Amazon Bilingual Education Bilingual Education




Amazonian Bilingual Education



y name is Peter Platan and I have been in Iquitos for over a year. How did I end up in this exotic city? I am from Finland and I was working in Helsinki in the financial sector until I decided to take a break from hectic office work and applied for volunteer work. I got a great opportunity to work for an institution called FORMABIAP which trains bilingual teachers here in Iquitos. I decided to grab the challenge and here I am – in the middle of the beautiful Peruvian jungle! The following is a description of the program and a short summary of the current challenges being faced by indigenous people of the Amazon.


FORMABIAP (Programa de Formación de Maestros Bilingües de la Amazonía Peruana) is an institution which trains bilingual teachers in the Peruvian Amazon. It was created in 1998 in order to respond to the genuine educative necessities of today’s indigenous children of the Amazon.

For decades Peruvian teacher’s have been trained according to a curriculum which overlooks Peru’s cultural and linguistic diversity and only considers teaching in and about Spanish. Indigenous people of the Amazon have been loosing their language and cultural identity rapidly. During the 1980´s indigenous organizations throughout the world were struggling for the recognition of indigenous peoples and their rights. Lately, the acceptance of the existence of indigenous peoples with collective rights has given the indigenous movements hope of equal participation and educational rights. However, there is still an evident lack of acknowledging interculturalism and diversity in Peru and Latin America. For example, religious education promoting Christian training is obligatory. This religious teaching does not coincide with the indigenous people’s visions on the universe and it continues the religious conversion of indigenous people which has been going on for centuries.


native american bilingual educationConsequently, years of schooling under the Peruvian school system have not responded to the indigenous people’s needs of preparing their children to participate in the national society on better terms. Their children often have a very limited knowledge of Spanish, can barely read and write and are incapable of using mathematics in everyday commercial transactions. Some children are ashamed of their indigenous heritage and their lack of the basic knowledge and skills needed to live in their territory which makes them feel uneasy in their communities and anxious to leave in search of other opportunities. Estranged from their own culture young people leave their communities unfortunately often to become second rate citizens elsewhere.


In Peru there are in total 16 different linguistics families which belong to 42 different ethnic group’s comprising approximately 300,000 inhabitants. 54% of the population inhabit the Lower Jungle (Selva Baja, referring to the lower jungle area to the east of the Andean Cordillera) and 46% the Upper Jungle (Selva Alta, referring to the mountainsides of the eastern Andean Cordillera). 10 ethnic groups have already been destroyed and another 13 groups are in danger of extinction. The reasons being both historical and cultural. The conquest of the 16th century followed by the rubber boom, lumber industry and oil exploration have had their toll on the indigenous people. Cultural and social symbols such as language have also disappeared further complicating the survival and development of these groups.


The Teacher Training Program


The Program for Training Bilingual Teachers in the Peruvian Amazon (FORMABIAP) strives to work with these various problems in promoting the people’s entitlement to equal rights and improving the conditions and opportunities of the indigenous people of the Peruvian Amazon. The organization trains teachers from among indigenous people to provide bilingual education (Spanish and a native language) in terms of a more comprehensive approach to intercultural bilingual education. The vision of the FORMABIAP is to form social actors capable of designing, implementing and managing innovative proposals responding to the necessities of the indigenous towns as well as to promote the exchange of knowledge, practices and values of the indigenous ethnic groups together with other cultural traditions in a way which promotes the sustainable development of the Amazon.


Bilingual EdQualified linguistics and professors work in the program training indigenous students to become bilingual teachers in their own communities. Altogether 44 people work in multiple areas for FORMABIAP. The program encompasses three different areas of teacher training. The primary field is the Initial Teacher Training Program where there are currently 41 second-year students and 34 fifth-year students. Altogether, the initial teacher training extends over a period of five years during which cycles spent working with scholastic issues in Iquitos and cycles of non-scholastic work in the native communities of the students are alternated.


Currently, attempts in receiving official governmental ratification of the teacher training program at secondary school level are being made. Also the safeguarding of the continuity of the organization and its bilingual teacher training is essential. Until the Peruvian State fully acknowledges and assumes the financing of the program it is dependent on external financing. Consequently, FORMABIAP is currently exploring ways in which to develop its’ self-sustainability by exploiting the diverse resources of the program. For instance FORMABIAP has an extensive teacher training center outside Iquitos in Zungarococha. The center is equipped with classrooms, a computer center with 30 multimedia computers, language teaching equipment, scanners, private accommodation with lavatories and river views, a dining room, audio and VHS equipment, library etc. In addition, an experienced force of multidisciplinary teachers and professors are available who offer courses in the fields of cross-cultural knowledge, indigenous populations, languages and communication. All these resources could be utilized more efficiently via offering these services to outside parties in exchange for compensation which would improve the self-sustainability of the program. Currently these facilities and services are already available for rent so feel free to contact us for additional information. Other possibilities are also being explored such as a "buy a word in an endangered language" project where schools in Europe and North America are offered the possibility to support the local endangered languages by buying a word in a specific language.


So where do I fit into all of this? I have started my work by translating and developing the program’s web pages. Now there is a version available in English and French online at FORMABIAP’s website My responsibilities also include communicating between the international organizations and FORMABIAP as well as participating in the developing of a sustainable business plan for the organization. Especially the later task presents quite a challenge. So if you have ideas let us know! You are also more than welcome to visit FORMABIAP’s website or to write to us for further comments or suggestions. So if you have ideas, contacts, knowledge or want to inquire about renting jungle facilities with full educative equipment and amenities please let us know.

I will be staying in Iquitos for another year; so I will have ample time to explore other parts of Peru as well. So far it has been an unforgettable experience. Whether you’re a visitor or resident I hope that this article has given some insight into this incredibly versatile region that we have an opportunity to experience. Let us try to keep it unique and not forget the reality of the people who originally inhabited the area. Knowledge and consciousness is the first step!


Matis Indians
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