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Oaxaca Neglects Indigenous Education

You can read a discussion of the sad state of affairs in Oaxaca on the Yahoo Oaxaca Study Action Group discussion site:

An American expat in Oaxaca reports on the failure of the government to address the needs of indigenous peoples…a majority of the population:

“The Second National Congress on Indigenous and Intercultural Education was held in Oaxaca this week, with a colorful array of men clad in the short pants of Chiapas authorities moving among women in jeans or long skirts or crowned with beribboned braids. Lots of kids were present in the outdoor events like the sample classes held in Carmen Alto plazuela (never mind that the governor is once again renovating, the found space). I have photos which I will get around to archiving on the OSAG site.

Led by the Coalition of Indigenous Teachers and Promoters of Oaxaca (CMPIO, by its Spanish initials.) it’s been a long process of self-definition for preservation, and equal rights and justice. The front page of Noticias on Sunday /today, Oct 28) emphasizes their demand for equal rights.

Oaxaca is a state with 16 different language groups, many of them on the verge of disappearing when CMPIO stepped forward to promote bilingual education. Last July 30 I visited a workshop for teachers which focused on how grandmothers can renew their vanishing languages with their grandchildren: the in-between generation of parents were mono-lingualized by the state education system. Fernando Soberanes, present at that CMPIO event, said that the range of languages and experiences in all of Mexico is mind-boggling.

There are at least 62 languages, with about 150 important variants. Oaxaca’s Zapoteco, for example, is spoken in seven variations, not mutually intelligible. At last a dozen Mexican languages verge on extinction, which implies a cultural loss as well. (For more information on languages in Mexico, INEGI, the national bureau of statistics, is a standard source). Hence the current congress has worked to present equal opportunity for geographical regions, and for gender equity as well because so many women historically were left out of both schooling and consultation.

Education in general in Oaxaca has been deplorable. Many accept government propaganda against teachers, but most of them, and especially the indigenous bi-lingual teachers, are heroic in combating state neglect. The indigenous teachers invent methods and materials where printed resources in their mother tongues scarcely exist. A method from the spring workshop, offered by an American professor Lois Meyers, (see OSAG site) focused on going out into the street to gather printed words, on shops or tires or building walls.

A related consideration for education springs from the extremely high rate of childhood malnutrition –about 50% of rural children suffer a dietary lack- and the lack of health services. Remote towns receive scant resources.

Nevertheless, under CMPIO’s promotion, Oaxaca is making strides with bi-lingual primary education, pilot projects at the secondary level, the creation of 20 intercultural community senior high schools, the normal school for indigenous education in the town of Tlacochahuaya, and the Intercultural University Ayuuk in the Mixe region of Oaxaca. This places Oaxaca among the leaders for indigenous education, in a state where a third to one half of the population –especially women – remains illiterate.

Services for an Alternative Education (EDUCA, in its Spanish initials), also one of the first organizations to sign on to the APPO in June of 2006, assisted in organizing the Second Congress and served as one of the participants. This year’s congress gathered about 400 delegates from 30 different indigenous Oaxaca peoples, participants from 16 other states, and from Chile, Ecuador, Guatemala, and the USA.

The USA participants included, by video presentation, the linguist/political analyst Noam Chomsky, who saluted the “valiant teachers of Oaxaca” for their professional work in education, but above all for participating in “a struggle of far-reaching importance.” The struggle of Oaxaca teachers, he said, “has an impact at this time in all of Latin America”. Chomsky sees Latin America as the most exciting area of the world, for the first time in modern history, because of the movement toward an important level of integration instead of “being separated among themselves and dominated by the imperial powers…. Latin America is beginning to overcome the true curse” of the American continent, “the curse of an enormous gulf, without precedence in the world, between a small elite with enormous wealth and a vast mass of people profoundly impoverished…”

Both Chomsky and the Mexican writer Carlos Montemayor observed that indigenous education necessitates a political posture. Chomsky in his video remarked that “organizing is of paramount importance, because it throws overboard 500 years of miserable ugly history, by revitalizing languages, cultures and technical knowledge.”

Montemayor, addressing the Congress in person, added, “we are all profoundly racist in Mexico” because Mexicans, as a mixture of Spanish and original peoples, in public education date their history from the arrival of Spain, throwing aside the prior three thousand years of civilization. (Montemayor did not mention the admixture of Africans brought to Mexico by the Spaniards as slaves, nor the prior agricultural discoveries of perhaps 8,000 BCE.) Mexico must recover its indigenous self, he added.

In the country at large there exists no true policy of what is now called intercultural education, which would place indigenous and mestizo needs on an equal footing. As Fernando Soberanes said, “There is ongoing social and institutional discrimination, and indigenous languages continue to disappear.”

Ixcateco, Chocholteco, Zoque and Chontal languages stand in gave risk of being lost, which in the future would mean “a real poverty for humanity and for culture”.

Therefore, he said that one of the objectives of the second National Congress of Indigenous and Intercultural Education is to initiate a strong resistance movement against this kind of government policy, one which is “absolutely discriminatory”. The expenditure per student in basic education is 8,000 pesos annually, while for an indigenous child is about 200 pesos. (There are 40 pesos to the dollar.)

Furthermore, Soberanes added, the State gives “the least and the worst education” to the Indian peoples because they are the ones who attend schools in horrible conditions, if they have any school at all, because in the majority of cases classes are given under a tree or on top of a rock.

And if that weren’t enough, the teachers “are the worst trained”; so much so that children as docents have no teaching material. At the same time, the curricula proposed by the government so not take into account the indigenous ways, customs and culture.

That fact, he highlighted, “is leading to the loss of identity of the peoples” and when identity disappears there will be no policy on teaching the language. Instead, the strategy of grand capital has caused an expulsion and there are entire populations moving north in the country in search of some options.

In spite of the work of social organizations trying to save the indigenous culture, these efforts cannot halt this type of problem, because they have to do with structural issues of the current political and economic policies, he said.”



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