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What is Barefoot Education? A Word from a Barefoot Professor...

"The Barefoot Education for Afrika Trust (BEAT) was established in 2009 for the purpose of promoting ‘barefoot’ education—referring to community and family education. 

Formal education in Africa has failed to transform people’s lives directly. In rural communities, families invest in ‘educating’ their children so that they can leave the community and go elsewhere and find a job—working for government and so on, as a way of escaping their own community and family who are bound to be trapped in poverty for the fore-seeable future. The idea is to build the capacity of rural and poor people to learn for themselves—as a way of life. 

Development in the end is about people- equipping people to fulfill their own potential and their on dreams. 

As BEAT we have been interested in the challenge that the agricultural extension system in most African countries is not effective and has struggled with issues of science and technological change, as well as in assisting farmers equip themselves with business and life skills. We then borrowed the idea of “learning circles’ from the Swedish Cooperative Center, who operate in many African countries. But the idea of ‘learning circles’ in itself in a universal one. Learning in traditional African society for instance, is in learning circles and discussion groups. Using learning or study circles as an extension tool has proved powerful. Adult learners form themselves into groups of 10-15 and commit to learning together and meet regularly. The group decides for themselves what issues they face and what they would like to learn about. We assist the learning process by providing learning material to the groups. The material is developed for self-directed learning in the absence of a teacher. It does take time to prepare these materials since experts are required to work with farmers on the curriculum development and in co-creating the written material so that it communicates directly to the intended audience. When the learning circle read these materials for themselves we find that they have a lot to discuss, learn and share. We also find that they are able interrogate new knowledge, add, subtract etc and co-create their own new knowledge that they are more prepared to apply. Study group members encourage each other and support each other in applying new knowledge. 

We believe therefore that knowledge exists only at the point of action. Before action one only has ‘information’ which still has to be translated to action through co-creation. That is in essence the power of ‘barefoot education’. 

These learning materials are also available in local language. Formal education is available only in English and other foreign languages and fails to incorporate traditional, cultural and indigenous knowledge. So as a semi-retired professor myself, and a former Dean of Agriculture at the University of Zimbabwe, I believe that we can re-introduce learning and education as a way of life for families and communities outside the formal education system, and cover all aspects of life including life skills, business and leadership. The idea of a barefoot university is because we realize that if these alternative educational models are not formally recognised, it takes us longer to get the support and impact that we seek since of course there are detractors for various reasons such as elitist mindsets, as well as exclusionary tendencies."

Excerpt from an Electronic Interview of Prof Mandivamba Rukuni, Founder and Executive Director of BEAT, with Rachel Zamzow, BS Doctoral Student, Neuroscience University of Missouri-Columbia

Go Barefoot!


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