Education International
Education International

Costa Rica: public policy on Indigenous education needed

published 2 October 2012 updated 3 October 2012

Costa Rican Indigenous peoples have analysed the state and quality of education provided to Indigenous children, adolescents, and youth in the national meeting of Indigenous teachers and leaders, held in San José, from 25-26 September. The Asociación Nacional de Educadores (ANDE), one of EI’s national affiliates, participated in the discussions.

At the opening of the National Encuentro,“Indigenous Intercultural Education as a Challenge for the XXI Century”, ANDE President Alexander Ovares stressed the importance of compliance with international conventions on rights. He also emphasised the State's role as guarantor of the right to quality public education for the population as a whole.

The meeting organised by ANDE, the Distance Learning National University, the Costa Rican National Indigenous Round Table (MNICR), and UNICEF brought together over 50 educational experts, educators, female and male leaders of Indigenous territories across the country. The participants analysed the status and the quality of education provided to children, adolescents, and Indigenous youth.

In Costa Rica, there are eight Indigenous peoples (Bribri, Brunca, Cabecar, Chorotega, Guaymi-Ngobe, Huetar, Maleku-Guatuso, and Teribe-Terraba) living in 22 territories acknowledged legally and administratively by the State. In 2012, they number 104,143 individuals, according to the National Institute of Statistics and Census.

Challenges in education

According to the data from the Ministry of Education’s Department of Intercultural Education, there are 11,590 Indigenous students. Of these, 818 are in pre-school, 7,126 in primary and 3,646 in secondary education, distributed across 216 educational centres, attended by 724 teachers and 173 people in administration.

According to UNICEF, the average school attendance of Indigenous children settled in territories is 3.4 years, compared with the national average of 7.6 years.More than one in four (26.6 per cent) people in indigenous territories are illiterate, well above the national average (4.8 per cent).

MNICR: need tailored education

MNICR’s President, Donald Rojas, said that the three pillars of Indigenous education are: "The executive power with political goals and a four-year plan that involves running a number of programmes per year. On the other hand, the community, and its needs for education appropriate to its reality; and the educator who is bound by a plan that is built from the bottom up, not from the community.”

For Rojas, one of the main challenges is how to put into practice a system suiting Indigenous communities’ needs.

UNICEF: Integrate Indigenous culture

“We see interculturality as a bridge to cross from one side to the other,” said Adan Pari, UNICEF officer in Bolivia. “In Bolivia, there has been progress in several aspects, including intercultural, intracultural, and pluri-lingual education since 2009.

“In this regard, there is a whole movement to incorporate Indigenous knowledge in everyday life, in issues related to medicine, justice and education.”

Costa Rica’s Education Minister, Leonardo Garnier, also attended the meeting. He promised to prioritise the issue of education and Indigenous peoples.

The essential criteria for a policy of Indigenous Intercultural Education from the Cosmovision of Indigenous people of Costa Rica were also discussed in groups and plenary sessions. The results will be submitted to the Ministry of Public Education.

Unions’ global perspective

ANDE has been involved in a process for public policies related to education and native peoples with Indigenous educators.

“The State must ensure multicultural education, and this should take into account the needs of male or female educators,” said EI Representative Fernando Francia. “From the union point of view, it is necessary to ensure decent work and to enable a working environment that is part of the educational process.”

EI’s Regional Office in Latin America has been leading a debate from the education unions’ perspective to incorporate the issue of multicultural education in public education in the region.

The EI Executive Board, at its last meeting in October 2011, decided to establish the EI Advisory Committee on Indigenous Issues, entrusted with performing a comprehensive review of policies and practices, recommending policies, and advising on strategies for effective implementation of Indigenous policies.