Indigenous educators from across Latin America come together to strengthen public education

published 10 August 2022 updated 26 August 2022

Convened by Education International Latin America (EILA) on August 9-11, the IX Regional Meeting on Public Education and Indigenous Peoples brought together more than 150 educators from all over the region, representing indigenous peoples from Peru, Panama, Argentina, Costa Rica, Brazil, Chile and Paraguay who travelled many miles by air and land to reach the city of Asunción, Paraguay.

Challenges facing indigenous education in Latin America

The hall was filled to capacity as Education International for Latin America (EILA) and its affiliates kicked off the IX Meeting on Public Education and Indigenous Peoples, held in the framework of the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples.

Also present at the event were Fátima Silva, Vice-President of the EIAL Regional Committee; Combertty Rodríguez, EIAL Senior Coordinator; Roberto Leão, EI Global Vice-President; Eladio Benitez, General Secretary of the Unión Nacional de Educadores-Sindicato Nacional (UNE-SN) and Juan Gabriel Espínola, representative of the Organización de Trabajadores de la Educación del Paraguay-Auténtica (OTEP-A).

Combertty Rodriguez opened the event by pointing out that it is the responsibility of unions to ensure that indigenous populations can find a home in the trade union movement.

“The IEAL felt it had a duty to hold this event to address a central issue: the education problem facing indigenous populations, from a public policy perspective,” he added.

Roberto Leão addressed those present saying “I hope that you leave here strengthened, with proposals that each of you can take back home, and continue this struggle for the existence of humanity. Because it is you, through your relationship with nature, who are the future of humanity.”

Eladio Benitez highlighted the similarities that exist between the countries of the region, pointing out that “there is much that is lacking, such as difficulties in the use of and access to new technologies, lack of connectivity, but above all there is the historical neglect by the governments in each of our countries”. Hence the importance of this meeting, the leader explained, which will be an opportunity for proposals on these issues to be put forward.

“It is a great commitment for our trade union, because what is a union if not a tool for liberation? And that is what we want, to walk together as a union, with you. We can no longer allow this to happen in our societies, this marginalisation of the real owners of the land. And we from the union, with our motto of commitment and coherence, are here to walk by your side”, added Juan Gabriel Espínola.

Finally, Fatima Silva recalled that “commemorations such as today's are precisely the dates when we should tell heads of state to implement the policies that are so necessary for the indigenous populations who have been marginalised throughout the world”.

Proposals to strengthen public education for indigenous peoples

During the morning of this first day, the participants introduced themselves, so that everyone got to know each of the different ethnic groups and peoples represented in the activity. One by one they put their names on the wall of the venue where everyone’s origins could be clearly read.

The communities shared traditional dances and songs, as well as explanations about their traditional dress, the foods most commonly eaten in their communities, and the history of their villages.

Participants formed working groups to discuss the challenges facing public education systems in indigenous communities.

The educators concluded their discussion by agreeing on the need to guarantee compliance with existing legislation in the countries of the region related to the rights of indigenous people, as well as with laws and treaties that guarantee the right to a living wage.

They also pointed out clear needs such as the improvement of educational infrastructure, internet access, teaching materials, school meals and libraries, conditions that must go hand in hand with public policies that guarantee the connectivity of these communities.

The educators recalled that meeting these challenges depends on guaranteeing other rights such as access to clean water, health services, and the right to their ancestral lands.

Finally, participants put forward important proposals such as organising competitions that allow indigenous educators to work in their communities, favouring training courses that respect the culture and worldview of each indigenous group, and guaranteeing a differentiated curriculum.

At the end of the event, the non-indigenous union leaders in the room reflected on the need to support their indigenous colleagues in their organisations and, above all, to listen to them. They stressed the importance of ensuring equity for indigenous educators when it comes to trade union victories, as well as the importance of having representation at all levels of their organisations.

In addition to the Paraguayan unions, the EIAL member organisations who attended the event through their leaders and affiliates were the Confederación de Educadores Argentinos (CEA), Confederación de Trabajadores de la Educación de la República Argentina (CTERA), Confederación Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación de Brasil (CNTE), Sindicato Unitario de Trabajadores en la Educación (SUTEP), Colegio de Profesores de Chile (CPC), Asociación Nacional de Educadores y Educadoras (ANDE), Sindicato de Trabajadoras y Trabajadores de la Educación Costarricenses (SEC) and the Magisterio Panameño Unido (MPU).