Indigenous communities make up 12.6 percent of Mexico’s total population. Despite their significant numbers, this population faces much higher rates of poverty, poorer health outcomes and lower life expectancies than their non-indigenous counterparts. As of 2015, 80.6 percent of indigenous peoples in Mexico lived in extreme poverty, and as a result, indigenous education in Mexico suffers.

Five Facts About Indigenous Education in Mexico

  1. Compared to national averages and non-indigenous outcomes, indigenous children in Mexico are severely disadvantaged. Only 27 percent of indigenous children in Mexico graduate from high school. The national illiteracy rate is 8.4 percent, but the illiteracy rate among indigenous peoples is 44 percent. Indigenous children are more likely than non-indigenous children to drop out of school, and indigenous girls are especially at risk of not completing their education.
  2. Some of the major obstacles to indigenous education in Mexico are the lack of schools in rural areas (where indigenous peoples are more likely to live), lower-quality teachers or teachers who reach burnout and overall poorer academic performance (measured by test scores and other achievements) due to the language barrier. Spanish is the typical language of instruction in schools in Mexico, despite the fact that it is often a second (or even third) language for indigenous children.
  3. The approach to indigenous education in Mexico has evolved over time. In 1978, Mexico created a General Department of Indigenous Education. In the 1980s, the general philosophy of indigenous education was “bilingual and bicultural.” However, this was only implemented in a handful of pilot programs and the development of primers in 40 of the most common indigenous languages. In the 1990s, the philosophy shifted to “bilingual and ” In 2001, the Federal Ministry of Education created a branch called Coordination in Intercultural Bilingual Education. Two laws have also enshrined the right to education for indigenous peoples – the Amendment on Indigenous Rights (2001) and the General Law on the Linguistic Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2003).
  4. The Compensatory Education Project, partnered with the World Bank, has supported the expansion of CONAFE (the National Council for Educational Development). CONAFE is at the forefront of improving indigenous education in Mexico. It provides educational services in rural areas and in indigenous communities. The expansion of CONAFE focuses specifically on its early child development programs, its school-based management programs and providing traveling tutors to schools with the lowest levels of academic performance.
  5. The southern state of Chiapas has the largest indigenous population in Mexico. Chiapas has become a success story in the realm of educational attainment for Indigenous Peoples in Mexico. It adopted the Chiapas-U.N. Agenda, which mandated that its social policies be guided by the U.N. Millennium Development Goals. As a result, between 2008 and 2010 Chiapas saw an increase in its literacy rates and enrollment rates. According to the UNDP, this policy change “provides a clear example that change is possible if governments, civil society and people are willing to embrace it.”

If the globe and Mexico continue such positive efforts, the indigenous nation of Mexico should see even more of an increase of educational success stories, services, and overall improvement of indigenous education.

– Olivia Bradley

Photo: Flickr