Intercultural Bilingual Education For Indigenous People Education Essay

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Globalisation has brought multiple and dramatic changes in all areas of social life, especially economics and culture. Increasingly it tends to bring all groups into "conformity with the structure and goods of globalised society" (Stromquist and Monkman, 2000: 4). Thus, local cultures and identities owned by the indigenous groups especially the languages spoken by indigenous peoples are under threats in the context of today's multicultural and multilingual societies and the issue of indigenous education has been more frequently concerned on international agendas. The year 1990 witnessed the conformity of the World Declaration of Education for All in Jomtien, Thailand. In universalising access and promoting equity, it clearly proclaimed that:

"An active commitment must be made to removing educational disparities. Underserved groups-…indigenous people; ethnic, racial and linguistic minorities…-should not suffer any discrimination in accessing to learning opportunities". (UNESCO, 1990)

The Dakar Framework for action (UNESCO, 2000) claims a reaffirmation of the vision of the World Declaration on Education for All and calls for regional and national EFA plans to include and enhance the access to education for people from indigenous communities. Through struggles of both top-down policy of assimilation and integration and bottom-up movements, most state governments finally turned to bilingual and intercultural education as a solution to improve the indigenous education and preserve the indigenous cultures.

However, a following monitoring report shows that there remains a long way to go to fulfil the basic learning needs in many indigenous communities (UNESCO, 2007). Gaps still exist between policy initiatives and the implementation and the efforts appear to be pale and weak if indigenous cultures are still not equally considered in a symmetrical relation with the mainstream culture.

This essay aims to throw a light on the discussion of the disconnections between the goals and policy on paper and the policy implementation at the local levels in bilingual or intercultural education for indigenous or minority communities. The focus will be on the investigation into what is preventing the indigenous education from progressing in a decent way expected as the rhetoric. All those will be done through reviewing three main empirical literatures concerning about the indigenous bilingual education in different parts of the world. Discussion will follow up on the rationales behind generation of the gaps between the kind imagination and crucial realities. But the essay will not try to establish a whole picture as it will exceed the scope of the assignment.

Article Reviews

For each of the selected article or chapter, first, there will be a brief introduction about the authors, and then turn to a summary for the national indigenous contexts and finally the authors' discussion on the policy-makers' initiatives and their practice in reality. The works are reviewed in a random order.

Bilingual-intercultural education for indigenous children: the case of Mexico in an era of globalization and uprisings (Tinajero & Englander, 2011: 163-178)

This is a journal article from Intercultural Education published in 2011 and is written by Dr. Guadalupe Tinajero and Professor Karen Englander, two academic faculty members in the Autonomous University of Baja California in Mexico. Their research interests involve reform and change in indigenous education and related education policies and identity issues.

In Mexico, there are 62 recognised indigenous groups, composing about 12 percent of the national population. Among the indigenous groups, 92 languages are spoken as counted in 1990 (Terborg, Landa & Moore, 2006: 20). The majority of the indigenous population live in the rural areas. There have been great population migrations to the poorest parts of the cities and the outskirts of agricultural lands, which "further stress the indigenous languages and traditions, as the conventional structures are broken down" (Tinajero & Englander, 2011: 164). Having been violated over centuries, the indigenous people in Mexico are termed as native-poverty with the lowest status of well-being physically and socially. The administrating organisation in charge of education for indigenous children stands distinctively from the national education system, having its own policies, schools and teachers.

In this article, they depicted a general review of the change and development of the policies in indigenous education sectors in Mexico during the past 25 years shifting from Spanishization, assimilation and integration to bilingual and intercultural education. Then, despite the establishment of the bilingual-intercultural education through a series of nation-state's policy adjustments and also indigenous uprising movements, the authors still tried to uncover the tensions between the political discourses from both national government and indigenous communities, and the implementation of educational policies at local levels with the impact from globalisation.

According to the research, though the figures look nice and encouraged the officials to claim that "there has been new equality, social justice, participation, and respect and attention to cultural and linguistic diversity during the last two decades", it is pointed out that the realities strongly undermines the positivist discourse. There is teacher insufficiency, which does not only mean that sometimes one teacher have to teach different grades but also refer to the situation that an indigenous language one teacher acquired cannot fit to the area he/she is going to teach in. The government lowered the teaching entry requirement, trying to make it a solution to the lack of trained teachers with criteria of language selection, but this has caused an absence of the service quality and in reverse promote the use of Spanish as a lingua franca. Despite of the low academic standards compared to those of the national level, school failure and drop-out rates are still higher than higher than the national average level. The official discourse blames the lack of indigenous teachers training for the pool quality, but the authors pointed out that more responsibilities should be addressed on the insufficiency of the teaching materials and infrastructures. Those above are the problems that have existed for a long time and they continue to take effect in the bilingual-intercultural education discourse. (Tinajero & Englander, 2011: 171-172)

Rethinking Bilingual Education in Peru: Intercultural Politics, State Policy and Indigenous Rights (Garcia, 2004: 348-367)

During her working experience as an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Sarah Lawrence College, the author MarHYPERLINK ""María+Elena+García""iHYPERLINK ""María+Elena+García""a Elena GarcHYPERLINK ""María+Elena+García""iHYPERLINK ""María+Elena+García""a wrote this article maybe in the preparation for her later launched book Making Indigenous Citizens: Identities, Education, and Multicultural Development in Peru. In the book, she revealed her research domains in exploring the complex politics between the Peruvian indigenous communities and the bilingual intercultural education, official cultural and educational policies implemented by both state and non-state actors (Garcia, 2005: 216).

Published in the International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, this article, going through the line of the recent alternations of the national education policy in Peru especially in the 1990s, investigate into the effects of these policies on the indigenous populations against the backdrop of the international multicultural development. The author's attention is particularly focused on some gaps between the bilingual education rhetoric and the actual implementation.

Before Spanish colonisation, Quechua was the official language but without prohibition against languages and dialects of other ethnic groups. After the Spanish colonisers' arrival, Quechua still prevailed as a lingua franca for colonial control and Christianity transmission but it still stood "unequivocally below Spanish" (Garcia, 2004: 349) and only the elite class including those from indigenous communities were allowed to learn Spanish. But an ethnic rebellion rendered the Quechua language a difficult situation and soon was taken over by Spanish gradually. Since then, the intercultural activists have been struggling with all of the efforts to gain equal position for the indigenous language and establish a bilingual education on an equal basis, but most of them came to an end in vain or just stayed on paper documents. It was not until a slow transaction to cultural plurality beginning in 1993 and the reestablishment of the National Office for Bilingual Education in 1996 that the political discourse for indigenous language and cultural revival started to prosper again. Now the bilingual intercultural education is embraced by more and more indigenous leaders and activists in Peru on the one hand.

On the other hand, however, as Garcia (2004: 357) pointed out, the bilingual education in Peru is confronted with challenges as well and these have been reflected through the gaps between the national policies and the local interpretations. From the perspective of the policy agenda, the fundamental principle to promote intercultural education is to achieve the goal of national unity, whereas it is to reflect the "diversification" (Garcia, 2004: 358) of current curriculum and pedagogy as an essential part of the real action. Moreover, there seems to be a potential danger to enhance the tensions between ethnic groups as the indigenous education parallel to the national education system "separates communities" (ibid.). That also potentially leads the parents' degradation of bilingual education as a second-rate schooling. In Peru, people only consider being able to read in Spanish instead of indigenous languages as literate, for fear of the reduction of the socioeconomic empowerment. Problem also exists in the learning content as described in the interview with an indigenous mother that time have been wasted in teaching "nothing but what they already learn at home talking to us" (ibid, 2004: 359). There are concerns about the quality absence in teacher training as well with teaching resources that are far from enough.

Bilingual Education in China: The Case of Yunnan (Tsung, Wang & Zhang, 2012: 105-120)

This is a chapter from the book named China's Assimilationist Language Policy: The impact on indigenous/minority and social harmony. The authors all have held researches on bilingual education for indigenous or ethnic minority students.

The study conducts an investigation into Yunnan Province, a western region in China "struggling to eliminate poverty and to improve the literacy of school-aged children" (Tsung, Wang & Zhang, 2012: 105). In 2007, among Yunnan's poverty population, 65 percent were living in ethnic minority areas, where the basic education is almost ten years lagging behind that in other places of Yunnan. Moreover, the composition of minority population is complicated in this province as there are 25 ethnic minorities speaking over 26 languages but only 12 percent of the minority people can communicate in Mandarin Chinese. Thus, bilingual education would bring advantage to the minority people as it "contributes to enhanced mutual understanding and respect as well as political and economic equality" (Teng & Wen, 2005: 268).

The authors conducted two field studies in 1999 and 2008 respectively to compare the changes and development in the ten years' time. The comparisons illustrate that though there are evidence showing that rapid growth has taken place over the past few year such as dramatic textbook improvement, more class hours for Tibetan language and the requirement of minority language tests for some government positions (Tsung, Wang & Zhang, 2012: 113), a number of disconnections between current policies and the actual practices can still be identified.

There are financial difficulties for both the minority families and schools so that parents cannot afford bilingual education for their children and schools have to reject students with insufficient subsidies. Perceptions and attitudes count as well. As described, there is the "great Han mentality" and the "pragmatism mentality", making the schools reject students with top grades on indigenous language but failed Chinese and prevent parents from sending their children to bilingual schools with a consideration of future job opportunities. Local administrators, in order to keep good academic records, are more willing to put emphasis on Mandarin or Mathematics other than indigenous languages and cultures. The teacher shortages and low standard of teacher training are mentioned here again as they can just either speak Mandarin or the indigenous languages, not bilingual at all. Still, there are concerns about the textbooks which neither meet the quantity demand nor quality requirements. It is highlighted that there are no communication between in-service teachers and textbook writers, leading to a large distance between learning contents and the real life. The inappropriate curriculum arrangement is criticised which caused a reduction of minority language teaching hours as schools have to finish overwhelming teaching task of textbooks of other subjects written in Mandarin only. Additionally, this case study shows a unique feature on religious aspect. There is competition for students between public schools and religious schools. Parents are keener to send children to the latter ones as parents would rather provide financial support to temples or churches to gain comfort as well as preserve their own cultural heritage. (Tsung, Wang & Zhang, 2012: 113-117)

To sum up, in Yunnan Province of China, bilingual education for indigenous people has two levels of functions. On one hand, it is supposed to maintain indigenous language and culture as the indigenous language is used both as an instruction medium and a subject. Meanwhile, at the other hand, bilingual education in the ethnic minority areas in China potentially tends to eliminate pupils interests in their own language and culture because the mainstream Mandarin Chinese certainly has a closer link to better quality of education in secondary and higher levels, thus meaning a better job opportunities.


Having gone through all the three parallel analyses of bilingual intercultural education for indigenous or minority peoples, an interesting finding is that although the researches analyze three cases from different parts of the world, some common features have been identified for the explanation of the disparities between the imagination of the policy-makers and the practices in reality. These shared complaints range from the teacher shortage both in number and quality for geographical and economic reasons to the disconnection between the textbooks and the actual learning needs and the concern about future job-hunting.

However, the biggest problem falls on the contradiction of the political discourses which claims bilingual intercultural education as being based on a co-equal relationship between indigenous languages and major national languages but in reality is still under the influence of the asymmetries between the indigenous and the mainstream culture. Such equality detracts people's attitude towards the indigenous identity (Tinajero & Englander, 2011: 173, Garcia, 2004: 361, Tsung, Wang & Zhang, 2012:114). It is regretful that none of the authors has organised a further discussion about the original rationales of such inequality with a link to the discourse of Education for All.

Dilemma of the nation-states

Stephen May (1998) reminded us to look back upon the policy origin, the nation-state. He (ibid, 1998: 272-273) argued that the nation-state, externally asserting its sovereignty and self-governance and internally practicing its political and legal authority upon its citizens, faces the pressure from both directions. From outside the state, the rising process of globalisation with the neo-liberal multinational corporations and supra-national political organisations force the state to take pace with the modernisation to keep its sovereignty on political and economic issues. From inside the country, the minority groups including the indigenous communities are calling for greater discursive power within the current nation-state framework.

Thus, though the nation-state realizes more individual autonomy and equality and shared citizen identity, meanwhile, as it has a "central requirement that all its citizens adopt a common language and culture for the use in the civic realm or public sphere" (May, 1998:273), a uniform language and culture or the ideology behind is imposed and remains superiority over all other minority languages and cultures. So the situation becomes what Brian Bullivant termed as a "pluralist dilemma" (1981: x), which is the accommodation of the political claim to respect social diversity but at the same time to keep the nation-state as a whole. In this sense, only one language and one culture can take the representation with public recognition. It inevitably marginalises other languages and cultures of the minority communities, even if takes the attitude to preserve the minority cultures.

Under the circumstances of globalisation and with such a gap, the learning of indigenous languages would be enormously discouraged, even with an actively promoting policy environment. In many situations, indigenous people choose to deny such kind of rights but to be assimilated into the culture of the dominant ethnic groups in an era that modernity has been widely praised and pursued. In the education sectors, it is often the parents who make this choice. Such perception can be detected in the cases reviewed. In the case of Peru, indigenous education has been or in the danger to be rejected by the indigenous parents to some extent because compared to the dominant Spanish language, bilingual education might be considered as a second-rate education which would not be helpful concerning the personal future development (Garcia, 2004: 358-359). Similarly, in the case of Yunnan, China, many ethnic minority parents reckon Mandarin Chinese as more important and more beneficial in terms of one's academic record and career opportunities in the future (Tsung, Wang & Zhang, 2012: 114).

However, according to the World Declaration on Education for All and the Dakar Framework for Action, it is clearly expressed that quality education should be provided to meet the basic learning needs of all children, youth and adults. So, any dilemma that the nation-state is facing cannot be an excuse for mistakenly interpreting the indigenous people's rights of access to education as the access only to non-indigenous education. Indigenous or ethnic minority people are asking for education that fits their needs linguistically and culturally with no exclusion from the national education system (King & Schielmann, 2004: 21).

Moreover, it is easy to observe that such a convergent tendency is still growing, as the nation-states use education as tool to build united national identity and pursue modernity, thus making it difficult for indigenous people to be truly involved in the political life of the nation with an exclusion of indigenous identity. It is especially the case under the circumstances of globalisation characterized with the fierce competition between nations.

Globalisation and Culture

To take the review one step further, the inequality between the indigenous or minority cultures comes from the uneven economic foundation, which is, to a large extent, originated from the interventions of the globalisation.

Globalisation is often discussed in the aspects of economy, politics and culture, which may include "the emergence of supranational institutions which threaten the powers of the nation state, the impact of economic change on a world-wide scale and changes in technology and communication which impact on the culture of nation states" (Gunn, 2005: 1). But when looking at the rapid cultural changes in this contemporary society, it is necessary to take into consideration the links between culture and other elements such as economy as culture is never shaped in an isolated environment.

Held et al. (2000: 327) gave the comment that "there can be little doubt that one of the most directly perceived and most experienced forms of globalisation is the cultural form". Most researchers observe a tendency towards the homogeneity of values and norms. It relates with the complicated interactions between economy and culture. As Friedman (1995: 70) explained, a form of cultural imperialism, as a result of the economization of culture is less enforced by political power, but pervaded and reinforced by economic power. Dascal (1991: 284-285) further suggested that the superiority claimed by the western modernization has been built on its global capacity. The multinational corporations, through trading of goods or service in the global market, not only pursue to maximize the profit, but also broadcast the cultural influence of the economic powers such as the US since the products are reflecting the cultural values of the society which supports them. Thus, the cultures and languages backed by a stronger economy, to a large extent, tend to take the dominance over those from weak economic bodies. This trend has permeated into the nation-states, between different ethnic groups especially between mainstream culture and indigenous culture. It is properly argued by Castro-Palaganas, et al. (2004: 1) that "New development paradigms brought about by globalisation an information technology has threatened Indigenous knowledge systems".

However, others see globalisation as an opportunity to save and prosper local cultures and identities as well. Kenway (1997: 8) stated that at the same time when globalisation is creating economic division among people, it would also generate potential with new bases for solidarity. Nevertheless, it was argued that the revival of the local cultures might emerge as "a defence against the impossibility of joining the global on favourable terms" (Stromquist and Monkman, 2000: 8) and it is, in any case, an unintended effect of globalisation. Even so, in many ways local cultures are making efforts to retain their identity, trying to develop a vision with which they could positively interact with the emerging system. As part of those efforts, indigenous groups often focus on the issues of language and education.

Language, Culture and Bilingual Education

As firmly argued by King and Schielmann (2004: 14), "education is both a prerequisite to, and a tool for, enhancing the opportunities of learners to exercise their social, cultural, economic, civil and political rights".

In Garcia's research article about Peru, she mentioned Bruce Mennheim's theory on the interactions between language, culture and society: (1) bonds will be built among speakers of the same language; (2) a defeated population can be compelled to use the language from the right conquest; and (3) language preserves cultural identity (Mennheim, 1991: 68). Policy-makers should consider the three theories as being cautious of the predicting effects that the words they write on paper would bring to the vulnerable groups who could hardly do anything but to live with it.

A significant function of a language is the tool people use to think and communicate with each other, spread cultural heritage and create new cultural elements. According to Barnard and Glynn (2003: 1), the interrelation between children's language and their development in the aspects of cognition and cultural identity can hardly be ignored. Language, to a large extent, decides the position of individuals in the interaction with the society. Throughout history, due to colonial conquest or gradual cultural assimilation, indigenous communities are pushed in front of other alien languages which are supported by stronger powers. In history, the upper classes set language barriers for the indigenous groups to keep social and economic privileges over them. For example, during the Spanish colonization, the controlling class would rather to learn to speak in Quechua instead of allowing the Indians to learn Spanish (Garcia, 2004: 350). But nowadays language is still a barrier for the ethnic minorities as they are confronted with the dilemma, whether to be melted into the mainstream identity to enjoy benefits of modernity or keep within the boundaries of their own culture to be marginalized.

Bilingual education is supposed to be a solution to save the disadvantaged groups from such a difficult situation. But whether it can be successful depends on how the term "bilingual" is defined. According to Skutnabb-Kangas (1981: 83), the definition of bilingualism can be based on language abilities, language functionality or perceptions towards the language, which is more important in terms of the role that language has in linking the culture identities.

In the World Declaration on Education for All, Article 3 emphasizes the promotion of equity, which calls for not only equal quantitatively on physical settings but also qualitatively in the institutionalized discourses. That is to say, any policies or actions from the standing point of an alms giver is not treating the indigenous peoples as an equal counterpart and will not contain the encouragement for indigenous cultures to confidently to be a positive member to share the fruits of a diverse society as they are still treated as an appendage to the dominant identity without conditions of development in terms of economy and hence, political autonomy.

Therefore, bilingual education is not only in the sense of educational development by its own. It will not solve the problem when the only attention is put in the school building, teacher recruitment and on the content of the curriculum and the textbooks. It requires the political discourse in which the indigenous cultures and identities can have equal conversation and more support for the economic development. Fundamentally, as the bedrock of culture production and evolution, to help the indigenous communities acquire the self-reliance on economic matters is definitely the essential work that every state government should consider to truly help indigenous people rise.


Indigenous people and communities are standing at the front line of the debates of the minority rights and the modernization of nation-states because of a variety of challenges they are confronted. The struggles lie especially against this allegedly increasingly multicultural world with an education actually moving towards culturally homogeneity. Historically, colonization used to cause the biggest threat marginalisation to the cultures and identities of the indigenous groups. As a consequence, convincingly pointed out by May (2010: 7), "they have been undermined economically, culturally and politically". The threats still exist and even have been intensified through the everlasting movement of globalisation.

Admittedly, there have been some positive developments on related legislations and growing recognition of the educational and linguistic rights of indigenous people during the past two decades. But much remains to be done to fill the gaps when the policies are implemented at local levels. The above reviews of three case studies of Mexico, Peru and China pay attention to the progress of the bilingual education for indigenous peoples and address the disconnections between the initiatives of policy-makers and the causalities that led to such situations.

In addition, however, there still exists a double challenge for the education of indigenous people summarized as:

"to support and promote the maintenance, use and survival of indigenous peoples' cultures, languages, knowledge, traditions and identity, and

to provide and develop the knowledge and skills that enable indigenous peoples to participate fully and equally in the national and international community." (King and Schielmann, 2004: 20)

As Sposky (1980: xiii) summed, "the choice of language education policy is among the most critical and complicated issues facing the modern society", particularly with the EFA goal to meet the basic learning needs globally. In the World Declaration on Education for All, the Article 6 stressed that only in physically and culturally healthy environments and only when the learning is associated with the well-being of the learners can successful learning take place (UNESCO, 1990). No matter what measures the state governments would like to take as a solution, what should be bear in mind it that education for indigenous peoples cannot be considered as an isolated issue from poverty, democracy and human rights.

But to bridge the gaps between the "good will" of the policy-makers and the reality far from optimistic, education for indigenous people therefore should be developed more on the basis of communication and understanding with more focus on the real learning needs from the indigenous groups who have no choice but to live with the effects of every reforms.

The last but not the least, the state governments are not expected to shoulder all the pressure. When the eyes are focusing on top-down policy issues, it is worth trying in other direction to enhance the participation of the indigenous communities. No one knows better about what they need than themselves. It will make much acceleration in the progress of indigenous education to build the practice of self-determination and thus more effectively take advantage of the resources and establish a proactive and positive conversation with whoever can work together with.