The Classes in my Language
By Angie Lopez
“I hoped to be taught in my first language, in this case, K’iche (one of the Mayan languages of indigenous Guatemalans) because I am in the province/department of K’iche”, explains Rosemary Dionisio, a Mayan university student from the K’iche sub-group in Guatemala. Rosemary is a 23 year old who resides in a village in the province/department of Quiche, Guatemala. Her mother is a primary school teacher and her father is a farmer. Rosemary speaks four languages: Sakapulteko, Spanish, English, and K’iche which is her first language, and in the area where she lives, the one more commonly spoken.
When Rosemary was 20 she enrolled in the San Carlos University (Guatemala’s only public university) to earn a teaching degree in intercultural-bilingual primary education which takes 3 years. Rosemary decided on this major because one of her most important goals is to contribute to education by teaching in her first language, thereby reinforcing the idea of teaching and learning for children in their own languages.
According to the Collective Rights of Indigenous and First Peoples (UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples), indigenous groups have a right to intercultural education and language, i.e. to receive education which takes into account the special needs of original peoples. Educational programs and services must adapt themselves with goals of responding to these necessities by including indigenous peoples’ history, thought, expertise, value systems and social, economic and cultural aspirations.
The recognition of First Peoples’ rights includes creating their own institutions and the means to education, so that such institutions always satisfy the minimal norms established by competent experts in consultation with the people. So that the vision is always viable, the obligation includes teaching the children from interested indigenous groups to read and write in their own language or in the one most commonly spoken by the group to which the children belong.
“Usually I get up at 4:30 AM in order to get dressed and take the bus at 5 AM, and then arrive at the University at 7 AM, because classes begin at 7:30, ” Rosemary explains. Her trip to the University takes her at least two hours by bus each day, and another two hours by bus to return home.
The teaching degree in primary school bilingual-intercultural education “tries to promote education in the first language in areas where we work, therefore, focus is on rural areas because the students need teachers to offer language and classes in our native tongue so they presented with the basic subjects and can learn them”, adds Rosemary.
Even though the regional language is K’iche, classes are taught in Spanish because most teachers don’t speak the Mayan language. At the university level all teachers and students speak Spanish, and instructors who have a command of K’iche do not speak it because they have gotten used to speaking Spanish only. For the teachers, it was more feasible to teach in Spanish since the majority speaks it. Ninety percent of the students speak Spanish and only 10% know K’iche.
“We are three students who’ve come from rural areas, very far from the province/department where we attend classes,” Rosemary indicates. Being three students belonging to difference indigenous groups “we experience discrimination because we wear our traditional Mayan dress and so we were not so accepted into workgroups.”
“The three of us were supportive of each other, I for them and they for me, working together, trying to create a workgroup. It was a beautiful relationship because we shared much, we shared the same vision,” Rosemary relates.
Due to the ignorance at the University around languages, Rosemary and her two classmates enrolled in a language academy where they could study about the K’iche language free of charge. “Language is important to us so we went to a Mayan school that is in the province/department. Since we didn’t have afternoon classes, we would go some afternoons for three hours, just because we wanted to.”
According to the World Bank, as of 2019, Guatemala has a population of approximately 16.6 million inhabitants. At least 1.6 million speak K’iche in several of the provinces/departments. “I would love it if they’d teach indigenous languages. I’d be delighted if teachers could delve into them and have specific courses; and also delve into indigenous peoples’ rights because that (topic) also is related to our major. Looking deeply at inter-cultural topics . . . I think that might make many changes in the perceptions of the major and also of the indigenous people who are immersed in this field–so that we feel a part of the coursework without its direction deviating towards something else,” Rosemary concluded.
Indigenous peoples have a right to be taught in their first/native languages. And those in charge have the obligation of fulfilling this necessity to insure continuity of the languages of First Peoples.