The current health emergency – Coronavirus COVID-19 – has affected particularly vulnerable populations such as the Amazonian indigenous peoples. This health emergency has deepened inequalities and adverse socioeconomic conditions, and further hindered access to higher education for Amazonian students, and suspended the enforcement of intercultural education programmes.
In the Amazon region, various structural problems have caused social and educational isolation, such as territorial remoteness, irregular connectivity, poor distribution of goods and services, and low access to computer devices and the Internet. These issues have caused serious impacts on student well-being and education, despite the great efforts of the staff of the Universidad Estatal Amazonica (Amazon State University; UEA, in Spanish).
It is therefore crucial to assess and monitor the effects of the pandemic on students’ conditions and accessibility to education, and to support the university responses to the emergency.
In March 2020, due to the health crisis caused by COVID-19, classes were suspended in all educational units in Ecuador. In general, a prolonged suspension of classes has long-term consequences, particularly for marginalized and low-income groups (Giannini 2020). Therefore, we considered important to monitor the situation in intercultural bilingual schools during the pandemic. Due to the conditions of physical distancing, the research team has been unable to visit schools in the Amazonian region. Instead, we conducted telephone interviews with the principals of the educational units between 11 May and 3 June. We managed to contact 9 of the 14 schools in the Pastaza province that we had visited earlier during the research project. These schools represent approximately half of the intercultural bilingual schools that have a high school level program in Pastaza (AMIE, school year 2018-2019).
The interviews revealed several difficulties in implementing intercultural bilingual education in the Amazonian region during the health emergency. Most school principals and teachers try to work from home but many of them lack the computer and internet connection that are necessary for teleworking and organizing virtual teaching. Similarly, most students do not have the possibility to attend virtual education (Figure 1). However, the third year high school students have somewhat better access to the internet than the other students. One of the principals estimates that in their educational unit up to 70% of the third year high school students participate in virtual education to a certain degree. This is a positive thing, because it is important for the third year students to finish their studies to proceed to higher education or working life. However, for the vast majority of high school students the only option to continue their studies is to use the printed learning guides. Continue reading “Exclusive distances: intercultural bilingual education during the COVID-19 pandemic in Ecuadorian Amazonia”
During the year 2019, fieldwork and data collection were the main activities of the project. The project team met during three periods of fieldwork in Ecuador. In January, Paola Minoia and Andrés Tapia interviewed and discussed with key actors, including professionals and experts in education, ancestral knowledges, decoloniality and interculturality, as well as with Indigenous leaders and representatives of NGOs, in Quito and Pastaza. In March-June and September-October, Tuija Veintie, Johanna Hohenthal, Andrés Tapia, Katy Machoa, Tito Madrid and students of the UEA visited the IBE upper secondary schools in Pastaza and interviewed directors, teachers, students and parents. Three schools were selected for more comprehensive field study: UEIB “Camilo Huatatoca” in Santa Clara, UEIB “Sarayaku” and UEIB “Kumay”. In these schools, we conducted a higher number of in-depth interviews with teachers and students, questionnaire surveys, classroom observation, as well as participatory mapping and photography with the students.
On Tuesday, 8 October, all schools in Ecuador suspend their classes to guarantee the safety of their students, announced the Ministry of Education of Ecuador. In Pastaza province the classroom doors in schools and at the Amazon State University (UEA) have stayed closed for several days, from Thursday 3 October. Going to classes would be difficult, and possibly dangerous, because transportation in Puyo and around the province is paralysed by roadblocks and demonstrations. The demonstrations started last week after President Lenin Moreno had announced the paquetazo, a package of economic measures to reduce the fiscal deficit of the country.
The paquetazo includes tax and labor reform as well as elimination of fuel subsidies. As an immediate effect of these reforms, the fuel price rose with 100% overnight. Ecuadorian transport unions declared a national strike starting on Thursday, 3 October. The strike ended all bus, truck and taxi transportation in the country. Moreover, the bus, truck and taxi drivers blocked the roads in the main cities of the country stopping all motor traffic. The transport unions ended their strike on Friday 4 October in the evening, but civil society organisations, including the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), Confederation of the Ecuadorian Amazonian Indigenous Nationalities (CONFENIAE), and the United Workers Front (FUT) continue demonstrations against paquetazo.
”Piatúa is a secret river. It has power that no other river has. If I am feeling bad, tired or stressed, I go to the Piatúa river and in the river I start feeling good again. The river cures me” says an upper secondary school student in Santa Clara, Ecuador. Our research group is currently conducting research activities in this region and our interviews with and photographs taken by upper secondary school students show the special role that river Piatúa carries for the students as a sacred river and an important place for recreation and social gatherings. For the students, their families and the small-scale farming the river is a necessary source of water. In addition, the river Piatúa brings income to the local people through tourism as the clean water and landscapes attract tourists interested in nature, recreation and water sports.
Clouds have been gathering over future of the crystal-clear waters of river Piatúa. The Piatúa hydroelectric power plant project, run by Genefran S.A., is located in Santa Clara, between the provinces of Napo and Pastaza. Local Kichwa organisation, PONAKICS (Pueblo originario Kichwa de Santa Clara), claims that the power plant project threatens the environment, livelihoods and culture of the Indigenous communities in the Santa Clara area. Furthermore, the power plant project violated the rights of the Santa Clara Kichwa people as the construction work initiated without prior consultation.
The government of Rafael Correa (2007-2017) pushed modernization of the education system in Ecuador through the establishment of large millennium schools at the expense of small rural schools [1, 2]. In the province of Pastaza, the government did not close upper secondary schools, but the reform hit hardest to the primary school students whose school journeys became longer due to closing down of community schools. In March, the research team visited the Shuar territory where three primary schools had been closed and several others had barely avoided the closure thanks to community resistance.
Together with the compañeras Ruth, Mayra and compañero Sachachristo (Andrés), we met in Quito, in January 2019, institutional representatives institutions dealing with the new reform on intercultural bilingual education, and the reopening of the intercultural university Amawtay Wasi.
We had already been conducting fieldwork for a bit over one month in the city of Puyo and the communities surrounding it, as we stood in front of a small monoplane on the late morning of 22nd of October. The past months we had concentrated on the experiences of indigenous students of different levels of higher education:
What were the main obstacles they had faced during their education history?
How they saw the relationship between occidental epistemology present in the educative system, and the cosmovision and worldviews of their respective backgrounds?
How could the intercultural and bilingual education programs strengthen the identity and self image of the indigenous nationalities of Pastaza, while engaging with the rich multiplicity and differences that exists between and inside these groups?
by Victor Aurelio Llangari, teachers and parents of the Bilingual Intercultural Unit of San Jacinto
The practices of the peoples and nationalities of the Amazonia are of life. Therefore in 2017, an emphasis was placed on this knowledge in the Educational Institution of San Jacinto together with intercultural processes: First ritual ceremony for planting of Cedar and Guayacan trees in the memory of Dr. Thomas May, a biologist and a professor at the UEA, who came to the Amazonia with an International Cooperation project of German Cooperation Agency. Second ritual ceremony was organized to launch the San Jacinto ecological tourist trail sumakkuskakamay kawsaypacha chakiñan.
In the beginning of June, we started our visits to upper secondary classes of schools of Pastaza province together with the new members of the Ecuadorian research team. Besides the leading researchers Ruth Arias, Rosaura Gutiérrez and Mayra Espinosa, three engineers who have graduated from the UEA have joined the working team. They all come from the nationality of Kichwa and therefore also help in translation in Kichwa language and bring their cultural knowledge to the project.