Supporting bilingual education for indigenous children in Bolivia

The project trains bilingual teachers so that the pupils can communicate with their teachers in their local language

Bolivia is without doubt the poorest country in South America. 65 percent of the population live in deep poverty and 40 percent in extreme poverty, on incomes of less than two dollars a day. The indigenous population in the highland regions are particularly severely affected, and one of the reasons for this is a lack of education.

10 percent of the children in the altiplano areas high in the Andes have no school to go to, and 25 percent drop out before learning to read and write. One of the reasons for this is that because of poverty, the children have to help their families by working in the fields or at home. Another problem is the use of Spanish as the official language, since Bolivia was once a Spanish colony. Most of these children have only a limited knowledge of Spanish, and instead speak the local language, Aymara. This makes it difficult for them to understand the lesson content, and many drop out.

This project, developed in partnership with the Danish non-profit organisation IBIS, is run in the communities of Jesús de Machaca and San Andrés de Machaca, in the Andes mountains, 130 kilometres from the capital, La Paz. These are small towns located at an altitude of 3800 metres, with a total population in the area of almost 20,000 inhabitants.

There are 5369 children of school age in the two Machaca communities, and a total of 92 schools. The three-year project aims to develop education programmes for children in years 1 and 2, comprising a total of 615 children, supporting them through three years of schooling. Accordingly the first year of the project will work with year 1 and year 2 pupils, the second year with year 2 and year 3 children, and the final project year with year 3 and year 4 pupils. The development of quality education for the same group of children over three years will provide the basis for evaluating the progress of individual pupils. This means it will be possible to measure the concrete results of the project, and to identify aspects that can be improved.

The project will train bilingual teachers with the ability to teach in both Spanish and Aymara, so that the pupils will be able to communicate with their teachers in a language that they understand. Another priority will be to develop teaching materials with content that the children can relate to, and to introduce the teachers to new teaching methods encouraging the children to become more actively involved in the learning process.

Education will teach the children what it means to be Aymara on the one hand, and a citizen of a multicultural country like Bolivia on the other. And in the longer term future they will have the opportunity to make an active contribution to the development of both their own community and Bolivia as a nation.

One of the core elements of the project is the creation of a teacher training and educational development centre. This will be used for training the teachers and developing teaching materials and curricula, and also for specific training activities such as the development of constructive projects for children and their parents. The centre will be physically situated in Jesús de Machaca, but will also include a bus to bring pupils, parents and teachers from remote rural areas in to the centre, and to transport educators out to schools throughout the project territory.