At Barefoot College, where skill is valued more than degrees

Published: January 7, 2015 12:10:16 PM

In the small activity centre in Tilonia, students are hard at work. In one room, six women are busy making cotton sanitary...

Barefoot college, Tilonia, Tilonia barefoot schoolThe school has produced more than 6,500 handpump mechanics, solar engineers, FM radio operators and dentists, astonishingly mostly women. (Courtesy: Barefoot college)

In the small activity centre in Tilonia, students are hard at work. In one room, six women are busy making cotton sanitary napkins. In another, some women are carefully soldering integrated circuit boards for solar panels. Outside, older women are learning how to stitch handicrafts that are to go on sale.

We are at Barefoot College, an institution that teaches rural men and women, semi-literate to illiterate, how to become solar engineers, paramedics and doctors. Conceptualised by Sanjit Bunker Roy in 1972, the school that started out with the goal of eliminating water scarcity in rural India has been empowering village by making them sustainable. “I went to the wrong school, wrong college and came back with a lot of arrogance,” said social activist and founder of the school, Roy at the event where 450 entrepreneurs from across the country have been on the Jagriti Yatra, a train that has carried them across 10 Indian cities to meet local entrepreneurs.

“After my education, I had a lot of fancy degrees and was told that I could overcome any problem. Then I went to a village in Bihar to help with the famine in 1966, and that experience of not being able to adapt to even a small village changed my life,” said Roy.

Angry at the state of villages, he started an experimental school in Tilonia that would teach basic applications of engineering, medicine and arts to villagers. The school has produced more than 6,500 handpump mechanics, solar engineers, FM radio operators and dentists, astonishingly mostly women. “For people in rural India, a degree is irrelevant. Knowledge is more important. So I wanted to eliminate that question,” Roy said.

By Amruta Lakhe

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