50 Leaders Changing Indian Education


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Rural education messiah

Sanjit (‘Bunker’) Roy, director Barefoot College, Tilonia. Although with 67 percent of its population resident in rural India, the nation lives in its villages, in the Soviet-style centrally planned Indian economy, the gap in education delivery — and therefore in standards of living — between rural and urban India has widened over the past six decades since the nation wrested its independence from British rule in 1947.

In the early 1960s, first-hand experience of a famine in rural Bihar aroused deep emotion within Roy, an alumnus of the blue-chip Doon School and St. Stephen’s College. Determined to address the development problems of rural India, in 1972 Roy established the Social Work and Research Centre (SWRC) in a hot and dusty rural tract in the desert state of Rajasthan. Since then, SWRC has metamorphosed into the Barefoot College (BC) which runs 714 night primary schools for 235,000 children in 673 villages in five states of the Indian Union, and transforms illiterate and quasi-literate peasants into competent (but deliberately uncertified) barefoot solar and water harvesting engineers, hand-pump mechanics, architects, blacksmiths and weavers.

Roy claims that Barefoot College is the sole education institution worldwide which “consciously follows the teaching, life and work style of Mahatma Gandhi who envisioned an India comprising thousands of self-sustaining village republics”.

Moreover in a global initiative BC has transformed over 225 rural women from 26 developing countries around the world into barefoot solar engineers under its GWBSE (grandmother women barefoot solar engineers) programme.

Yet unsurprisingly, BC is more renowned abroad than in India where there is strong adherence to the country’s teacher-centric education model. With the middle class and the media uninterested in rural India, the public is largely unaware of the unique Barefoot College rural development model which if scaled up has the potential to radically improve rural productivity and incomes to transform the Indian economy.


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