Skip navigation

Learning sustainability at the Barefoot College: local and global community values in action

Learning sustainability at the Barefoot College: local and global community values in action

Patterson, Jennifer ORCID: 0000-0002-8254-7602 and Kinchington, Francia (2024) Learning sustainability at the Barefoot College: local and global community values in action. Sustainable Earth Reviews, 7:16. pp. 1-23. ISSN 2520-8748 (doi:

47330_PATTERSON_Learning_sustainability_at_the_Barefoot_College_Local_and_global_community_values_in_action.pdf - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution.

Download (4MB) | Preview


This article investigates learning sustainability at the Barefoot College, identifying potential replicability and relevance for other contexts.
Government statistics in India, suggest that some 32 million children have no access to education, especially in rural areas. Despite initiatives, 80% mainly from lower castes and deprived backgrounds, have never attended school. Operating across many villages, the ‘Barefoot College’ (BFC) is a mature non-government organisation (NGO) centred on Tilonia, in Northern Rajasthan. Here, poverty is so extreme that children can be sold into textile factories because parents cannot afford to feed them. However, skills learned at BFC such as conserving fossil fuels and water, how to vote, literacy and health practices, improve local lives immeasurably and benefit the planet. The research question (RQ) examines the key characteristics and impact of learning sustainability in this environment. The lead author was astonished by the depth and beauty of how teachings of semi-literate women, teachers and children have generated a living, breathing sustainable community.
This research used an education case study methodology comprising multiple nested cases. Narratives of three key BFC project cases, the solar panel mamas, the Barefoot health and social workers and the children’s Night Schools, contextualise participant interviews that enable individual voices and experiences to emerge. Strategies aligned with a feminist standpoint approach enhance rigour and trustworthiness, systematically comparing qualitative data initiated in 2012 across semi-structured interviews, observations, and photographs. We found two key themes: dealing with on-the-ground inequality and practices of teaching and learning, together with five subthemes. These are in turn examined within a global sustainability-based framework to evaluate and characterise of BFC learning sustainability and sustainable leadership.
The research finds that learning sustainability at BFC contains novel key elements that are scalable and transferable. Meticulous joined-up-thinking underpins the BFC projects. Participants’ words confirm local and global relevance. Mapping learning sustainability in practice confirms individual self-actualisation and community agency through transformative education with impact. Individual and organisational adaptability are evidenced through individuals’ transformation into community leaders.
The Global North has a lot to learn from the BFC, where learning sustainability is deeply embedded in belonging to the community. Bottom-up leadership through active participation and democracy empowers all community members, instilling pride in the Barefoot ethos. In this difficult environment, locally rooted projects nurture the ecological commons including rainwater harvesting and reducing fossil fuels. Projects enable traditions and clean technologies to flourish, whilst strengthening individual and community belonging and identity.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: learning sustainability; Barefoot College; leadership; UN SDGs; sustainable community; global citizenship; informal learning
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
L Education > L Education (General)
L Education > LB Theory and practice of education
Faculty / School / Research Centre / Research Group: Faculty of Education, Health & Human Sciences
Faculty of Education, Health & Human Sciences > Institute for Lifecourse Development
Faculty of Education, Health & Human Sciences > Institute for Lifecourse Development > Centre for Inequalities
Faculty of Education, Health & Human Sciences > School of Education (EDU)
Last Modified: 05 Jun 2024 09:58

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item


Downloads per month over past year

View more statistics