Student Success Stories - Student Perspective: Indigenous Peoples’ Day

Students at the Sonia Gutierrez Campus led the Indigenous Peoples’ Day Panel. The students discussed topics like education, language, cultural traditions and identity. Below is one of the presentations, “Education for the Indigenous Population in Ecuador” by Verónica Guaján.

Education for the Indigenous Population in Ecuador

In commemoration of Indigenous Peoples’ Day I talked about how indigenous people have been working together to have bilingual education since 1945 until these days that we want to improve that system of education.

First it is important to mention that Ecuador is a country of 14,483,499 inhabitants, of which 71% self-identify as mestizo, 7% as montubio, 7% as afro-Ecuadorian and 7% as indigenous, according to the population census of 2010.

As an Indigenous woman, I always try to share some information that gives some clues to understand the situation that we have faced to have an education. In this case, I explain the process that indigenous people went through to obtain bilingual education.

When we talk about education in the indigenous population, it has been found that we register the lowest percentage in terms of access to education in relation to the rest of Ecuadorians. Even though for several decades this has been a great problem and a demand of our ancestors, the government didn’t attend to their demands for several decades, until the different groups organized and demanded together literacy programs and access to bilingual education in 1945.

After a constant struggle, indigenous women such as Dolores Cacuango and Transito Amaguaña promoted literacy campaigns with the aim of strengthening the Kichwa language. Even though this represents an advance in basic education issues. There were groups that were in power and promoted social an ethnic categories to exclude from the education system people who didn’t comply with the parameters that were imposed by the dominant culture.

During the 40s, 70s, and 80s, the indigenous population started to work together to demand government access to education because this constitutes a tool for improving living conditions.

Bilingual education becomes official on January 1, 1982.  In 1989, the indigenous groups achieved that the National Direction of Bilingual Education was approved by Congress Act. In 1990, indigenous peoples demanded to integrate the history of the indigenous people and other contents within the educational curriculum. In 1993, the Intercultural Bilingual Education Model was made official. In 2000, the education directorates were organized in different regions with the largest indigenous populations.

This was the beginning of the struggle that was focused mainly on the demand for access to basic education, while on issues of access to secondary and university education, the influence of the organizations was not the same. In spite of this, after nine years of intense work, we were able to achieve the recognition of the Intercultural University Amawtay Wasi by the National Council of Education. This university would not remain in operation for a long time due to the change of government and the creation of a new law of higher education; in 2008 the university closed.

Finally, I just want to mention that for the indigenous peoples of Ecuador access to education has been considered a political tool of cultural and epistemological vindication. The efforts were not just focused on the creation of community schools and the training of bilingual teachers; these demands have transcended these fields challenging national policy.