people in rural zones. The philosophy of this project is based on the conviction that villagers themselves are able to identify and resolve their problems.
The Tilonia Project settled in Rajasthan, in the north west of India, in one of the largest and poorest states where the majority of village folk make a living from farming. The total number of inhabitants is 44 million. Over 45% of the male population and over 80% of the female population are illiterate and over half of the school age children (6-14 years) do not go to school. The majority of these are girls.
Tilonia adopted its ‘Barefoot’ approach in the early 80’s. This term originates from Chinese sanitation workers who were simple villagers and were trained to work within their communities in the 60’s. The ‘Barefoot’ College considers that women and men are equal; education, caste and class do not in any way define the value of an individual. After a few years, the poor were entering the project in increasing numbers while the young professionals who have been trained in the city (engineers and teachers) were not able to stay in the villages for long periods of time, and to date 80% of the personnel come from Rajasthan as Bunker Roy states: ‘Education and development in Tilonia are carried out for the poor inhabitants of rural zones and are managed by them’.
To begin with the SWRC’s objective was to offer villages technical and socio-economic services. However, as the Project developed, experience showed that when the teams wanted to work with an entire village, the most influential members of the village manipulated the programme to their advantage. Installing a well, for example, posed a real problem: the ‘upper’ castes demanded that the well be installed near their community arguing that they would not drink water coming from a well in a ‘lower’ caste zone. Even if the SWRC wanted to work exclusively with the under privileged inhabitants of rural zones, they found this to be a difficult task. Dialogue was established as soon as the founders had begun to tackle the fundamental problems: drinking water or the creation of night schools for children.
Decision Making is Collective
The recruitment of teachers is debated at meetings between the Villagers’ Education Committee (VEC) and the community. The VECs are an essential element in the night college programme. They are made up of both men and women whose aim is to support the educational process. They choose the site for the school, steer the programme, take part in the selection of the teachers and visit nearby households to convince parents to send their children to the school. Besides, the members of the VEC are in charge paying the teachers and developing the school curricula. All the Barefoot College programmes are conceived to develop the ability to make joint decisions, which is vital to the mutually beneficial resolution of problems.
The Barefoot College is also an alternative to the formal education system which tends to exclude children from rural zones in India, on one hand because school hours do not correspond to the times when they can go to school and, on the other hand, because it offers a curriculum which is decidedly urban and consequently cannot prepare the pupils for governmental or professional posts (sectors with the highest rates of unemployment). Also, the language used in formal schools forces children to learn a different language to their mother tongue. Finally, the schools are often too far away for the children to go there on foot.
Conversely, learning at Barefoot Colleges relies on mutual action and interaction. It is only acquired through practical experience. The fundamental question is as follows: Thanks to their education, will they be able to protect the environment and see that the development of their community is sustainable? In this sense, the role of the Barefoot College is to help villages become self-reliant. Thus, Tilonia began to tailor its education programme away from conventional literacy programmes as the role of the teacher of the night school and of the community evolved. The needs and wishes of the community are the main concerns rather than the teaching of such and such a person or such and such a philosophy laid down by an external body.
These night colleges under the supervision of the teaching staff of Tilonia, follow a specific curriculum which is suited to the rural environment, combined with innovative approaches regarding teacher/pupil relations, teaching methods, treating villagers as people with resources and emphasis placed on the education of girls. Although the children have been helping their family look after livestock all day or work the land, they are alert and eager to learn. The survival of their families relies on their work as what they are doing is subsistence farming, and one of the great successes of the night colleges is that families are now convinced of the importance of education. Note that the Barefoot College has introduced a range of innovations such as the Children’s Parliament or the Puppet Theatre conveying social messages.
The equality of girls and women within society is constantly advocated. Without doubt these values have been passed on as the children elected a girl as Prime Minister of the Children’s Parliament. This parliament is a remarkable innovation of the Barefoot College: at the night school children take part in elections that echo the political structure and therefore familiarise themselves with the importance of identifying good candidates, on merit, and not according to caste, social class or sex. The child members of parliament - and this is part of the education process - must instil in the younger children that power goes hand in hand with responsibilities and that the two notions (power and responsibilities) are enriching.
40% of the funding of the organisation in Tilonia comes from the Government and 40% from foreign institutions. The remaining 20% comes from the sale hand crafted products and the installation of solar energy kits.
EXAMPLES OF CONFLICTS RESOLUTION IN THE BAREFOOT COLLEGE
1. Conflict to be resolved: school and community
Scepticism about the worth of education for the children of the poor.
Now there is talk that the school is soon to be opened. But there are doubts, questions and complaints of the parents:
- the older children go to work, they have no time;
- they are going to do jobs after school, they will remain labourers;
- they will run away to the cities after being educated;
- since they do not get employment after being educated, they roam around in the village, get into fights, tease girls.
In such a situation what can teachers do:
- establish personal contact with parents of each child;
- have talks and meetings in small groups;
- create an environment for schooling in the village through different communication forms, like plays, puppets, songs and fairs;
- take the help of village elders – men and women.
Solution : The Puppet theatre
Jockim Cha Cha (the uncle-practical joker) is the most popular spokesperson puppet in the theatre created by the Tilonia Communication Team. He introduces the puppet shows, delivers the moral of the story and leads the debates with the audience. As a puppet he does not get involved in delicate or controversial issues. Jockim Cha Cha and his puppet friends tackle subjects such as casts, discrimination against women, problems with usurers, marriage at an early age, alcoholism, violence against women and the deterioration of the environment, etc. 'Even if the audience laughs, Bhanwar Ghopal, a member of the 'Communication' team explains, that does not mean he is impervious to the pain in his own life.' The audience often asks for shows to be performed again.
The 'Communication' team writes the scripts of the puppet shows but is always ready to improvise if particular subjects seem to be of concern in the village where they are performing. The puppet theatre is an integral part of the night college programme.
It takes around five days to make a puppet : newspapers are made into a mash, mixed with water and flower made from a local plant. This mixture is used to model the puppet's face. Once it is dry, the face is painted and the costume is made by the 'Communication' team. Puppets made by the team are sold at national exhibitions. It takes a month to learn how to work the puppet and write the scripts. Another month is required to synchronise the puppets and the script. Babulal and Ramniwas are responsible for co-ordinating this tem. 'All my time is taken up with making the puppets, Babulal explains. 'I am always on the look-out for new ideas,' he says. Babulal has been working with the barefoot college since 1983. He was a member of the college and travelled to Norway to perform before the royal family.
2. Conflict to be resolved: parent and teacher
- on alternative methods of learning;
- classroom processes.
However all is not smooth sailing so soon. Once the school begins the parents and the educated people in the village question the alternative teaching methodology and the classroom structure.
- there is not sufficient discipline in the classroom;
- the children are playing and not learning;
- songs and dance should have no place in the classroom;
- there should be respect for the teacher; the teacher should maintain a distance and not sit close to the children;
- there is too much of story telling and pictures;
- there are no tests and examinations; how will we know whether the children have passed or failed?
Children fare better when they are happy!
They come to the non-formal/night school to learn while they play!!
In what ways can the community get involved in resolving conflicts:
- participating in meetings to help in decision making;
- forming a smaller group which has a more active interest in the school;
- helping to bring the little children to school;
- accompanying the girls when they go back from the school;
- coming off and on to see how the classes are running;
- coming and narrating folk tales to the children in the class;
- explaining their work (carpenter, potter, blacksmith, goldsmith, mason) when they are invited to the class or when the children visit them at work.
- active participation of the community and the
parent in the classroom processes;
- dialogue with the parents on the alternative
- resolved by community members.
How to involve the community in the learning process ?
To encourage regular and active community participation in the schooling process Village Education Committees (VEC), Parent Teacher Association (PTA), Mother Teacher Association (MTA) will be formed – so that the scope of participation extends to and involves the entire community.
These associations will be involved in activities such as:
- house to house surveys;
- maintenance of village education and retention registers;
- enrolment drives;
- organisation of school events;
- enrolling out of school children.
Another way of involving the community is:
- by preparing learning corners in the classroom;
- by sitting in the classroom and observing classroom processes and alternative teaching/pedagogic practices and initiating a dialogue thereafter on these practices.
For this, some members of the community are given an orientation in observing classroom processes. Some of the things they would observe:
- how many children are articulate;
- what are kinds of group processes in the classrooms;
- sharing/co-operation demonstrated by children;
- children having positive/negative self-image;
- confidence or lack of it manifested in children;
- curiosity and initiative in the children.
3. Conflict to be resolved: teacher and child
- the child is not the source of conflicts
- created by the teacher because of this/her attitude.
In a school, the child should be encouraged to be curious, eager, joyous, honest, hardworking, co-operative, friendly and honest.
An insensitive teacher will:
- make the child fearful ;
- pay excessive attention to only a few children in the class ;
- neglect totally some children in the class ;
- be superstitious about the impoverished condition of the children.
As far as the teacher is concerned it is very necessary to change her/his mindset and prejudices. For this, an effective training will be required.
A sensitive teacher will ensure –
- a happy and non-threatening atmosphere for the children ;
- equal behaviour towards all children.
- resolved by a well trained, humane and balanced teacher, sharing his experience with others
- Proposal of games
4. Conflict to be resolved: child and child
between children of different communities, class and religion.
The social conditions that give rise to conflict situations are:
- school often creates a distance between the so called intelligent – fast learners and slow learners;
- conflict between the introvert and extrovert;
- the older strong children sometimes bully the younger and weaker;
- physically weak and challenged children feel left out of all games and sports;
- girls and boys are segregated.
How can the classroom be a place where potential conflicts are lessened?
- will have an atmosphere of equality;
- will encourage co-operation rather than competition between children of different learning abilities;
- there will be peer group learning;
- the groups thus formed will be able to study and play together
- the teacher will encourage discussion and dialogue within the groups and with the class as a whole
5. Conflict to be resolved: girls and boys
- aspirations of the girl-child versus the dictates of the parents and the existing social norms;
- apprehensions about a non-formal/night school.
The majority of the made efforts do not manage to reach the girls. Parents/society ensure that they stay where they are. There are many obstacles placed in their coming to the non-formal/night school.
With the backing of social taboos and societal norms, parents say:
- girls will get spoilt if they study;
- if girls go to school at night, it is unsafe;
- what is the use getting the girls educated; they will after all get married and do household chores;
- it is difficult to get a husband for an educated girl;
- if there is a male teacher it will not be appropriate to send them to school.
Initiatives for change
- convincing the parents that education is an essential part of life skills;
- locating the school where majority of the girls have easy accessibility;
- having a male teacher with established credibility and wherever possible having a female teacher;
- creating an environment in the classroom supportive of girls education;
- having an older women to accompany them to the school at night.
6. Conflict to be resolved: whose school is it?
- should adults decide on behalf of children?
And the children say rightly ‘it is our school’. We will have a say in how it is run. How is that possible?
…Through a children’s parliament
- where children get a chance to get actively involved in the running of their schools;
- where children plan and make decisions with ease and enthusiasm;
- where children feel equal and responsible members of society regardless of gender and economic situation;
- where children talk/discuss about the problems in their villages;
- where children get a chance to understand the democratic process;
- where it is a forum to understand and be aware of their rights, duties and responsibilities.
A parliament where children’s voices are heard, valued, respected and decisions carried out!! How does a children’s parliament function
…through elections and the formation of a cabinet!!
The parliament is headed by a Prime Minister, Deputy Prime-Minister, cabinet ministers and ministers of state. The process of elections is democratic. The children propose the names of the office bearers and elect them. Once proposed and seconded, the children show their consent by raising their hands.
Some of the election rules are:
- only children attending non-formal/night schools are allowed to vote;
- reservation for girls;
- village education committee and PTA participate in the election process.
Some of the duties of the elected representatives are:
- organising enrolment drives for non-formal/night schools;
- to attend meetings of village education committees;
- to prepare an action plan and a budget;
- to address issues arising in the schools.
The meetings are delicate because each one has to answer to his/her activities. Laxmi, the prime minister, has turned out to be a charismatic president and the last election has shown that things are evolving in the right direction; she belongs to a marginalized caste, while the last Prime minister belonged to Jat, a superior caste. The children don’t limit themselves to talk about what’s going on in their schools, they speak about their village, water problems and they attend the meetings of the Shiksha Samitis. When you ask Laxmi, which school encounters the most problems, she cites her own. Each minister is supposed to visit each school 5 times per month; on these occasions, debates are organised on the following themes: « The master is he a good master? », « How many children are attending courses? », « Were the dossiers well kept? ». The oldest children take on the problems of installing manual pumps, construction of schools and the replacement of teachers.
Children and teachers of 150 night schools – our source of inspiration;
Santosh Devi, Methi and Kamlesh (Sardar Singh Ki Dhani) associated with SWRC, Tilonia night schools for their paintings.
Barefoot College – SWRC, Tilonia Madanganj, District Ajmer, Rajasthan, India;
Yogiraj and Girish for art work; Sambahv, Jaipur, Rajasthan, India.
For further information please contact
UNESCO - Education Sector
7 Place de Fontenoy
75352 Paris 07 SP
Tel: (33-1) 45 68 10 00
Fax: (33-1) 45 68 56 29
SWRC - Tilonia
305 816 Madanganj
Fax: 91 14 63 88 206
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