Girls’ and women’s education: UNESCO’s barefoot partner

Posted on 6 April 2012


The Barefoot College, in Tilonia, India, which has trained 300 African grandmothers as solar engineers and thus electrified over 1000 villages, has become the first civil society partner to join UNESCO’s Global Partnership for Girls’ and Women’s Education.

The Barefoot College has been described as the only school in the world open only to people without any formal education. The “Barefoot approach” makes the most of women’s traditional skills and knowledge. Although the training the women receive has a “knock-on” effect of inspiring them to learn how to read, the programme has not so far included dedicated literacy training.

Why target grandmothers? Sanjit “Bunker” Roy, founder and director of the Barefoot College, answered this question at a round table on “Girls’ and Women’s Education: The Way Forward” on 27 October 2011, during UNESCO’s last General Conference. He explained that women, especially older women, return to their villages and share the knowledge they have gained. Men, he observes, are inherently mobile and migrate to the city as soon as they receive a certificate.

UNESCO will cooperate with the Barefoot College to offer technical support for establishing environmentally sound Community Empowerment Centres in villages around the world, using rural electronic workshops as learning hubs for literacy and skills training.

The Global Partnership for Girls’ and Women’s Education was launched in 2011 to narrow the gender gap in secondary education and adult literacy.