Reasserting Indigenous Peoples' right to quality education

published 9 August 2016 updated 12 August 2016

On the occasion of the 2016 International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, Education International is reiterating that education must be available for all without discrimination, accessible, publicly funded and free.

“Education International (EI) commends all indigenous peoples, particularly teachers, support personnel and students, and welcomes this year’s focus on the indigenous peoples’ right to quality education,” said EI General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen on 9 August, International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.

He stressed that everyone has the right to education, “regardless of where they live, which language they speak”, adding that “education must be available for all without discrimination, and has to be accessible, publicly funded and free”.

Indigenous Peoples’ right to education, he detailed, means access to quality education enabling them to make decent and proper choices, offering indigenous children and youth an education that helps them develop to their potential and to respect their culture.

Education is also fundamental to the full enjoyment of other human rights, he insisted: the right to work, the rights of indigenous women and youth, the right to health, the right to water, the right to collective rights, the right to free, prior and informed consent, the right to self-determination, their land, territories and resources, the right to development.

EI: implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development crucial

The 2016 International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples is the first such occasion following the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, whose Goal 4 calls for ensuring equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and children in vulnerable situations.

For EI, the implementation of the sustainable development goals (SDGs) is an opportunity to advance Indigenous Peoples’ rights. It requires an awareness that a human rights-based approach to development is needed: Indigenous Peoples’ collective rights - to their lands, territories and resources -  have not been recognised, and there’s a lack of emphasis on free, prior and informed consent, as stated in the United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the outcomes of the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention No. 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Right to education protected by international standards

International human rights standards protect Indigenous Peoples’ rights to culture and language, such as the Article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights- “[…] minorities […] shall not be denied the right […] to enjoy their right own culture […] or to use their own language” – and Article  29 of the Convention of the Rights of the Child- agreeing that the education of the child shall be directed, in particular, to the development of respect for the child’s parents, his or her own cultural identity, language and values.

Education International values teachers and support personnel, Indigenous or not, maintaining respect for Indigenous knowledge and heritage within educational institutions, and connecting with Indigenous students and non-Indigenous students. It believes that it is impossible to separate indigenous languages from the identity and ways of life of Indigenous Peoples and the indigenous knowledge.

UNESCO: Too many denied the full right to quality education

Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, in her message on the occasion of this International Day, said: “We pay tribute to the world’s 370 million indigenous people, and we reaffirm UNESCO’s determination to safeguard and promote their identities, languages and knowledge systems”.

While acknowledging that Indigenous Peoples are “custodians to rich cultural diversity”, carrying “unique wisdom of sustainable living and respect for biodiversity”, and that nurturing and harnessing this potential calls for inclusive and equitable quality education for all, she condemned the fact that too many Indigenous Peoples are still denied the full right to quality education.

Children of Indigenous People remain less likely to be enrolled in school and more likely to underperform than non-Indigenous children, Bokova deplored. Linked with socio-economic and cultural barriers, this marginalisation often creates “a vicious circle of disadvantage” and “this moral and development gap undermines humanity as a whole”, she underlined.

ILO: delivering economic and social justice for indigenous and tribal peoples through decent work

The ILO Director-General Guy Ryder said: “Together, by building bridges and strengthening partnerships, guaranteeing equal access to education and most importantly, by empowering indigenous and tribal peoples through decent work, we can surmount the challenges ahead.” Through access to decent work, he said, millions of indigenous women and men around the world will become agents of change, not only to secure their own livelihoods and needs, but also to preserve their natural resources.

On this day, van Leeuwen said, EI invites all member organisations to promote and endorse the Coolangatta statement on the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights in Education, adopted at the 1999 World Indigenous People’s Conference on Education, in Hilo, Hawaii, USA. It “represents the collective voice of indigenous peoples from around the world” and “states the fundamental principles vital to the achievement of the reform and transformation of indigenous peoples”.