Education International
Education International

International Day for World’s Indigenous Peoples: Not all schoolchildren are equal

published 9 August 2010 updated 9 August 2010

On International Day for the World’s Indigenous Peoples, EI celebrates cultural diversity in all its forms and notes the contributions of indigenous people and indigenous education workers around the world.

EI also takes this opportunity to call on its members to lobby for full respect of all human rights, including those of indigenous people, particularly in relation to the following topics:

  • Disappearance of many native and indigenous languages due to poor implementation of mother tongue public education programs or a lack of curricula materials;
  • Persistence of age-old discriminatory practices and emergence of new forms of exclusion, including the relevance of addressing development needs of indigenous people; and the
  • Lack of free, prior and informed consent on development initiatives and projects in the traditional lands and livelihoods of indigenous people.

It is indisputable that progress has been made towards achieving the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by the year 2015. However, as we draw closer to the UN Summit on MDGSs, from 20-22 September 2010, the realisation of two goals, in particular Goal One: Eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, and Goal Two: Achieving universal primary education, are likely to be unattainable for indigenous peoples. Indeed, there is increasing evidence that indigenous peoples are generally largely overlooked in these global efforts.

A recent study undertaken by CTF/FCE, an EI affiliate in Canada (See Canada: New CTF study highlights experiences of Aboriginal teachers), shows that Aboriginal teachers encounter a variety of adverse circumstances, such as “the misunderstandings of Aboriginal education by their colleagues.” Despite the challenging social and political conditions in schools and the communities, or the effects of poverty on students, Aboriginal teachers remain committed to making a difference in education.

The 2010 UN Permanent Forum desk study on MDGs shows that the rates of poverty among indigenous peoples are much higher than the national or non-indigenous rates in developed and developing countries. Indigenous peoples remain amongst the poorest of the poor, with little reference made to them in the reports on the implementation of the MDGs.

EI General Secretary, Fred van Leeuwen, said: “Cutting back on public spending, particularly in education, affects the historical and ongoing denial of the human rights of indigenous peoples. Education is essential for the exercise of all other human rights. There is no excuse for the lack of progress in education, the heart of the Education for All (EFA) process and the MDGs.”

As discussions on EFAs and MDGs are high on the international agenda in coming months, education unions should seize the opportunity to call on their governments and the international community to ensure that public policies also benefit indigenous peoples, so that their rights are lifted to meet international standards. Local and regional policies, as well as pledges made by heads of state at United Nations meetings must also be followed through.