My Work with UNICEF Peru – Part 1
In June 2013, I began a six month position as a Junior Professional Consultant in Education Research at UNICEF Peru in Lima. The position is part of the UN Professional Placement Program with the United Nations Association in Canada. My terms of reference explained that I would be working on a study to evaluate the success of intercultural bilingual education (IBE) for Indigenous youth in Peru.
What is Intercultural Bilingual Education?
IBE is designed for students living in contexts where two languages are spoken – often an Indigenous or minority language and a dominant, national language. The idea is that each cultural group has a right to learn and practice their own language and traditions but should also learn to collaborate with the other cultural groups of their country, as well as the skills necessary to thrive in wider society.
Throughout Latin America, there are 550 different Indigenous languages spoken but until recently, education for Indigenous children was aimed at assimilating them into the dominant Spanish or Portuguese culture. However, through the advocacy of Indigenous communities and greater reflection on cultural rights and diversity, in recent decades IBE proposals have been implemented throughout the region – particularly in Mexico, Guatemala, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Peru. For a detailed history of IBE in Latin America, check out this article by one of my new favourite authors, Luis Enrique Lopez.
IBE has been supported on paper by the Peruvian government since the 1970s. The current Education Law states that all Peruvian students must receive intercultural education, and that all Indigenous youth have the right to learn in their first language as well as Spanish. The Ministry of Education has created the National Directorate for Rural and Intercultural Bilingual Education (DIGEIBIR) which oversees policy creation, curriculum development, and teacher training for IBE. But there is a long way to go…
From Theory to Practice, and the Role of UNICEF
Despite progressive policies and curriculum from DIGEIBIR, it is slow going for IBE in Peru. Simply put, not enough funding has been allocated to the project. This has meant that there was no formal registration of communities that require IBE schools until 2011. The number was close to 18,000. To date, materials have only been produced for 13 out of 49 Peruvian languages. Seven languages have enough teachers trained in IBE to meet 60% of the demand, and all other languages are much worse off. The situation is complicated by external factors such as the difficulty of accessing small communities and lack of infrastructure.
UNICEF Peru has received significant funding from the former Canadian International Development Agency (now DFATD) to “reduce inequality in educational and economic opportunities for excluded populations”. The team here works on a number of initiatives including gender equality in education and Child-Friendly Schools. But it is clear that IBE is a crucial component of truly improving the lives of Indigenous youth in Peru. Rather than throw children into unfamiliar linguistic territory, it has been shown that students thrive when they can develop intellectual capacities in their first language while slowly introducing a second language. UNICEF works closely with DIGEIBIR to support their work, has a team of regional IBE consultants, and conducts research to guide these processes.
My Research on Successful Schools
My main task at UNICEF is to design and undertake a study to identify the key success factors for an Indigenous IBE school. Drawing on international literature, survey data, and case-study research in the Andes and Amazon regions of Peru, I will determine what factors contribute to successful IBE environments. I am working with a team that includes members from UNICEF, DIGEIBIR, and another non-profit organization called TAREA. The data will be used to help guide UNICEF’s efforts, inform policy and curriculum development at DIGEIBIR, and hopefully as evidence in the next budget proposal by the Ministry of Education.
The country has a long way to go in terms of Indigenous education, but I hope this study will contribute to better understanding the realities and needs of Peru’s diverse communities. Pasito a pasito…