Communities struggle with the state for control of indigenous schools in Bolivia

Communities struggle with the state for control of indigenous schools in Bolivia

Communities struggle with the state for control of indigenous schools in Bolivia

Indigenous schools in Bolivia are a political space where the state and the indigenous authorities compete for control. The political context in the 1980s and 1990s highlighted local struggles over indigenous education and these came to influence national educational policies and donor intervention strategies.

Research by Newcastle University in the UK and Centro de Comunicación y Desarrolloin Bolivia examines indigenous education in Boliviathrough the actions of Quechua communities in Raqaypampa,Cochabamba, and their involvement with state school politics.

In October 1986, the Raqaypampa communities withdrew theirchildren from schools in protest at the continuous absenteeism of teachers. This incident highlighteddemands for pro-indigenous education and had a direct impact on the 1994 EducationReform Law. The educational crisis in the 1980s also brought into focus howdominant post-colonial politics imposes unwanted cultural values on indigenouscommunities, who are, at the same time, trying to assert their independence.

The political significance of schooling is seen in both the Government’sapproaches to rural schools and the ways in which communities themselves engagein school politics.

  • Schools try to integrate indigenous pupils into theBolivian nation state through imposing ‘Criollo’ culture (the culture and language ofthe Creole Spanish descendants).
  • Teachers consider themselves to be of a higher class and viewcommunity members as backward peasants to be civilised.
  • Communities consider schools to be part of their ownterritory, which is central to maintaining their socialand cultural values. They challenge the efforts of the state to impose theculture of the political class.
  • Rural communities often resist challenges to theirauthority, either by taking their children out of school or by taking direct control of theschool themselves.
  • Communities develop strategies to take advantage of thepresence of a school. They also try to neutralise its unwanted effects, many ofwhich are racist and violent.

While the state remains dominantin Bolivia, indigenous communities have been empowered, partly through their experiencewith national peasant and non-governmental organisations.The legacies of the 1986 Raqaypampa experience havebeen important in highlighting the specific local requirements ofpro-indigenous education in Bolivia.

  • The 1994 Education Reform Law gave responsibility toparents for school administrative supervision, yet it did not recognise theimportance of existing community political structures.
  • As a result, tensions still exist over issues such as changing the school calendar to follow agriculturalcycles, and student and teacher absenteeism.  
  • The community’sauthority over schools continues to be ignored. Yet, the Raqaypampastruggles over indigenous education have placed community control of schools atthe heart of pro-indigenous education reform.
  • The lessonsfrom Raqaypampa suggest that the hidden curriculum is as much about controllingindigenous communities as it is about the content taught by teachers inclassrooms.
  • Despite thefact that different cultures are now talked about in terms of equality andmutual respect, the ‘hidden’ curriculum in schools continues to considerpeasant communities’ work and knowledge as backward.

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