Indigenous Peoples’ Right to Education

– This year’s International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples is devoted to the right to education

The right of indigenous peoples to education is protected by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which in Article 14 states that “Indigenous peoples have the right to establish and control their educational systems and institutions providing education in their own languages, in a manner appropriate to their cultural methods of teaching and learning.”

 A young participant at the opening ceremony of the Fifteenth Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. UN Photo/Manuel Elias
Members of Masaai Traditional Singing Group, Kenya

The right of indigenous peoples to education is also protected by a number of other international human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Goal 4 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development calls for ensuring equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and children in vulnerable situations.

In spite of these instruments, the right to education has not been fully realized for most indigenous peoples, and a critical education gap exists between indigenous peoples and the general population.

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Where data exist, they show consistent and persistent disparities between the indigenous and the non-indigenous population in terms of educational access, retention and achievement, in all regions of the world.

The education sector not only mirrors the historical abuses, discrimination and marginalization suffered by indigenous peoples, but also reflects their continued struggle for equality and respect for their rights as peoples and as individuals.

There are an estimated 370 million indigenous people in the world, living across 90 countries. They make up less than 5 per cent of the world’s population, but account for 15 per cent of the poorest. They speak an overwhelming majority of the world’s estimated 7,000 languages and represent 5,000 different cultures.

The day was declared with the goal of strengthening international cooperation for solving problems faced by indigenous peoples in areas such as human rights, the environment, development, education, health, economic and social development. It aims to ensure a coherent approach to achieving the ends of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, including through improved support to Member States and indigenous peoples.

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Below are the past observances and the themes.

  • 2015: Post 2015 Agenda: Ensuring indigenous peoples’ health and well-being”
  • 2014: “Bridging the gap: implementing the rights of indigenous peoples”
  • 2013: Indigenous peoples building alliances: Honouring treaties, agreements and other constructive arrangements
  • 2012: Indigenous Media, Empowering Indigenous Voices
  • 2011: Indigenous designs: celebrating stories and cultures, crafting their own future
  • 2010: Celebrating Indigenous Film Making
  • 2009: Indigenous Peoples and HIV/AIDS
  • 2008: Reconciliation between States and indigenous peoples
  • 2007: Urgent need to preserve indigenous languages
  • 2006: Indigenous Peoples: human rights, dignity and development with identity
  • 2005: The Cause of Indigenous Peoples is Ours

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