An Innovative Intercultural School

Developing an innovative model of education that honors and promotes indigenous traditions, knowledge, and wisdom

The Problem

Since 2002, the Peruvian government has mandated that indigenous peoples must have access to an intercultural, bilingual education in their native tongue. In practice, this translates to a Western education with a certain number of classes provided in the indigenous language.

Bilingual is not intercultural. The emphasis on language as the key to intercultural education neglects the teaching of indigenous cultural and traditional practices, and is often not relevant to these young people's everyday reality.

As a result, many teenage indigenous students lose or undervalue their cultural identity at a critical point in their development. We can also note lower self-esteem, identity confusion, higher suicide rates, teenage pregnancies, and large numbers of drop-outs among indigenous students.

In addition to cultural bias, schools in indigenous communities offer a very poor quality education with insufficient resources and unmotivated teachers.

Our Response

To counter these effects, Alianza Arkana has implemented a pilot program establishing an intercultural school in Puerto Firmeza, a Shipibo community near Pucallpa. The vision of the program is to create a truly intercultural education, interweaving Western education – critical for survival in a rapidly globalizing world – and traditional indigenous knowledge.

With highly motivated teachers and a creative, student-focused curriculum, we aim to increase attendance at school, improve educational quality and relevance, strengthen cultural identity, and empower indigenous youth from an early age.

The School

The program divides the school into eight interactive learning zones, which include:

  1. A conventional classroom focused on the Peruvian National curriculum.
  2. A cultural center built in the form of a maloka (a traditional ceremonial house made of wood and leaf roofing) where community elders will teach the stories, healing traditions and art forms of the Shipibo people.
  3. A play area with both Western and traditional indigenous games.
  4. An area dedicated to the cultivation of traditional foods such as yucca, banana, peanut, dale dale, ashipa, and other local crops which provide high nutritional value for children and their families (many of whom are suffering from malnutrition).
  5. An ethno-botanical garden where children will learn about the healing uses of medicinal plants.
  6. A native, jungle fruit forest that includes fruit trees that have almost disappeared from the area.
  7. A fish farm and animal rearing zone that will raise fish, turtles, snails, guinea pigs and ducks, all of which are eaten in the area; and
  8. A zone for wild forest, which will offer the students the opportunity to appreciate and learn about ecosystems in their natural state.

The creation and development of these zones are based on community participation and permaculture, reinforcing community development and cultural identity.

The School's Roots—and Growth

This unique curriculum is the brainchild of Shipibo visionary educator, Luis Marquez, the school director at Puerto Firmeza. Luis has over 30 years of experience as an intercultural educator, and sits on Alianza Arkana's Board of Advisors.

Since the beginning of our involvement in this project in early 2011, the school has benefited over 120 Shipibo students and 300 community members. We have helped to create the infrastructure for the eight learning zones, provided volunteers to teach English and theater in the school, supported a training program for the teachers and key community members, and employed Marcos Urquia, a Shipibo permaculture specialist, to develop the agricultural and sustainability component of the school.

The program in Puerto Firmeza has already created visible results and engendered high praise from community members, neighboring schools, and the Ucayali Regional Government Educational Department.

We are currently in the second phase of development of the school, which involves:

  • Planting a further five hectares of land donated to the school by the community.
  • Building a dining room from traditional construction materials in which students will consume the food they have grown.
  • Curriculum development and materials.
  • Establishing and stocking a fish farm.
  • Equipping the medicinal plant laboratory and cultural center.
  • Creation of a craft center.
  • Further training for teachers and key community members.

Replicating the Model

We plan to evaluate the program and replicate it in four more Shipibo communities, aiming to reach approximately 2,500 Shipibo people over a two-year timeframe.

Our ultimate goal is to replicate the program across the Peruvian Amazon, and work closely with the Peruvian Ministry of Education to develop similar structures as part of the national intercultural education curriculum.

Allowing indigenous youth to reclaim their cultural identities, while giving them the tools to maneuver Western political, social, and economic structures will equip them to better protect and preserve their territories and culture, and continue their existence as indigenous peoples.

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