United Nations Advocates for Indigenous Education

(Photo: Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

In honor of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples (IDWIP), United Nations officials are asking governments to increase access to education to ensure that the world’s most vulnerable are not stranded as they strive to achieve the new UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

The UN News Service stated that in some countries, less than 40% of children indigenous to their area attend school full-time, and even fewer complete their full high school education. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said:

“This is unacceptable. We will not achieve the Sustainable Development Goals if we fail to address the educational needs of indigenous peoples.”

Indigenous peoples are often stigmatized because of their cultural identity and recieve a lack of respect and little recognition of their values and heritage. Language barriers also marginalize students as instruction is usually presented in the country’s national language only.

“I call on Governments everywhere to draw on the guidance of this international framework [the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples] to improve access to education for indigenous peoples and to reflect their experiences and culture in places of learning,” urged the UN chief.

Irina Bokova, Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), noted that these people’s cultural diversity, knowledge of sustainable living, and their respect for biodiversity makes the UN determined to protect their identities, information systems, and languages. She adds that this can only be done through equitable and inclusive quality education for all.

The Shanghai Daily reports that the IDWIP is observed each year on August 9. The day is also designed to recognize the contributions and achievements that indigenous people make and have made to improve the world. The SDGs were approved in 2015 to act as a blueprint for global development in the next 15 years.

Indigenous knowledge systems contain many solutions for the consequences of climate change. Bokova said the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization is committed to learning from native populations.

“UNESCO will continue to draw on these to bolster scientific cooperation for biodiversity as well as education for sustainable development,” said Bokova.

The World Intellectual Property Organization Director General Francis Gurry says that his group focuses on existing tools and those in development that prevent the misuse of traditional cultural expressions and traditional knowledge.

In Latin America, reports Orlando Milesi for The Wire, education is not readily available for native people. Chilean Municipality of Tira Mayor Adolfo Millabur said that although it is recognized that quality education is much needed for indigenous communities, real long-term policies are not being produced. Millabur adds that the education also needs to respect cultural differences and local native traditions.

In Bolivia, of the 10.6 million people, 62% identify as native, which makes it the country in Latin America with the largest number of indigenous inhabitants, followed by Guatemala, which has 41% of the 16 million population identifying as aboriginal.

Northern Canadian city, Nunavut, has only 40% of school-age native citizenry attending full-time school, according to ThinkProgress’ Laurel Raymond. And in Australia, in 2013, a mere 60% of aboriginal 15- to 19-year-olds were enrolled. The number of native children in Latin America and the Caribbean attending school has risen to as much as 85%, but only 40% of the students graduate.

And sadly, even though native populations speak an enormous majority of the world’s 7,000 languages, more than half of these tongues will likely disappear by 2100, says National Geographic’s Enduring Voices project.

The Lakota Language Consortium in Bloomington, Indiana is attempting to have speakers of the Lakota language teach it to school-age children.

“To truly be effective, we need to mainstream the whole notion of teaching all content in the target language, that is, total immersion in all the schools,” Wilhelm Meya, the executive producer of the film Rising Voices. “And it’s not just in Lakota, but in dozens of languages across America that are taking their final last breaths. And unless the government applies more resources, I think we will lose them forever.”