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A pilot project to design culturally-relevant curriculum for Movima indigenous students in the Bolivian Amazon

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posted on 2023-06-07, 15:35 authored by Cristina Afán Lai
The legacy of a colonialist, assimilationist educational system in countries such as Bolivia is the under-representation of the indigenous in the large sphere encompassed by the schools - knowledge, teachers, and modes of instruction. Many indigenous students feel alienated from schooling and experience limited academic success. The calculated intervention of transforming traditional knowledge into culturally-relevant curriculum material has been suggested as a way to fortify their identities. Once students are solidly grounded in their indigenous selves, they may have a greater chance to perform better in the academic indices of formal schooling. This thesis describes a pilot study aligned with the mandates of a UNICEF project (EIBAMAZ) to bring intercultural bilingual education to schools in the Bolivian Amazon. Applying the principles of Participatory Action Research and adopting an anti-colonial stance, I explored the traditional knowledge of the Movima indigenous people and codified some of this into culturally-relevant curriculum material. The material was trialed in schools and feedback was obtained from all the participants. Results, implications and reflections from the pilot serve as recommendations to a larger scale indigenous education project. The investigative stage of the pilot revealed story-telling by community elders to be a natural method for them to exchange information. They saw themselves recording the narratives for their children from whom they felt a widening generational gap. When creating curriculum material in the second stage of the project, the needs of both student and teacher were kept as the focal point. Accessing students’ prior knowledge and catching their interest were of utmost importance. The culturally-relevant lessons were ‘put to the test’ in classrooms in semi-urban and rural schools. Differences between the two groups with respect to participation structure and interaction were noted. Teachers discovered their need for more professional training and cultural congruence between teacher-student to be important in imparting such curriculum. The last stage of the project heard voices from different segments of the population on the topic of culture and culturally-relevant curriculum. The study concludes that it is not possible to create an idealised indigenous curriculum because the Movima people are no longer living in a way that makes it possible to identify a singular culture which is outside and separate from the dominant national culture of Bolivia. Traditional knowledge is difficult to characterise. Rather than being fixed, it is mutable. It derives not just from the knower but from the interaction of the knower and the inquirer. It is dialogic and the research has shown that bringing it into the curriculum might involve a process of dialogue. Indigenising curriculum is possible to do but it requires full community participation which is precisely what makes it difficult. It is not possible to have a place-based curriculum prescribed from the centre. Because it is context based on the locale, it becomes less the role of the Ministry and more the role of the teacher and the community. Though local epistemologies and culture are domains that influence the content and purpose of schooling, there are other complex relationships (political, cultural, religious, social and organizational) involved in educational development. Top-down and bottom-up cooperation and reinforcement are necessary for the provision and sustainment of a culturally-relevant indigenous education. The research suggests that the success of an indigenising project such as this would depend on the extent to which communities can be facilitated and enthused, whether it can offer sufficient development to teachers to reconceptualise their practice and whether these teachers would have the motivation to persist.


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