Legal frameworks can protect indigenous peoples’ right to education in Latin America

Aug 26, 2021 | kix, News


UNICEF/UN0490964 Willocq

By the Global Education Monitoring Report (GEM Report), SUMMA, and the Regional Bureau of Education for Latin America and the Caribbean (OREALC/UNESCO Santiago).

The commemoration of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, celebrated every August 9, has as its theme this year “Leaving No One Behind: Indigenous Peoples and the Call for a New Social Contract”.  The initiative seeks to recognize the efforts made by countries in all regions of the world to promote the right to education of indigenous peoples in their normative and legal frameworks and to develop strategies to guarantee educational continuity during the pandemic. Chile is about to change its constitution in a historic process led by a Mapuche woman and teacher. Could others be thinking of doing the same?

Around 60 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean -according to ECLAC- belong to indigenous peoples, who are a group historically excluded from educational opportunities, and whose rights to quality education with cultural relevance have been violated.

The added scenario of Covid-19 has imposed a greater impact on indigenous communities and their education systems. As shown in the report prepared by SUMMA, GEM Report UNESCO and UNESCO-OREALC Santiago, Todos y todas sin excepción, for Latin America and the Caribbean, indigenous peoples and people of African descent have lower achievement and literacy rates than the rest of the population. In Paraguay and Honduras, 32% of indigenous men and women are illiterate; while, in Panama, in 2016, 21% of indigenous males aged 20-24 had completed secondary school, compared to 61% of their non-indigenous peers.

Inclusion implies a systemic reform process that entails changes and modifications in content, teaching methods, approaches, structures and education strategies so that all students have an equitable and participatory learning experience, and in an appropriate environment that responds to their needs and preferences. This requires robust policies and legal frameworks that promote non-discrimination and the right to culturally relevant education for all.

The right to non-discrimination is enshrined in eight international conventions, but only eight Latin American countries (Argentina, the Plurinational State of Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras and Peru) have ratified all of these conventions. The Convention against Discrimination in Education and ILO Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, which promoted the adoption of measures to guarantee members of indigenous peoples the possibility of acquiring an education on an equal footing at all educational levels, together with respect for and teaching of the indigenous language are, unfortunately, the conventions that have been least ratified in the region. On the other hand, among the most ratified conventions, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination stands out.

Countries in the region have adopted a broad conceptualization of inclusion in education in their legislative and policy frameworks and are global examples of innovative social policies. According to an analysis based on the GEM Report’s Profiles Enhancing Education Reviews (PEER), 64% of Latin American and Caribbean countries have legislative and policy frameworks that promote inclusion in education for ethnic groups and indigenous peoples and 59% promote education in the mother tongue, values that are above world averages.

According to a panoramic analysis of Latin America, in more than half of the countries, education policies refer to indigenous, Afro-descendant and linguistic minorities under the headings of intercultural bilingual education, indigenous education or ethno-education (Corbetta et al., 2020).

Despite progress in the ratification of international commitments and the development of national legal frameworks, the Regional Report Todos y todas sin excepción evidences a growing gap between these commitments assumed by the States and real progress in policies and programs relevant to the reality of indigenous peoples.

Initiatives to guarantee the right to education of indigenous peoples during the pandemic

While marginalized groups face a setback in their right to education due to the pandemic, several countries in the region have developed strategies to guarantee the educational continuity of indigenous students. Colombia published a series of guidelines for educational attention under a scheme of alternation for indigenous peoples in dialogue with the indigenous people’s own authorities and the territorial government. In Mexico, the Ministry of Public Education implemented the “Aprendo en Casa” program, a proposal to produce 4,500 television programs and 600 radio programs in Spanish and native languages. Together with the National Institute of Indigenous Peoples (INPI), it signed a collaboration agreement to promote indigenous, intercultural and multilingual education for the country’s native peoples. In Bolivia, the Bolivian tele-education platform incorporated content in Aymara, Quechua and Guarani to strengthen distance education during the pandemic.

According to a UNICEF report, in Peru, distance education programs are offered in 9 of the 47 indigenous languages, while in Paraguay, educational programs are only broadcast on community radio stations in 4 of the 19 indigenous peoples.

Prioritizing the right to education for everyone

The Declaration of the World Meeting on Education 2020, adopted in October of that year by UNESCO Member States, called for prioritizing and protecting educational financing; reopening schools in a safe and gradual manner; strengthening and dignifying teachers, school principals and other educational personnel; recovering learning and reducing gaps; reducing the digital divide and promoting connectivity as a right; and deepening cooperation and solidarity between countries, the development of partnerships and regional and intersectoral coordination.

If the International Day of Indigenous Peoples calls for a new social contract, we suggest that this should consist of a reassessment of the legal and policy framework of countries to ensure that they truly protect those who are being left behind. The pandemic can become an opportunity to revisit the educational process for indigenous students, taking into account their challenges and needs.

The call is for the countries of the region to prioritize inclusion and equity in education from a human rights perspective and in accordance with international standards on the subject. It is also expected that the member states of the region continue to strengthen investment in education systems, and that these respond to the long-standing demands for recognition and appreciation of diversity, promoting intercultural and quality educational proposals for all throughout life.

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