Participation of Mapuche organizations in intercultural bilingual education: limitations and possibilities in Chile

Rukmini Becerra Lubies, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile;      Abstract: For some years now, Chilean public policies on intercultural bilingual education in childhood have been emphasizing the importance of indigenous communities in preschools with an intercultural approach. This is in line with the growing international emphasis on the participation of communities in schools for indigenous children. There is in fact international evidence that school and community interactions are an important factor in the successful education of indigenous children (Kearney et al. 2014), and that the inclusion of indigenous perspectives, culture, history and language in the curriculum is imperative for their learning processes (Armour, Warren, and Miller 2016).

However, recent research in Chile has shown that the alliances between indigenous communities and these preschools are still weak. In this study, we focus on the perspective of Mapuche organizations - in the Araucania Region in Chile - regarding the limitations and possibilities for collaboration between their organizations and intercultural preschools. Using a qualitative research methodology, we asked: what are the opinions of Mapuche organizations regarding preschools? What kind of cooperation is possible between Mapuche organizations and preschools? And what collaborations are possible between organizations and preschools?  From a community-based education and cultural interface standpoint, the results show that in order to forge collaborative alliances, the preschools must make profound changes: for example, equal hierarchies, solid relationships, critical interculturalism, Mapuche preschools, language nest approach.

We would like to point out that through this study, we hope to contribute to the international sphere of indigenous community-based education (Corson 1998; Hay 2009; T. McCarty and L.Watahomigie n.d.), to community- education in general (Burguess 2019; Smith 2009), and also to be part of the endeavors to connect indigenous peoples and early childhood (Fleer 2004; Townsed-Cross 2004; Guilfoyle et al. 2010; Kitson 2010) In Latin America, we hope to play a part in the studies on intercultural bilingual education and communities (Burford et al. 2012; Williamson, Pastrana, and Gómez 2005; Ruiz and Quiroz 2014). At a national level, we seek to contribute to the sphere of intercultural bilingual education in childhood with relevant results that could inform public policies and bring intercultural preschools and communities closer together.                

The findings highlight that, in order to be able to achieve collaborative partnerships between preschools and Mapuche organizations, we need preschools to become more critical spaces. Specifically, this would entail schools being able to implement critical interculturalism, intercultural education for non-Mapuche children and teaching of the Mapuche language with more native-speakers (both children and teaching staff). On the other hand, we need schools willing to make profound changes. Specifically, organizations are seeking profound changes in their hierarchies that allow community members to make decisions, even with Mapuche schools run by organizations and not by the state, in which language immersion programs can be implemented. These hierarchical changes would grant Indigenous Language and Culture Educators the status and the necessary influence to teach language and culture without the limitations of a Western curriculum. In turn, it would be necessary to have teachers and staff trained in language and methodologies for teaching the Mapuche language. We add that this teaching staff should also be trained to learn how to work with local communities and members. Third, it is essential to have a steady flow of government funds for organizations and schools to be able to establish strong ties that are not dependent on economic availability or the government of the day. Community members cannot work only on a voluntary basis, especially in the context of rural schools, where there are long distances to travel and poverty, as is the Araucanía Region.

Together with these recommendations, we believe that it is essential for schools to become environments in which the community feels welcome and can actively participate in the education of its children (Kearney et al. 2014). To become these kinds of spaces, schools and teachers must implement the following changes: "(a) give the process all the time it needs; (b) do some careful school-based planning to make the process work; (c) nurture the process by building commitment to it among other school staff" Corson (1998).

We think it is important to point out that making these changes is not an easy task, and even thinking about partnerships between schools and indigenous communities is a big challenge, since, as Kearney et al. (2014) point out in the case of Australia, the history of relations between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples in Chile is full of instances of mistrust. In the same vein, collaborative efforts between schools and communities can be difficult, especially since the schooling experiences of many indigenous adults have been negative. This could entail a certain level of reluctance for community members to interact with teachers and schools. Such disconnections can contribute to negative relationships between teachers, children, families, and communities (Kearney et al. 2014).

In relation to the theoretical framework, as Kearney et al. also pointed out (2014) for the case of Australia, we believe that the cultural interface is a space where meanings and values are constantly being negotiated. If we are to promote meaningful learning, these imbalances, discrepancies and negotiations must be acknowledged and addressed (Kearney et al. 2014). These discrepancies are not addressed in public policy documents in Chile. As Fettes (1998) states, we believe that change and conflict go hand in hand. In fact, "conflict (is) not as a temporary or avoidable aspect of indigenous education, but as one of its defining standards" (Fettes 1998, 264).   Furthermore, the combination of community-based education with indigenous language education programs "has been a powerful force in the struggle for indigenous linguistic and educational rights.”  McCarty and Watahomigie (1998) stated that programs with this approach have enabled concrete results for language renewal, "while forging new and more effective ways of 'doing' western-style schooling." Strengthening a community-based educational approach to achieving indigenous language learnings in Mapuche children in Chile is essential.

Finally, as regards public policies, the indications and expectations mentioned in the documents must be accompanied by concrete measures in schools. For example, the indications in the educational policy documents on promoting the implementation of a school open to the community through the concerted occupation of the infrastructure of the establishment, for activities and needs of local organizations in the territory (Murúa et al. 2017), as outlets to observe nature, as the productive space of the community, thus providing contextualized and meaningful learning (Bustos 2014), are promising for addressing the concerns of Mapuche organizations.

Moreover, we believe that these measures should be disseminated at the national, regional and territorial levels, thus enabling the garnering of local discrepancies of concern to Community members. Like Maher and Buxton (2015), we consider that “effective education for Aboriginal people can become a shared vision through ensuring an interface between cultures and not the imposition of less meaning on children who have experiences and strengths other than those conceived of by curriculum developers” (8). We conclude, then, with a call for a stable but locally flexible system that enables the active participation of indigenous organizations in schools with the systematic support of the state and regional institutions. We believe that it is essential for public policies to address the discrepancies and antagonism mentioned by the organizations, in order to be able to establish stronger alliances



Key words: intercultural education, indigenous education, Mapuche, community-based education, intercultural preschool, participation, early childhood education


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