Indigenous education specifically focuses on teaching indigenous knowledge, models, methods, and content within formal or non-formal educational systems. The growing recognition and use of indigenous education methods can be a response to the erosion and loss of indigenous knowledge through the processes of colonialism, globalization, and modernity. Indigenous communities are able to “reclaim and revalue their languages and [traditions], and in so doing, improve the educational success of indigenous students,” thus ensuring their survival as a culture.
Increasingly, there has been a global shift toward recognizing and understanding indigenous models of education as a viable and legitimate form of education. There are many different educational systems throughout the world, some that are more predominant and widely accepted. However, members of indigenous communities celebrate diversity in learning and see this global support for teaching traditional forms of knowledge as a success. Indigenous ways of knowing, learning, instructing, teaching, and training have been viewed by many postmodern scholars as important for ensuring that students and teachers, whether indigenous or non-indigenous, are able to benefit from education in a culturally sensitive manner that draws upon, utilizes, promotes, and enhances awareness of indigenous traditions, beyond the standard Western curriculum of reading, writing, and arithmetic.
- 1 Cultural context of indigenous learning in the Americas
- 2 Criticisms of the Western Educational Model
- 3 Benefits of Indigenous Education
- 4 Educational Gap
- 5 Importance
- 6 Challenges (As Seen with the Na)
- 7 Associated Organizations
- 8 See also
- 9 References
Cultural context of indigenous learning in the Americas
The learning styles that children use in their indigenous schooling are the same ones that occur in their community context. These indigenous learning styles often include: observation, imitation, use of narrative/storytelling, collaboration, and cooperation, as seen among American Indian, Alaska Native and Latin American communities. This is a hands on approach that emphasizes direct experience and learning through inclusion.The child feels that he/she is a vital member of the community, and he/she is encouraged to participate in a meaningful way by community members. Children often effectively learn skills through this system, without being taught explicitly or in a formal manner. This differs from Western learning styles, which tend to include methods such as explicit instruction and testing/ quizzing. Creating an educational environment for indigenous children that is consistent with upbringing, rather than an education that follows a traditionally Western format, allows for a child to retain knowledge more easily, because they are learning in a way that was successful for them in the past in their community.
The structure of indigenous American classrooms that reflect the organization of indigenous communities eliminates the distinction between the community and classroom and makes it easier for the students to relate to the material. Effective classrooms modeled off of the social structure of indigenous communities are typically focused on group or cooperative learning that provide an inclusive environment. A key factor for successful indigenous education practices is the student-teacher relationship. Classrooms are socially constructed in a way that the teacher shares the control of the classroom with the students. Rather than taking an authoritative role, the teacher is viewed as a co-learner to the students, and they maintain a balance between personal warmth and demand for academic achievement. For example, in an indigenous Mazahua community in Mexico, teachers have been observed to let their students move freely about the classroom while working in order to consult with other students.
Teachers in indigenous classrooms in a Yup'ik community in Alaska rely on group work, encourage the students to watch each other as a way to learn, and avoid singling out students for praise, criticism, or recitation. Praise, by Western standards, is minimal in indigenous classrooms, and when it is given it is for effort, not for providing a correct answer to a question. Classroom discourse in indigenous classrooms is an example of how the teacher shares control with the students. Observations in the Yup’ik and Mazahua communities show that indigenous teachers are less likely to solicit an answer from an individual student, but rather encourage all of the students to participate in classroom discourse. In the Yup’ik classroom direct questions are posed to the group as whole, and the control of talk is not the sole responsibility of the teacher. Classrooms in indigenous communities that incorporate indigenous ways of learning utilize open-ended questioning, inductive/analytical reasoning, and student participation and verbalization, in group settings.
Escuela Unitaria (One-room one-teacher)
Escuela Unitaria is a one-room one-teacher style of schooling that is used in some rural communities, which utilizes ways of learning common in some indigenous or indigenous-heritage communities in the Americas. The school serves up to six grades in a single classroom setting with smaller groups (divided by grade level) in the classroom. Community involvement is strongly implemented in the management of the school. Learning activities are not just inside the classroom but also outside in the agricultural environment. Children are self-instructed and the content involves the students’ rural community and family participation. The school is structured to meet cultural needs and match available resources. This classroom setting allows for a collaborative learning environment that includes the teacher, the students, and the community. Integration of cultural knowledge within the curriculum allows students to participate actively and to have a say in the responsibilities for classroom activities.
Criticisms of the Western Educational Model
As mentioned above, there has been a modern day global shift towards recognizing the importance of indigenous education. One reason for this current awareness is the rapid spread of Western educational models throughout the world. Starting in the 19th century when Native Americans were forced into U.S. government boarding schools up until today when volunteers build schools in various remote villages, there is a strong, and some might say blind, belief that a Western education or schooling is the only way to provide a “better life” for indigenous children. The film “Schooling the World: The White Man’s Last Burden” addresses this issue of modern education and its destruction of unique, indigenous cultures and individuals’ identities. Shot in the Buddhist culture of Ladakh in the northern Indian Himalayas, the film fuses the voices of the Ladakhi people and commentary from an anthropologist/ethnobotanist, a National Geographical Explorer-in-Residence, and an architect of education programs. In essence, the film examines the definitions of wealth and poverty, in other words, knowledge and ignorance. Furthermore, it reveals the effects of trying to institute a global education system or central learning authority, which can ultimately demolish “traditional sustainable agricultural and ecological knowledge, in the breakup of extended families and communities, and in the devaluation of ancient spiritual traditions.” Finally, the film promotes a deeper dialogue between cultures, suggesting that there is no single way to learn. No two human beings are alike because they develop under different circumstances, learning, and education.
The director and editor of the film Carol Black writes, “One of the most profound changes that occurs when modern schooling is introduced into traditional societies around the world is a radical shift in the locus of power and control over learning from children, families, and communities to ever more centralized systems of authority.” Black continues by explaining that in many non-modernized societies, children learn in a variety of ways, including free play or interaction with multiple children, immersion in nature, and directly helping adults with work and communal activities. “They learn by experience, experimentation, trial and error, by independent observation of nature and human behavior, and through voluntary community sharing of information, story, song, and ritual.” Most importantly, local elders and traditional knowledge systems are autonomous in comparison to a strict Western education model. Adults have little control over children’s “moment-to-moment movements and choices.” Once learning is institutionalized, both the freedom of the individual and his/her respect for the elder’s wisdom are ruined. “Family and community are sidelined…The teacher has control over the child, the school district has control over the teacher, the state has control over the district, and increasingly, systems of national standards and funding create national control over states." When indigenous knowledge is seen as inferior to a standard school curriculum, an emphasis is placed on an individual’s success in a broader consumer culture instead of on an ability to survive in his/her own environment. Black concludes with a comment, “We assume that this central authority, because it is associated with something that seems like an unequivocal good – ‘education’ – must itself be fundamentally good, a sort of benevolent dictatorship of the intellect." From a Western perspective, centralized control over learning is natural and consistent with the principles of freedom and democracy; and yet, it is this same centralized system or method of discipline that does not take into account the individual, which in the end stamps out local cultures.
Benefits of Indigenous Education
For indigenous learners and instructors, the inclusion of these methods into schools often enhances educational effectiveness by providing an education that adheres to an indigenous person’s own inherent perspectives, experiences, language, and customs, thereby making it easier for children to transition into the realm of adulthood. For non-indigenous students and teachers, such an education often has the effect of raising awareness of individual and collective traditions surrounding indigenous communities and peoples, thereby promoting greater respect for and appreciation of various cultural realities.
In terms of educational content, the inclusion of indigenous knowledge within curricula, instructional materials, and textbooks has largely the same effect on preparing students for the greater world as other educational systems, such as the Western model.
There is value in including Indigenous knowledge and education in the public school system. Students of all backgrounds can benefit from being exposed to Indigenous education, as it can contribute to reducing racism in the classroom and increase the sense of community in a diverse group of students. There are a number of sensitive issues about what can be taught (and by whom) that require responsible consideration by non-Indigenous teachers who appreciate the importance of interjecting Indigenous perspectives into standard mainstream schools. Concerns about misappropriation of Indigenous ways of knowing without recognizing the plight of Indigenous Peoples and "giving back" to them are legitimate. Since most educators are non-Indigenous, and because Indigenous perspectives may offer solutions for current and future social and ecological problems, it is important to refer to Indigenous educators and agencies to develop curriculum and teaching strategies while at the same time encouraging activism on behalf of Indigenous Peoples. One way to bring authentic Indigenous experiences into the classroom is to work with community elders. They can help facilitate the incorporation of authentic knowledge and experiences into the classroom. Teachers must not shy away from bringing controversial subjects into the classroom. The history of Indigenous people should be delved into and developed fully. There are many age appropriate ways to do this, including the use of children's literature, media, and discussion. Individuals are recommended to reflect regularly on their teaching practice to become aware of areas of instruction in need of Indigenous perspectives.
Some indigenous people view education as an important tool to improve their situation by pursuing economic, social and cultural development; it provides them with individual empowerment and self-determination. Education is also a means for employment; it’s a way for socially marginalized people to raise themselves out of poverty. However, some education systems and curricula lack knowledge about indigenous peoples ways of learning, causing an Educational Gap for indigenous people. Factors for the Education Gap include lower school enrollments, poor school performance, low literacy rates, and higher dropout rates. Some schools teach indigenous children to be “socialized” and to be a national asset to society by assimilating, “Schooling has been explicitly and implicitly a site of rejection of indigenous knowledge and language, it has been used as a means of assimilating and integrating indigenous peoples into a ‘national’ society and identity at the cost of their indigenous identity and social practices”. Intercultural learning is an example of how to build a bridge for the educational gap.
Indigenous knowledge is particularly important to modern environmental management in today’s world. Environmental and land management strategies traditionally used by indigenous peoples have continued relevance. Indigenous cultures usually live in a particular bioregion for many generations and have learned how to live there sustainably. In modern times, this ability often puts truly indigenous cultures in a unique position of understanding the interrelationships, needs, resources, and dangers of their bioregion. This is not true of indigenous cultures that have been eroded through colonialism or genocide or that have been displaced.
The promotion of indigenous methods of education and the inclusion of traditional knowledge also enables those in Western and post-colonial societies to re-evaluate the inherent hierarchy of knowledge systems. Indigenous knowledge systems were historically denigrated by Western educators; however, there is a current shift towards recognizing the value of these traditions. The inclusion of aspects of indigenous education requires us to acknowledge the existence of multiple forms of knowledge rather than one, standard, benchmark system.
A prime example of how indigenous methods and content can be used to promote the above outcomes is demonstrated within higher education in Canada. Due to certain jurisdictions' focus on enhancing academic success for Aboriginal learners and promoting the values of multiculturalism in society, the inclusion of indigenous methods and content in education is often seen as an important obligation and duty of both governmental and educational authorities.
Many scholars in the field assert that indigenous education and knowledge has a “transformative power” for indigenous communities that can be used to foster “empowerment and justice." The shift to recognizing indigenous models of education as legitimate forms is therefore important in the ongoing effort for indigenous rights, on a global scale.
Challenges (As Seen with the Na)
There are numerous practical challenges to the implementation of indigenous education. Incorporating indigenous knowledge into formal Western education models can prove difficult. However, the discourse surrounding indigenous education and knowledge suggests that integrating indigenous methods into traditional modes of schooling is an “ongoing process of ‘cultural negotiation.’"
Indigenous education often takes different forms than a typical Western model, as the practices of the Na ethnic group of southwest China illustrate. Because Na children learn through example, traditional Na education is less formal than the standard Western model. In contrast to structured hours and a classroom setting, learning takes places throughout the day, both in the home and in adults’ workplaces. Based on the belief that children are “fragile, soulless beings,” Na education focuses on nurturing children rather than on punishing them. Children develop an understanding of cultural values, such as speech taboos and the “reflection” of individual actions “on the entire household.” Playing games teaches children about their natural surroundings and builds physical and mental acuity. Forms of indigenous knowledge, including weaving, hunting, carpentry, and the use of medicinal plants, are passed on from adult to child in the workplace, where children assist their relatives or serve as apprentices for several years.
However, increasing modernity is a challenge to such modes of instruction. Some types of indigenous knowledge are dying out because of decreased need for them and lack of interest from youth, who increasingly leave the village for jobs in the cities. Furthermore, formal Chinese state schooling “interferes with informal traditional learning.” Children must travel a distance from their villages to attend state schools, removing them from traditional learning opportunities in the home and workplace. The curriculum in state schools is standardized across China and holds little relevance to the lives of the Na. Na children are required to learn Mandarin Chinese, Chinese and global history, and Han values, as opposed to their native language, local history, and indigenous values. Methods of instruction rely on rote learning rather than experiential learning, as employed in Na villages.
Several individuals and organizations pay for children's school fees and build new schools in an attempt to increase village children's access to education. Yet such well-intended actions do not affect the schools’ curriculum, which means there is no improvement in the sustainability of the children's native cultures. As a result, such actions may actually “be contributing to the demise of the very culture” they are trying to preserve.
Many organizations work to promote indigenous methods of education. The United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples makes particular reference to the educational rights of indigenous peoples in Article 14. It emphasizes the responsibility of states to adequately provide access to education for indigenous people, particularly children, and when possible, for education to take place within their own culture and to be delivered in their own language.
Indigenous peoples have founded and actively run several of these organizations. On a global scale, many of these organizations engage in active knowledge transfer in an effort to protect and promote indigenous knowledge and education modes. One such organization, the Indigenous Education Institute (IEI), aims to apply indigenous knowledge and tradition to a contemporary context, with a particular focus on astronomy and other science disciplines. Another such organization is the World Indigenous Nations Higher Education Consortium (WINHEC), which was launched during the World Indigenous Peoples Conference on Education (WIPCE) at Delta Lodge, Kananakis Calgary in Alberta, Canada in August 2002. The founding members were Australia, Hawai’i, Alaska, the American Indian Higher Education Consortium of the United States, Canada, the Wänanga of Aotearoa (New Zealand), and Saamiland (North Norway). The stated aims of WINHEC include the provision of an international forum for indigenous peoples to pursue common goals through higher education.
- Alternative education
- Bilingual education
- Traditional knowledge
- Indigenous language
- Indigenous peoples
- Traditional ecological knowledge
- Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
- Traditional knowledge
- Indigenous rights
- May, S.; Aikman, S. (2003). "Indigenous Education: Addressing Current Issues and Developments". Comparative Education 39 (2): 139–145. doi:10.1080/03050060302549.
- Merriam et al. Learning in Adulthood: A Comprehensive Guide (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2007).
- UNESCO. "Learning and Knowing in Indigenous Societies Today." (PDF). UNESCO. Retrieved 19 November 2012.
- Pewewardy, Cornel (2002). "Learning styles of American Indian/ Alaska Native Students: A Review of the Literature and Implications for Practice" (PDF). Journal of American Indian Education 41 (3).
- Chavajay, Pablo; Barbara Rogoff (2002). "Schooling and Traditional Collaborative Social Organization of Problem Solving by Mayan Mothers and Children". Developmental Psychology 38 (1): 55–66. doi:10.1037/0012-16188.8.131.52.
- Deyhle, D; Swisher, K. (1997). "Research in American Indian and Alaska Native Education: From Assimilation to Self-Determination". Review of Research in Education 22: 113–194. doi:10.3102/0091732x022001113. JSTOR 1167375.
- Paradise, Ruth; De Haan, Mariëtte (13 July 2009). "Responsibility and Reciprocity: Social Organization of Mazahua Learning Practices". Anthropology & Education Quarterly 40 (2): 187–204. doi:10.1111/j.1548-1492.2009.01035.x.
- Escuela Nueva in Guatemala (Anglais).pdf "Escuela Nueva in Guatemala" (PDF). World Bank. Retrieved 20 September 2013.
- Denney, Holly. "Re-inventing the One-room Schoolhouse: Merging Learner-Centered Pedagogy, Distance Education, and Technology.".
- Schooling The World. "The Film". Last modified 2011, http://www.schoolingtheworld.org/film/. Retrieved 8 April 2012.
- Carol Black, "Occupy Your Brain: On Power, Knowledge, and the Re-occupation of Common Sense", Schooling the World Blog, January 13, 2012, http://schoolingtheworld.org/blog/.
- Wilson, Theresa. (2001). Best Practices for Teaching Aboriginal Children: From an Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal Perspective. Retrieved from http://www.sd61.bc.ca/edsrvs/ANED/about/Best_Practices_for_Teaching_Aboriginal_Students.pdf.
- BC Teacher’s Federation. Aboriginal Education Beyond Words: Creating Racism-Free Schools for Aboriginal Learners. Retrieved from http://www.bctf.ca/uploadedFiles/Public/AboriginalEducation/BeyondWords(1).pdf
- St. Denis, Verna. (2011). Silencing Aboriginal Curricular Content and Perspecties Through Multiculturalism: "There Are Other children Here." Review of Education, Pedagogy, and Cultural Studies, 33 (4), 306-317.
- Champagne, Duane (2009). Contemporary Education. New York: United Nations: State of the world's indigenous peoples. pp. 130–154.
- May S. & Aikman S. (2003). Indigenous Education: Addressing current issues and developments, Comparative Education. pp. 139–145.
- Hall, L.B., Sefa Deo, G.J., & Rosenberg, D.G. Indigenous Knowledges in Global Contexts: Multiple Readings of Our World (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2000)
- In the Canadian province of Manitoba for instance, collaborative efforts between the government and post-secondary institutions (both universities and colleges) has resulted in the implementation of 13 Access Programs (spanning several disciplines and program focus areas). These Access programs often place emphasis on indigenous methods and content in the delivery of post-secondary education and training, while also providing students with a variety of other culturally sensitive supports (such as elders and mentors) in order to enhance their success in higher education. Advocates of such programs will often highlight the fact that, between 2001/02 and 2005/06 (most recent available data) a total of 800 students successfully graduated from these programs with post-secondary credentials, while an average of 70.8 per cent of all students enrolled during these same years were Aboriginal. Statistics cited according to pp. 141–143 of the Manitoba Council on Post-Secondary Education Statistical Compendium For the Academic Years Ending in 2006  According to these advocates, the inclusion of indigenous models of education in those Access Programs that are intended for Aboriginal learners, is an important factor contributing to the completion of post-secondary education for the estimated 566 Aboriginal students who would not otherwise have been likely to achieve this same level of success.
- Semali, L.M. & Kincheloe, J.L. What is Indigenous Knowledge? (New York: Falmer Press, 1999)
- Tami Blumenfield, "Na Education in the Face of Modernity," Landscapes of Diversity: Indigenous Knowledge, Sustainable Livelihoods and Resource Governance in Montane Mainland Southeast Asia (2002): 487-94.
- "United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples". United Nations. Retrieved 8 April 2012.
- Indigenous Education Institute. "About IEI." Last modified 2012. http://www.indigenouseducation.org/ Retrieved 8 April 2012.
- World Indigenous Nations Higher Education Consortium. "About WINHEC." Last modified 2005. http://www.win-hec.org/ Retrieved 8 April 2012.
- World Indigenous Nations Higher Education Consortium. "Summary of Major Events Which Created WINHEC." Last modified 2005. http://www.win-hec.org/ Retrieved 8 April 2012.