Mexico: A new documentary honours the work of indigenous teachers

“The Sower” (“El Sembrador”) explores the daily efforts and dedication of an indigenous teacher to his students in a multigrade school in Chiapas. The feature-length documentary was screened at the 2018 Morelia International Film Festival.

The documentary, directed and produced by Melissa Elizondo, centres on Bartolomé Vázquez López, an Indigenous Studies teacher in Section 7 of the Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación (SNTE) in Chiapas. Through his work in the classroom he has become a true sower of knowledge, awakening curiosity in his students and nurturing their love for the outside world, while also fostering respect for the rights of indigenous children.

The film won the Guerrero Press Award for Best Feature-Length Documentary, Best Feature-Length Documentary by a Woman Director, and the Audience Award for Best Mexican Feature-Length Documentary.

Chiapas: A key region for Mexico’s indigenous population

Chiapas is a state in southern Mexico, bordering Guatemala, with a population of over 5 million. Its mountainous and dense jungle regions are home to one of the largest indigenous populations in the country, with twelve different government-recognised ethnic groups. While only 38% of Mexico’s indigenous population speak their own native language; in Chiapas this figure rises to almost 80%.

According to data from the Mexico Institute for Educational Evaluation, a high percentage of indigenous schools are multigrade, and they often lack adequately trained teachers, supplies, and curricula or programmes developed specifically for these schools. There are 2,078 primary schools like this in Chiapas, making up 73.6% of Mexico’s indigenous primary schools.

Union support for indigenous education

The Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación (SNTE), a member organisation of Education International, has recognised the efforts of Vázquez López and other indigenous teachers throughout the country and organised an event in their honour.

SNTE’s Secretariat for Research and Indigenous Cultural Development provided him with a copy of the “Didactic Strategies Handbook. A Guide for Indigenous Education Teachers”, in order to help Vázquez continue providing his students with quality education and revitalising indigenous languages.

It is worth noting that the school where Vázquez López works was one of those assessed by SNTE and UNESCO when developing the handbook, as it reflects the diversity of educational, social and linguistic contexts that characterise indigenous education in Mexico.

Haldis Holst, Deputy General Secretary of Education International, stressed the importance of teachers like Vázquez López and the work of indigenous peoples for the right to education. “The success of this documentary illustrates the importance of indigenous education. It reminds us that in order to build full citizenship, it is essential that indigenous communities be able to participate under democratic conditions that respect their rights and recognise the linguistic and cultural diversity of indigenous peoples.  Investing in public indigenous education requires improving poor infrastructure and facilities, as well as increasing both initial training and continued professional development opportunities for teachers”.

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The United Nations has declared 2019 the International Year of Indigenous Languages

Click here to watch the film’s trailer in Spanish with English subtitles.

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