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, the different languages are associated with a dominant and an underprivileged or minority culture.

The IBE has been most prominently promoted and developed for use in Latin America. Most countries may have areas in which such models could be used. There indigenous movements in several nations have gained use of the IBE model in indigenous education, rather than the former monolingual education in Spanish. Since the late 20th century, IBE has become an important, more or less successful instrument of governmental language planning in several Latin American countries. These include bilingual education in Mayan languages in Guatemala, and Quechua in Peru,[2] and Mayan in Mexico.[3]

Types of education in bilingual and bi-cultural contexts[edit]

Colin Baker distinguishes four models of education for bilingual or multilingual contexts. The first two 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 nation states gained independence 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 as used by the colonial rulers. This system reached only the privileged classes and those parts of the mestizo population speaking Spanish or Portuguese.

In the 20th century, governments' attempts to educate the whole population in each country was based on a goal of assimilation, or increasing attempts to offer school education to the whole population had the explicit goal of hispanization (castellanización) of the indigenous peoples. Spanish was used as a language of instruction for learner groups although few among more isolated indigenous communities understood it. Students did not have much success in learning, and there were high rates of class repetition or dropouts. 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 many people stopped speaking these languages, but had sub-standard Spanish. Because of such language issues, for instance among indigenous peoples who moved to cities, they became uprooted, belonging fully neither to the indigenous or to the dominant culture.[5]

The Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL), an evangelical institution based in Dallas, Texas, was the first institution to introduce bilingual education in Latin America for indigenous peoples. It had goals both of evangelization and improving the education and lives of the people. 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. Education in schools was emphasized, to be 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 by students of Spanish. By the beginning of secondary school, the only language of instruction was 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 university work encouraged the government of General Juan Velasco Alvarado to include bilingual education in its educational reform in 1972. Peru, under Velasco, Peru in 1975 was the first country of the Americas to declare an indigenous language, Quechua, as an official language. Quechua was introduced in schools as a foreign or second language in Lima, but prejudices meant that few ethnic European or mestizo students studied it. Little changed for the Quechua and Aymara speakers in the Andes, 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 indigenous Spanish-learners.[5]

The bilingual programs were all developed to be transitional, in order to prepare pupils for unilingual secondary and higher education in the dominant language. They contributed to a more widespread use of Spanish as common language.[2] These were experimental projects of limited extension and duration, enabled by international aid, such as 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 activism in the 1970s, and controversy about multilingualism and previous bilingual education projects, a new education model of language maintenance and development emerged. This included an embrace of cultural aspects that were not exclusively linguistic: teaching aspects of everyday life culture, traditions, and world concepts. From the beginning of the 1980s, bilingual intercultural education was being developed in Latin America.[5]

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

In most countries, such bilingual/cultural education does not reach the majority of the indigenous population, who often live outside the major cities, or in more isolated urban communities; in addition, it is applied only in primary education. Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Mexico have passed laws directing such education of all indigenous speakers, and Paraguay intends for the entire student population to receive bilingual training.[5] Intercultural bilingual education in Guatemala is specifically mandated for regions with high numbers of indigenous peoples. [9]

In the early 21st century, Bolivia and some other countries have begun to promote a two-way IBE for the whole population. Under such proposals, all Spanish-speaking pupils and students are to 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. It has said that the education of indigenous people should be under their own control and that of their communities.[11][12]

In most Latin American countries, IBE is under control of the Ministry of Education. In contrast, since 1988 IBE in Ecuador has been administered by indigenous organizations that are members of ECUARUNARI and CONAIE. This followed an agreement between the government and the indigenous movement, leading to the establishment of the national IBE directorate DINEIB (Dirección Nacional de Educacion Intercultural Bilingue). Indigenous representatives appointed teachers and school directors, designed curricula, and wrote text books.

But, according to studies in 2008, this work has not yet reversed the decline in number of speakers of indigenous languages, including Kichwa and Shuar. Even in Otavalo and Cotacachi, where there are a Kichwa middle class and indigenous mayors, many young people do not speak any Kichwa. Even parents who participate in the indigenous movement sometimes 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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