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  • Laurenne Ajayi

International Day for the World's Indigenous Peoples

Today is the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, with 2016’s theme devoted to the right to education.

‘Goal 4 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development calls for ensuring equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and children in vulnerable situations.

In spite of these instruments, the right to education has not been fully realised for most indigenous peoples, and a critical education gap exists between indigenous peoples and the general population’.UN, Indigenous People's Right to Education.

At APIE, though we don’t work specifically within the arena of promoting the language and cultures of indigenous peoples, we stand behind the UN’s recommendations for improving the access to quality education for indigenous people, as well as for all other minorities:

‘Efforts should be made to ensure that indigenous peoples have access to education that is culturally and linguistically appropriate and that does not aim at or result in unwanted assimilation … Instruction in the mother-tongue language is recommended for indigenous children, youth and adults. Where indigenous language is not the mother language (i.e. where the language is not being transmitted), language revitalisation programmes should be integrated into the education system.'

Though different in context, a shared focus between the implementation of quality education both here and at Umubano Primary School (UPS) is language. With the Rwandan Government’s 2009 decision to change the language of the education system from French to English, not only has it been important to ensure that the students of UPS learn and are able to speak English to a high standard, but ensuring that their comprehension of other subjects is not negatively impacted by struggling with English as a second, or even third language, is also key. Another, wider worry in the introduction of English wasn’t with the students; it was with the teachers. To suddenly make a change to the language in which you teach was no mean feat, and would have a far more significant impact on the success of the curriculum.

For these reasons, amongst others, the language in which many subjects are taught at UPS (particularly in Early Years) is Kinyarwanda. This ensures a strong basis for students to move into English for more advanced subjects later, and ensures that teachers are comfortable teaching as they see fit. At UPS, this has been a huge success, with students and teachers alike excelling in English, as well as the grades in other subjects consistently improving.

For all the success that - with the help and support of many partners, both local and international - has been achieved at UPS, there are still many places, in Rwanda and the rest of the world, where this level of success in transitioning to another language, introducing quality education and improving levels of inclusivity, is still some time away. This is exemplified in the Rwandan context by the Batwa people, an indigenous group who, far more than other Rwandans, have struggled to break cycles of poverty due to lack of integration into mainstream education, with lower than average rates of school enrolment leading to higher rates of illiteracy and fewer opportunities.

However, with wider world focus on the importance of ‘ensuring equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable’, together, Rwanda and the rest of the world is taking steps towards the aims and recommendations of the UN. This means that in continuing to develop quality and inclusive education, with each International Day that passes, we will see this education, as a fundamental right, become more available for all. To find out more about the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People, see the UN's website here.

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