Indigenous universities in Latin America: experiences, achievements, problems, conflicts, educational and cultural challenges
This article examines the processes of higher education, created directly by indigenous organisations and/or leaders in Latin America, country Ecuador, as well as their main characteristics and achievements, and the problems, conflicts and challenges they face from an interpretative approach with postcolonial and decolonial perspectives in the university in educational and cultural processes with the aim of revaluing themselves as individual and collective subjects that favour educational and cultural development for and with indigenous peoples.
In order to understand the current situation of Higher Education with respect to indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples in Latin America, it is essential to recall some salient aspects of their history. America has been strongly marked by conquest and colonisation, with massacres, dispossession of territory, displacement and social and territorial reorganisation of the original inhabitants of this part of the world, as well as the massive importation of contingents of enslaved Africans. In order to understand the meaning of the creation of "indigenous universities", it is necessary to begin by highlighting that, as part of the processes of European colonisation of America, both the indigenous American peoples and the contingents of African people brought to America in conditions of slavery, suffered several circumstances that particularly attacked important constituent elements of their worldviews, one of them being that their religions were forbidden and they were forced to adopt Catholicism, another being that their languages were also forbidden, let alone their use in public spaces and especially in schools, when they gained access to them. In terms of ancestral knowledge, particularly in the field of health, which the colonisers associated with the European idea of "witchcraft", but also with other knowledge in various fields. The founding of the new republics in the 19th century by no means put an end to these conditions.
The new states continued many of these practices and, through their educational and cultural policies, denied differences. An important aspect of the political-social, educational and epistemological problem is that even today, in the 21st century, prohibitions and exclusions have not ended, but continue in various forms in schools and in contemporary "conventional" universities.
However, despite these violent historical processes, the physical extermination of all indigenous and Afro-descendant populations was not completed. Over the years, indigenous and Afro-descendant organisations have often proposed policies of "interculturality with equity". It is on this basis that they have fought for legal and even constitutional reforms that would make it possible for this slogan to materialise, starting with the recognition of the multi-ethnic character of the respective national states, as well as the existence of culturally differentiated forms of citizenship. Currently, the constitutions of most Latin American countries recognise language, identity and other cultural rights for indigenous peoples. To date, this recognition is enshrined in the constitutions of fifteen Latin American countries, namely: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Venezuela.
Indigenous Organisations, Higher Education and Equitable Citizenship as a result of these long histories and the contemporary contexts discussed above, as well as various international factors. Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) and private foundations have established special quota policies and scholarship programmes aimed at improving the possibilities of access and completion of studies for indigenous and Afro-descendant students. It should be noted that these policies and programmes are oriented towards achieving "the inclusion of individuals, but they do not solve the problem of continuing to exclude the histories, languages and knowledge of the peoples, as well as their needs, demands and social, political and economic proposals, for themselves and for the national societies of which they form part. Therefore, these policies and programmes are not enough either, although they have contributed to an educational model.
Currently in Ecuador there are bilingual intercultural schools in the university environment, there is a university in the whole of Ecuador, this university of indigenous peoples and nationalities incorporates the knowledge, languages, proposals, and learning modalities of these peoples in their curricula, and which deliberately contribute to the valuation of cultural diversity, the promotion of equitable intercultural relations, and forms of citizenship that ensure equal opportunities. The university is trying to recover the meaning of life of its ancestors, based on the Community's Good Living, understood as the material and spiritual fulfilment of the individual-community, the Community's "Good Living" or let us say "living to the full" in a more ethical than material sense, this is the foundation that will allow the construction and subsequent materialization of the Plurinational State and the Intercultural Society. The task of "interculturalizing all higher education", of making it truly "universalist", and not monocultural and subalternly following the modern European legacy, and also articulated to the world market, is still pending.
In Latin America there are indigenous universities that have been created and managed directly by organisations and/or recognized indigenous leaders and professionals, such as the Intercultural Indigenous Autonomous University in Colombia, the Amazonian Centre for Indigenous Training in Brazil, the University of the Autonomous Regions of the Nicaraguan Caribbean Coast in Nicaragua, and the Intercultural University of Indigenous Nationalities and Peoples "Amawtay Wasi" in Ecuador, which we mentioned earlier. The achievements of indigenous peoples' and nationalities' universities in Latin America have been several, the main ones being the following: 1) They improve the possibilities for indigenous and Afro-descendant individuals to access higher education opportunities and successfully complete their studies in various fields; 2) They adjust their educational offerings to the needs, demands and projects of the communities and relate them to local and regional (sub-national) opportunities for employment, generation of productive initiatives and service to the community; 3) They develop participatory learning modalities, often focused on applied research and also integrate learning, research and service to the communities; 4) Integrate different types of knowledge and ways of producing knowledge and wisdom; 5) Promote the valuing and, as appropriate, incorporate the languages and knowledge of these peoples and communities, contribute proactively to their strengthening and carry out research on these languages and knowledge; 6) Develop teaching and research guided by criteria of valuing cultural diversity, interculturality, equity, inclusion, democratic governance, human and sustainable development; 7) They train graduates from the communities and peoples to whom they propose projects within and outside the community, students who speak their indigenous languages, who are knowledgeable about their knowledge, as well as that of the "modern Western" academic disciplines, familiar with their needs, demands, proposals and ways of acting, who contribute directly to local and regional sustainable development, and to the improvement of the quality of life of their communities.
However, just as there are achievements, there are challenges for higher education that are relevant to the cultural diversity of Latin American countries, which can be found in the systems of evaluation and accreditation of higher education and educational programmes by the state agencies in charge of these matters. The most frequent problems are the following: 1) Budget insufficiency and/or precariousness; 2) Attitudes of racial discrimination on the part of public officials and various sectors of the population that affect the development of their activities; 3) Difficulties arising from granting recognition and/or accreditation; 4) Institutional administrative obstacles derived from the rigidity of procedures, which affect the execution of their plans and activities; 5) Difficulties in obtaining teachers and other personnel with adequate sensitivity and personal and technical resources for intercultural work; 7) Economic difficulties for students to be able to dedicate themselves more and better to their training; 8) Insufficient scholarships.
For higher education to be fully realised, the future must be thought of from other values and worldviews, for example, in terms of " good living", it is "The satisfaction of needs, the achievement of a dignified quality of life and death, to love and be loved, the healthy flourishing of all, in peace and harmony with nature, and the indefinite prolongation of human cultures. Good living means having free time for contemplation and emancipation, and that the freedoms, opportunities, capacities and real potentialities of individuals are expanded and flourish in such a way as to simultaneously achieve what society, territories, diverse collective identities and each individual - seen as a universal and particular human being at the same time - values as a desirable life objective (both materially and subjectively and without producing any kind of domination of another)". And that is the mission of indigenous universities in Latin America.
The current challenge is to function as a community university, charging students a minimum fee that in turn allows for the maintenance of a minimum technical and academic team, but also does not limit access for students with limited economic resources. At the same time, it is an opportunity to educate and train indigenous and non-indigenous youth in the most diverse fields, with relevance and with an approach based on the philosophy of Abya Yala. It is an opportunity to finally make visible the validity of indigenous peoples, their thinking and wisdom, and to decolonise traditional education.
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