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Quality Education for Indigenous Peoples

The enjoyment of the right to education is not fully realized for most indigenous peoples. The Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples says that without access to quality education indigenous communities will not be able to fully enjoy their rights. The Expert Mechanism is a group of five independent specialists who provide expertise on the rights of indigenous peoples to the Human Rights Council.

Education is essential for human and economic development - © UN Photo / John IsaacIn their report to the Council on the right of indigenous peoples to education the experts say, “Deprivation of access to quality education is a major factor contributing to social marginalization, poverty and dispossession of indigenous peoples”.

The report makes the case that designing education programs for indigenous communities must take into account many factors that acknowledge the special needs of these communities. Indigenous students cannot be forced into mainstream education systems which do not integrate indigenous culture, it says.
An approach using a single model is inappropriate because of the diversity of indigenous peoples.

Promoting “indigenous perspectives, innovations and practices in an environment that replicates traditional ways of learning” is another interest of the Expert Mechanism. This includes having mother-tongue based bilingual and multilingual education at the primary as well as at higher levels. Indigenous languages should be integrated into the teaching programs. The report proposes that community members be trained as language teachers and the development of indigenous literacy material.

The report identifies gender issues as a common impediment to education for both boys and girls in indigenous communities. In fact, girls are regularly prevented from attending school. The report found that “families often prefer girls to remain at home to perform domestic chores and care for children and siblings”. When put together with other discrimination issues, this has serious social consequences for the indigenous communities.

The Expert Mechanism says that indigenous peoples have the “right to educational autonomy” including “the right to decide their own educational priorities […] as well as the right to establish and control their own educational systems and institutions, if they so choose”.

The report recommends too that human rights education be included in schools to encourage cooperation between the different cultures. The Expert Mechanism advises that “learning about human rights is the first step towards respecting, promoting and defending the rights of all individuals and peoples.” For this to happen, States must ensure funding for appropriate teaching materials and the recruitment of indigenous teachers. Education is identified by the report as “one of the best long-term financial investments that States can make.” This year on December 10, celebrate Human Rights Day by joining together to celebrate diversity and end discrimination.

22 October 2009