Education International
Education International

Empowering Indigenous Voices

published 9 August 2012 updated 20 August 2012

On 9 August, International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, EI reaffirms the rights of indigenous children to universal quality education at all levels.

The right to education is inseparable from all children's rights, including indigenous children. States have a duty to ensure the quality of education of indigenous peoples provided by a sufficient number of teachers with substantial training in intercultural and bilingual education.

Governments can do more to achieve Education For All (EFA): deliver appropriate funding, improve fiscal strategies that reduce inequalities, and improve labour standards. Also, governments must prioritise the participation of indigenous communities in the formulation and implementation of education and other social programmes.

Impact of inequality

Access to quality early childhood education is crucial to vulnerable children. There is significant evidence to show why indigenous and rural children do not benefit enough from school attendance.

The impacts of social inequalities, child labour, illiteracy, poverty, and unemployment in the family, as well as poor public services affect student success, particularly for indigenous girls and boys.

The economic crisis is also a factor. Cuts in public spending inevitably reduce education opportunities for vulnerable girls and boys. This limited progress has adverse long-term consequences for sustainable development, poverty reduction and public education and health, in particular affecting women and girls.

There are an estimated 370 million indigenous peoples in some 70 countries across the globe, according to the United Nations (UN).

Practicing unique traditions, they retain social, cultural, economic and political characteristics that are distinct from those of the dominant societies in which they live. Their right to quality education needs to include their vision and cultural heritage.

Role of unions

Education unions have an important role to play in the achievement of the EFA goals that meet the needs of indigenous peoples.

The EI Committee on Indigenous Issues has been established and its working agenda includes a review of EFA goals, preparation for the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples (2014), and contribution to the Millennium Development Goals agenda beyond 2015.

EI actively supports the 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This recognises indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination; their right to freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development; and their right to develop their culture in various forms.

"Indigenous peoples’ participation and consent is required in all matters of fundamental importance for indigenous peoples’ rights, survival, dignity and wellbeing," said Fred van Leeuwen, EI General Secretary.

The rights to culture, communication and freedom of expression must be based on redefining the role of culture. This will occur through the democratisation and respect for differences and cultural diversity, the recovery of indigenous history and its inclusion in education curricula.

Relevant links

To read ‘Intercultural Multilingual Education in Latin America’, published by EI Latin America Regional Office in cooperation with Union Education Norway (UEN) in 2011,  please click here(PDF).

EI World Congress resolutions concerning indigenous education can be found here:

The UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues is an advisory body to the Economic and Social Council, with a mandate to discuss indigenous issues related to economic and social development, culture, the environment, education, health and human rights.

To access the Study on Indigenous Languages (2012) and Study on Indigenous Peoples’ right to education (2009) by the UN Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples please click here