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“A Pending Task: Addressing Inequality in Education”, by Karen Inga Eira and Juan Gabriel Espinola.

2019 marks the 30th anniversary of the International Labour Organization (ILO) Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention 1989 (No 169), the only international treaty that specifically addresses the rights of Indigenous Peoples. Education International recognizes the critical role that teachers and their organizations in the education system have in ensuring the promotion of the collective rights of Indigenous Peoples, including the right to learn and use their own language: ‘The Convention recognizes the aspiration of these peoples to exercise control over their own institutions, ways of life and economic, development and to maintain and develop their identities, languages and religions, within the framework of the States in which they live’ (C169, preamble).

Two union representatives from Education International’s affiliates in Paraguay and Norway shared their insights on the current status of C169 implementation in their respective countries for a special Issue of “International Union Rights” (December 2018), a journal published by the International Centre for Trade Union Rights (ICTUR).

Norway: There is still a lot to be done

Almost thirty years ago, in 1990, Norway was the first country in the world to ratify ILO Convention 169[1]. In Norway, the Sámi people are recognised as an indigenous people. The Sámi people live in an area divided between four countries: Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. Of these, only Norway has ratified C169. This has contributed to giving Sámi people in Norway the right to further develop their culture and obliged the authorities to initiate measures to support this work, although there are still many issues to be solved, including those of language and education.

Every fifth year, the Norwegian government reports on how it fulfils the Convention to the Expert Committee, by answering requests and describing new measures. Norway delivered the latest report[2] in August 2018. The Norwegian Sámi Parliament is allowed to provide its own report on behalf of the Sámi people in Norway. That report is sent to the Committee as a supplemental report[3] and gives an alternative view on what needs to be done to fulfil the commitments.

The Education Act[4] gives all Sámi children an individual right, regardless of where they live in the country, to receive instruction in one of the three Sámi languages that are acknowledged as official Sámi languages (North Sámi, Lule Sámi and South Sámi). In Sami districts[5], all children have the right to receive their education also through the medium of Sámi. Outside these districts, there needs to be at least 10 pupils to get education through the medium of Sámi. In districts with a relatively large Sámi speaking population, this has mostly been successful. Outside the Sámi districts, many parents and children face problems getting the education in  Sámi language they have a right to. Both in and outside the Sámi districts there is a significant lack of trained Sámi teachers and kindergarten personnel. Concerning Lule Sámi and South Sámi areas, the situation is especially difficult.

The Sámi Parliament has pointed out that there must be set special measures  to recruit Sámi speakers to Sámi teacher training programmes. Some measures are in place, but time will tell if these work as intended. The lack of Sámi speaking personnel is not particular to the education sector. In health services and the justice system this is also a problem.

Even if Sámi languages are official languages in Norway, they are not equal under the Education Act regarding teaching materials. You cannot use teaching materials that are not simultaneously available in both Norwegian orthographies, but the act does not provide for the right to get teaching materials in Sámi languages. Materials written in the Sámi languages are lacking for all subjects in kindergarten and school; these are needed to give Sámi children education through the medium of Sámi, and in order to fulfil the law. Since the law came into force, teachers have considered it necessary to make teaching materials themselves to give pupils appropriate instructions. This forces an additional workload on those teachers who teach in Sámi, compared with those who teach in majority language.

Clearly, Sámi language education does not have the same status as majority language education. With regard to Sámi languages and Sámi education, there is still a lot to be done.

Paraguay: The journey to achieve the full exercise of Indigenous Peoples’ rights

In Paraguay, the indigenous population is distributed in nineteen towns belonging to five linguistic groups and most of them live in the Chaco region. Throughout history, from the Spanish invasion to the present, the indigenous population continues to confront the abuse, discrimination and dispossession of their lands. The organization of Indigenous Peoples in defence of their rights at national levels was consolidated in the 1970s. After the dictatorship of Alfredo Stroessner (1954-1989), Paraguay adopted a new Constitution in 1992 recognising the pre- existence and rights of Indigenous Peoples. In 1993 Paraguay ratified ILO Convention 169.

During 1990-2000 different social movements demanded justice and historical reparations. In 2003, the Truth and Justice Commission (Comisión Verdad y Justicia) was established to investigate crimes committed by public officials during the Stroessner administration, including extrajudicial executions, kidnapping of indigenous children and dispossession of their lands. In 2008, former President Fernando Lugo issued official apologies.

Public policies adopted at the present time are not necessarily compatible with Convention 169, nor are they elaborated with the participation of Indigenous Peoples. Although poverty has been reduced, the extreme poverty rate is 63 percent for indigenous children under 5 years of age (compared to 26 percent of the national average). The Law of Indigenous Education has advanced the educational offer of indigenous institutions, but the illiteracy rate is 40 percent (compared to 5 percent of the non- indigenous population). Budget allocations to public education are insufficient. The salary of some indigenous educators is lower than the rest of the teaching staff, their merits for seniority are not recognized and they do not receive the corresponding incentive. In 27 percent of the communities no teacher teaches, and 71.9 percent report a lack of classrooms and problems in the facilities.

For OTEP-Autentica, the dissemination of knowledge about C169 is a pending task with the 2,000 indigenous teachers of the respective communities. Working in coordination with EI’s Latin America Regional Office we develop policies to make visible the reality of Indigenous Peoples; educate unionists; organize professional training for indigenous teachers to accredit them and integrate them into the teaching career and to access benefits established in professional legislation; and support Indigenous demands.



[3]The Sámi Parliament’s report can be found here: https://www.sametinget.no/Nyhetsarkiv/Sametingets-rapportering-til-ILO-2018

[4]The Norwegian Education Act Chapter 6 Sami Education describes the right to be taught in Sámi languages: https://www.regjeringen.no/contentassets/b3b9e92cce6742c39581b661a019e504/education-act-norway-with-amendments-entered-2014-2.pdf

[5]Sami districts are the Sámi administrative areas pursuant to section 3-1 in the Sámi Act.


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Karen Inga Eira

Karen works at the Centre for Sami Language in Education of Sami University College, she is a member of the Union Education Norway (UEN) and the UEN Sami Committee.

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Juan Gabriel Espinola

Juan Gabriel is Assistant Secretary General of the Paraguayan teachers’ union OTEP-Autentica (Organisación de Trabajadores de la Education del Paraguay).

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