Intercultural bilingual education

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Intercultural bilingual education (IBE)[1] or bilingual intercultural education (BIE)[2] is an intercultural and bilingual model of education designed for contexts with two (or more) cultures and languages in contact, in the typical case a dominant and an underprivileged culture. The IBE could be applied in almost any country in the world, however, it is discussed and also applied above all in Latin America, where it has been offered to indigenous people as an alternative to monolingual Hispanic education due to the efforts of indigenous movements. In recent years, it has become an important, more or less successful instrument of governmental language planning in several Latin American countries, including for Mayan languages in Guatemala for the case of Quechua in Peru.[2] and in Mexico [3]

Types of education in bilingual and bicultural contexts[edit]

Colin Baker distinguishes four models of education for bilingual or multilingual contexts. The first two of them are models of assimilation of the minority to the dominant culture and language, while the two others have the aim of multilingualism and multiculturalism.[4]

Type of education Learners' mother tongue Language of instruction Social and educational goals Linguistic goals
Submersion Minority language Majority language Assimilation Monolingualism in dominant language
Transition Minority language Transition from minority language to majority language Assimilation Relative monolingualism in dominant language (subtractive bilingualism)
Immersion Majority language Bilingual, with initial importance of L2 (minority language) Pluralism and development Bilingualism and biliteracy
Maintenance Minority language Bilingual, with emphasis on L1 (minority language) Maintenance, pluralism and development Bilingualism and biliteracy

History in Latin America[edit]

After the independence of the nation states in Latin America at the beginning of the 19th century the elites imposed a model of unification based on the Criollo culture and Spanish or Portuguese language respectively. This system reached only the privileged classes to at most the Spanish- or Portuguese-speaking mestizo population.

Only in the 20th century, increasing attempts to offer school education to the whole population had the explicit goal of hispanization (castellanización) of the indigenous population. The exclusive use of Spanish as language of instruction for learner groups without anybody understanding it resulted in little learning success, and high repetition and dropout rates. The speakers of indigenous languages left school as illiterate and stigmatized as uneducated indios. The use or even knowledge of an indigenous language became a social disadvantage so the mother tongue was no longer used, replaced by bad deficient Spanish. These people became uprooted, not belonging to the indigenous or to the dominant culture.[5]

The evangelical Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) with seat in Dallas (USA) was the first institution to introduce bilingual education for indigenous people with the goal of evangelization. The first bilingual education programs of SIL started in Mexico and Guatemala in the 1930s, in Ecuador and Peru in the 1940s and in Bolivia in 1955.[5]

A goal of the National Revolution in Bolivia in 1952 was to end discrimination of the indigenous people by integrating them into the majority society. It was to be achieved by an adequate school education, adapted to the linguistic situation. The government of Víctor Paz Estenssoro assigned education and hispanization in the eastern lowlands to the SIL, granting them at the same time the right to evangelize. Instruction in the first two grades of primary school took place in the indigenous languages to facilitate acquisition of Spanish. By the beginning of secondary school, the only language of instruction became Spanish.[5]

The first education programs without the explicit goal of hispanisation were developed in the 1960s, among them a pilot program of the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos in a Quechua-speaking area in the Quinua District (Ayacucho Region, Peru). The efforts of this university made the government of General Juan Velasco Alvarado included bilingual education into its educational reform in 1972. Peru, under Velasco, was the first country of the Americas to declare an indigenous language, Quechua, an official language, in 1975. However, the introduction of Quechua as foreign of second language in Lima failed by racist prejudices, and even for the Quechua and Aymara speakers in the Andes, nothing changed, as Velasco was overthrown in 1975.[6][7]

The General Directorate for Education of the Indigenous (DGEI) in Mexico was created in 1973, scheduling the use of 56 officially recognized indigenous languages. The Federal Education Law of 1973 ascertained that instruction in Spanish must not take place at the cost of cultural and linguistic identity of Spanish-learners.[5]

Despite all the declarations, all the bilingual programs were transitional, to prepare pupils for unilingual secondary and higher education. They contributed to a more effective distribution of Spanish as common language.[2] However, these were experimental projects of limited extension and duration, enabled by international aid, such as by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ), which supported a bilingual project with Spanish and Quechua or Aymara,[8] or the United States Agency for International Development (US-AID).[5]

With the rise of indigenous movements in the 1970s and controversy about multilingualism and previous bilingual education projects, a new education model of language maintenance and development emerged, which included cultural aspects that were not exclusively linguistic: aspects of everyday life culture, traditions and world concepts. Therefore, from the beginning of the 1980s people began speaking of bilingual intercultural education in Latin America.[5]

Since then, many countries have invented laws recognizing linguistic and cultural rights. In some countries as Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and Mexico, constitutional reforms were realized.[5] All the countries of the Andes have recognized the importance of intercultural bilingual education.[2]

In most countries, it does not reach the majority of the indigenous population and is applied only in primary education. According to the laws of some countries, such as Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Mexico, it should reach the whole population speaking an indigenous language, and in Paraguay, it should reach the whole population.[5] Intercultural bilingual education in Guatemala is specifically mandated for regions with high numbers of indigenous peoples. [9]

In recent years,[when?] in some countries, above all in Bolivia, a two-way IBE for the whole population is discussed, which means that all Spanish-speaking pupils and students should learn at least one indigenous language.[10]

On the other hand, the Peruvian indigenous teachers’ association Asociación Nacional de Maestros de Educación Bilingüe Intercultural (es) criticizes the implementation of IBE in Peru as a bridge to castellanization and monoculturalization and that the education of indigenous people should be in the hands of the indigenous peoples and communities themselves.[11][12]

In most Latin American countries, IBE is under control of the Ministry of Education. By contrary, IBE in Ecuador was administered by the indigenous organizations, which were members of ECUARUNARI and CONAIE, since an agreement of the government and the indigenous movement and the creation of the national IBE directorate DINEIB (Dirección Nacional de Educacion Intercultural Bilingue) in 1988. Indigenous representatives appointed teachers and school directors, designed curricula and wrote text books. However, according to investigations in 2008 a fundamental change in the decline of indigenous languages including Kichwa and Shuar has not been achieved. Even in Otavalo and Cotacachi, where there are a Kichwa middle class and indigenous mayors, many young people speak no more Kichwa, and even parents organized in the indigenous movement send their children to Spanish-only schools, as these are much better equipped than their IBE counterparts. In February 2009, president Rafael Correa decided to put IBE under control of the government, restricting indigenous autonomy in educational affairs.[13]


  • Colin Baker (2006): Foundations of bilingual education and bilingualism. Multilingual Matters, Clevedon, (England). 4th ed.
  • Luis Enrique López (2006): De resquicios a boquerones. La educación intercultural bilingüe en Bolivia, Plural Editores & PROEIB Andes, La Paz (in Spanish), Online PDF, 8 MB


  1. ^ Luis Enrique López : Literacy and Intercultural Bilingual Education in the Andes. In: David R. Olson and Nancy Torrance (2001): The making of literate societies. Chapter 11, pp. 201-224.
  2. ^ a b c d Nancy H. Hornberger and Serafin Coronel-Molina (2004): Quechua language shift, maintenance, and revitalization in the Andes: The case for language planning. International Journal of the Sociology of Language 167, 9-67.
  3. ^ Francisco J. Rosado-May: Experiences and construction of a vision for the future of the Intercultural Maya University of Quintana Roo. Contributions to society from an intercultural model of education. In: Astrid Wind (2013): ), Las Universidades Indígenas: Experiencias y Visiones para el Futuro, pp:157-172.
  4. ^ Colin Baker (2006): Foundations of bilingual education and bilingualism. Multilingual Matters, Clevedon, (England). 4th ed. p. 215.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Luis Enrique López y Wolfgang Küper: La educación intercultural bilingüe en América Latina: balance y perspectivas. Revista Iberoamericana de Educación - Número 20 (Mayo - Agosto 1999)
  6. ^ Coronel-Molina, Serafin M. (1999): Functional Domains of the Quechua Language in Peru: Issues of Status Planning. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 1999/2/3, pp 166-180.
  7. ^ David Brisson: Quechua Education in Peru. The Theory-Context Mergence Approach, pp. 13-14.
  8. ^ Nancy H. Hornberger (1988): Bilingual Education and Language Maintenance: A Southern Peruvian Quechua Case. Dordrecht (NL), Foris Publications.
  9. ^ Becker Richards, Julia (1989). "Mayan language planning for bilingual education in Guatemala". International Journal of the Sociology of Language. 1989 (77). doi:10.1515/ijsl.1989.77.93. ISSN 0165-2516. 
  10. ^ Carmen López Flórez: La EIB en Bolivia: un modelo para armar, pp. 46–54.
  11. ^ Nación Quechua critica sistema educativo. 29 de enero de 2010,
  12. ^ Pronunciamiento de ANAMEBI del 31 de octubre de 2009 en Lima sobre la situación de la EIB en el Perú.
  13. ^ "Carmen Martínez Novo, FLACSO-Ecuador: Is the Cultural Project of the Indigenous Movement in Crisis? Some Ethnographic Remarks on the Ambiguities of Intercultural Bilingual Education in Ecuador (Prepared for delivery at the 2009 Congress of the Latin American Studies Association, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, June 11-14 2009)" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-04-20. 

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