Importance and challenges of intercultural bilingual education: thoughts by Rosaura Gutiérrez

Text: Rosaura Gutiérrez & Johanna Hohenthal

What makes intercultural bilingual education so important in Ecuador and Pastaza and why is it celebrated? In general, intercultural bilingual education emphasizes equality, equity, parity, complementarity and exchange between different bodies of knowledge in a culturally diverse context [1].

Foto: Johanna Hohenthal

In Ecuador, there are 14 different indigenous nationalities, of which 7 live in the Province of Pastaza. In total, 10 nationalities live in Amazonia, 4 on the Coast and 1 in the Sierra region. Kichwa nationality has the biggest population. In addition, people identify themselves as mestizos, Afro-Ecuadorians, montubios, whites and others. Children and young people with their diverse cultures meet in the educational units of Ecuador. Therefore, schools, colleges, universities and other institutes are important places where people from different backgrounds can learn, not only to know and appreciate the knowledge and customs of others, but also to hybridize with them and create unique intercultural ways of being. In addition, interculturality has significant political objectives related to the decolonization of knowledge production, delinking from the domination of western homogenizing worldviews, fighting for social and environmental justice and revitalizing eco-cultural identities. Intercultural bilingual education plays a crucial role in the formation of vision and relationship with the environment [1]. This is particularly important at present when the natural ecosystems of the Amazonia are facing severe threats, for example, due to the excessive extraction of resources and climatic changes that derive from western philosophy that conceptualizes humans as separate from nature and with an obligation to dominate it. In this sense, Amazonian cosmovisions that consider humans as part of nature have important lessons to teach to all of humanity.

In Ecuador, intercultural bilingual education, proposed by the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), achieved a formal status as the Bilingual Intercultural Education System Model (MOSEIB) as early as 1993. The model affirmed the importance of integrating different languages, local knowledges and pedagogical practices in schools, later named as CECIBs and UECIBs. Later MOSEIB was modified based on the sumak kawsay (buen vivir) philosophy that highlights the importance of the community, ecological balance and cultural sensitivity [2]. However, MOSEIB is still only partially applied and the bilingual and intercultural programs gradually decrease in secondary schools and are absent in final school exams, entrance exams to the university and on the courses [3]. However, good news were hear on July 6, 2018 from the city of Latacunga where the signing of Executive Decree No. 445, Art. 1. created the Secretariat of Intercultural Bilingual Education as an entity attached to the Ministry of Education, with administrative, technical, pedagogical, operational, and financial independence, and responsibilities of coordination, management, monitoring and evaluation of public policies of Intercultural Bilingual Education, with the aim of organizing, promoting and coordinating the Intercultural Bilingual Education System with respect to the rights of communities, peoples and nationalities, under the principles of interculturality and plurinationality.

One of the first preconditions for the success of intercultural bilingual education is that schools and universities provide safe spaces for all students to freely express their cultural identities, such as in the form of the use of facial paints, traditional cultural dresses and the celebration of important days. However, the intercultural approach in education must go further and focus on such changes in the curricula that help students to become active participants in social change and fight against discrimination and coloniality and for achieving social justice [4].

The Retomando Raíces collective celebrating the Inti Raymi (Festival of the Sun) at the UEA on the 21st of June. The roots of Inti Raymi are in the ancient Inca tradition and the festival is typically celebrated in the Andean mountain areas at the end of the harvest season to thank the “father” Sun for the food he has provided to the people. Currently the festival is celebrated also in schools in the Amazonian region, in the framework of interculturality. Photo: Johanna Hohenthal.

However, several academics and activists in Ecuador and in other countries have highlighted the difficulty of realizing the principles of interculturality in education in general and in higher education in particular [5].

An important aspect of realization of interculturality in education is indicated in article 26.2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, approved by UNESCO in 1974 and subsequently amended in 1995:

Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace. [6]

According to my perception on the Intercultural Bilingual Education in Pastaza, there are many obstacles that the Ministry of Education must resolve for the effective achievement of this principle:

First of all, the teachers do not have the materials or pedagogical tools that would allow them to carry out teaching based on the indigenous worldviews and languages that MOSEIB suggests: the system “has the mission to develop the language and culture of indigenous peoples and nationalities through processes of quality teaching-learning…[7]” However, the curricular application of this target in schools evaporates due to the lack of the tools that each content requires.

I have felt the powerlessness of teachers in love with their profession and seen them to become filled with frustration with the lack of resources and materials when developing their activities. I have seen teachers who in the beginning of their careers fervently defend the bilingual intercultural model, but retire with nostalgia for not yet seeing the dream of “let us do it as we want and not attached to a platform that wears out and breaks the schemes”. Undoubtedly, this places a duality that is palpable in the context of higher education, because it shows the imbalance of opportunities in different contexts: on the one hand a Westernized education (which undoubtedly answers to the demands of skills in the world of work) and on the other, an education that aims to sustain the identity through teaching based on the worldviews of the peoples and communities.

Persistent actions are needed to sustain, review and articulate ancestral knowledge and dialogue. In this sense, the strategies and resolutions in the publication I Encuentro de Integración de las familias lingüísticas transfronterizas de la Amazonía [8] could contain elements that would somehow strengthen the language and culture, but on the other hand would foster multiculturalism and not interculturality that allows the flow of communication and exchange of experiences between peoples and nationalities that advocate for equity and respect. Thus, some resolutions propose: “Create a Bilingual Intercultural University of nationalities and peoples of the Amazon and Costa” (p.19). “Propose the creation of a plurinational educational model of nationalities and indigenous peoples that respects and responds to the needs of each culture,” (p.20).

It is clear that spaces are needed for dialogue building and debate on these issues beyond simple issues such as the acceptance of a “Chicha mocawa“, as a “symbol of sympathizing with culture”.Exchange that generates bonds based on respect and tolerance are needed. Sustaining Bilingual Intercultural Education is important for the sustainability of the ethnic, cultural mega-diversity that becomes the intangible heritage of a region and because it promotes the valuation of traditions that can not only be “remembered and valued” in a specific time as a merely historical event, but, as part of the identity reconstruction in which the struggles of the indigenous peoples to defend their territories and culture are honored systemically in a conciliatory way. Through the EIB, facts are re-signified to sustain the balance and transmission of knowledge from generation to generation, preparing themselves in the same way for lifestyles that promote the attainment and privileges of human rights, granted through conquests and not struggles that divide, separate and generate violence. The EIB, is the legacy that Pastaza must preserve for future generations.

Rosaura Gutiérrez Valerio, of Dominican nationality: Doctor in Evolutionary Psychology and Education, with a master’s degree in systemic pedagogy, containment therapy, community therapy and others. For four years I have worked as a teacher-researcher in the UEA creating the Integral Development Program in the Department of Liaison, which is accompanied by the awakening of educators of Educational Units and Bilingual and Hispanic Schools in the revaluation of being, with greater self-esteem and promotion of team work. In the same way, I am an advisor in the collective Retomando Raíces  and Circulo de Mujeres que Despiertan.

The greatest desire of promotion of these works in the UEA, supported by its directors and the University Council chaired by Rector Julio Cesar Vargas, is to contribute to the vision that says: “The Amazon State University will be an academic community providing teaching and scientific research, which promote sustainable development of the Amazonia in such a way that it is revalued as an element and fundamental resource of the State. It has been inserted in the ancestral knowledge, characteristics and potentialities in the economy to forge culture and achieve national unity. “And to the Mission:” Generate science and technology, train professionals and researchers, to meet the needs of the territory under the principles of sustainable, integral and balanced development of the human being, of the Amazon Region and Ecuador, by conserving the ancestral knowledges and fostering cultures.” [9]

In the same way, to contribute to the strategy 3 that says: “Contribute to local, regional and national development, promoting a better university-society interaction through plans and programs that contain new alternatives, or models of life and production to solve environmental, social and technological problems that allow the balanced development of men and women. Conservation of the nature of the Amazon region.” And that sense, contribute to creating an atmosphere of exchange between peoples and nationalities.

I wish to make visible the exclusion for entry and permanence in education that exist among young people of nationalities, due to the lack of opportunities and resources, and hope that this will generate public policies in the Decentralized Autonomous Governments (GADs) to support facing this reality. I wish that the Observatory of Bilingual Amazonian Intercultural Education can be established in the UEA, with all its installed capacity that promotes debates, forums, consultations, seminars and that takes into account the knowledge and wisdom of the peoples and nationalities as an element for the preservation of Amazonian cultures. The Observatory could become an entity of consultation and educational archive that a team of wise people from the communities can be part of, and where they can to contribute to their dreams and hopes about their peoples and nationalities. In the same way, I dream that this research project is the initiative for actions aimed at transferring themes in the Curricular Meshes of higher education, according to the guidelines of the constitution that declares Ecuador, plurinational and intercultural, multi-ethnic and mega-diverse.


[1] Schroder, B. (2006). Native science, intercultural education and place-conscious education: an Ecuadorian example. Educational Studies 32:3, 307-317.

[2] Ministerio de Educación (2013). MOSEIB. Modelo del Sistema de Educación Intercultural Bilingüe. Ministerio de Educación del Ecuador, Quito

[3] Salgado, F. & E. Morán (2014). ¿Universidad o uniformidad? Sumaq Kawsay, diversidad e isomorfismo bajo la lupa. Revista de la Universidad de Cuenca 56, 55-69.

[4] Holm, G. & H. Zilliacus (2009). Multicultural Education and Intercultural Education: Is There a Difference? In M. Talib, J. Loima, H. Paavola & S Patrikainen (Eds.) (2009), Dialogues on Diversity and Global Education, pp. 11-28. Berlin: Peter Lang.

[5] Martín-Díaz, E. (2017) Are universities ready for interculturality? The case of the intercultural university ‘Amawtay Wasi’ (Ecuador). Journal of Latin American Cultural Studies 26:1, 73-90.

[6] Declaraciòn de los Derechos Humanos . Consultado 04 de julio 2018

[7] Ministerio de Educación del Ecuador (MinEduc) 2017. Lineamientos Pedagógicos para la implementación del Modelo del Sistema de Educación  Intercultural Bilingüe. Consultado 04 de julio, 2018

[8] Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar (2010) I Encuentro de Integración de las familias lingüísticas transfronterizas de la Amazonía: Colombia, Ecuador y Perú. Quito. Ecuador

[9] Misión y Visión de la Universidad Estatal Amazónica. Página web, Consultado 11 de julio, 2018.