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FEATURE: INTERCULTURAL BILIGUAL EDUCATION
[INTRODUCTION -- The first Interregional Encuentro on Intercultural and Bilingual Education took place April 4-7 this year in Bilwi, capital of the RAAN*.
The main objective of the gathering was to take up the issue of decentralizing the educational system of the Caribbean Coast autonomous regions. This theme has been under discussion since last year with the regional councils and governments. It is widely held that decentralization is vital to the autonomy process and taking decisions to advance it.
The Bilwi Encuentro also discussed the 1997 Plan for Support for Bilingual Intercultural Education in the Caribbean Coast Autonomous Regions and the Project for Developing Human Resources to Advance Intercultural Bilingual Education there.
Around 80 attended this event. Among them were representatives of the RAAS and RAAN autonomous governments and councils, municipal mayors, indigenous and ethnic community leaders, members of elders' councils, teachers and specialists from the Ministry of Education, linguists, anthropologists, students, and NGO observers.
The event was coordinated by URACCAN's Bilwi campus (Vice-Rector Albert St. Clair) and by the RAAN Autonomous Regional Council (professor Avelino Cox).
URACCAN plays a vital role in helping to deepen and strengthen bilingual intercultural education throughout the autonomous regions. This flows naturally from its understanding that youth who will one day be URACCAN students will come better prepared for the challenge if they have grown up in an educational system that respects their culture, their languages, and the cosmovision of their communiti es.
The Bilwi Encuentro affirmed its support for the principles outlined in the Bluefields Declaration of April 27, 1966, an appeal issued by an international symposium on bilingual and multicultural education. The text of that Declaration appears as the last item of this update]
THE BILWI DECLARATION
We, members of indigenous nations and ethnic communities of the Americas, bilingual and intercultural teachers and specialists, anthropologists, linguists, functionaries of the Nicaraguan Ministry of Education, members of NGOs and Regional Universities, members of the Autonomous Regional Councils, municipal Mayors, and members of the Elders' Councils;
We participants in the First Interregional Encounter on Intercultural Education and Autonomy, meeting in the community of Kamla, Bilwi in the North Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN), land of Creoles, Miskitus, Sumus-Mayangnas, and Mestizos;
We, conscious of our rights established juridically through the National Constitution, the Autonomy Statute, and the Language Law as well as through international covenants on indigenous rights throughout the world:
Ratify the principles and accords of the Bluefields Declaration of April 27, 1996 aimed at finding ways to revitalize our cultures and strengthen our Autonomy and Intercultural Bilingual Education (EIB).
During these three days of work we considered and discussed the advances, limitations, and proposals regarding decentralization of the education system, teacher training, educational experiences, and evaluation of class-room practices. This brought home to us the necessity to deepen our commitment to our autonomous regions and to education. Towards that end, the following basic agreements were r eached:
In the medium range both the North Atlantic and the South Atlantic Autonomous Regions need a combination of coordinated actions aimed at an integral improvement of the educational system, greater efficiency in coordinating with central bodies, designing teacher training programs suited to the needs and intercultural features of the autonomous regions, validation and consummation of various didacti c materials, and methodological training to upgrade the quality of learning. This will help to develop education that brings our autonomy into harmony with cultural and ethnic diversity.
We put forward key elements aimed at establishing a decentralized educational model for both autonomous regions that would realize the management and administrative capacity of various educational services. Hence we call upon our regional authorities to assume their co-responsibility for steering the negotiation of this proposal with central government authorities. Likewise we appeal to differen t civil and religious organizations and local institutions to join in this process.
As long as we have not achieved the institutional, financial, and academic conditions for the educational development of our regions, the participants in this Encounter decided to apply an Emergency 1997 Plan for consolidating Intercultural Bilingual Education (EIB). It would include the following tasks:
** Developing a technical pedagogic profile for EIB as a basis for creating a new regional educational model.
** Forming a nucleus of regional specialists and improving the technical and management capacities of the present team of the PEBI (Intercultural Bilingual Education Program) team.
** Improving the managing of the PEBI and coordination between various involved sectors.
** Developing the leadership capacity of the authoritative regional educational bodies as well as raising the discussion of decentralization and regionalization of the educational system to the regional level.
** Laying the technical basis for converting the two Normal Schools of the Atlantic Coast into centers for educating teachers for Intercultural Bilingual Education.
** Carrying out a process of public awareness and information about EIB among different sectors of society.
** Applying strategies for training and consulting services to improve teaching and learning in bilingual classrooms.
We urge the Ministry of Education to set up the necessary coordination with regional authorities to guide in a harmonious framework negotiations to establish a new educational model in the autonomous regions.
We call upon the Autonomous Regional Governments and Councils to proclaim the necessary administrative dispositions and undertake actions to set in motion a process of educational decentralization in the autonomous regions.
We invite cooperation agencies accompanying us in this process to continue supporting the above mentioned actions with human and financial resources and through interagency coordination mechanisms to strengthen the presence and outreach of EIB in the diverse international arena.
Proclaimed in Kamla Community, Bilwi(*), April 6, 1997
*Bilwi was formerly known as Puerto Cabezas, capital of the North Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN).
THE DECLARATION OF BLUEFIELDS (*)
We, members of ethnic communities and indigenous peoples of the Americas, teachers and technicians of intercultural and bilingual education, members of NGOs, staff in the regional university, members of the National Congress and of the Councils of the Autonomous Regions, municipal mayors, and participants of the International Symposium "Perspectives on Intercultural and Bilingual Education of the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua" taking place in the city of Bluefields, capital of the Autonomous Region of the South Atlantic of Nicaragua, territory of the Rama, Garifuna, Creole, Miskitu, Sumu-Mayagna, and Mestizo: having met to identify ways of revitalizing our cultures with a focus on intercultural and bilingual education; being conscious of our rights ratified by the Constitution, the Law on Au tonomy, and the Law on Languages --
We revindicate the right of the peoples who reside along the Atlantic Coast for the preservation and development of our cultural values and our languages.
Being aware of the process that intercultural and bilingual education is taking in our communities, the severe economic limitations that affect our educators as they attempt to implement it adequately. Being aware of limitations in the directions and budgets provided to authorities in the Autonomous Regions as well as to the peoples of the Atlantic Coast and the low priority assigned to bilingual and intercultural education in the national priority --
We affirm at the same time our right to the use and development of our cultures and languages as the basis for the reconstruction of pluricultural and plurilinguistic society that underlines our genuine interests for autonomous development.
We revindicate the history of our peoples which has been silenced thereby traditionally denying us presence within national systems while daily robbing us of our identity.
Intercultural education in our languages is one of the prerequisites for the reconstruction of the multiethnic national identity which nourishes our cultural diversity.
Deeply concerned about the fragile state of the intercultural and bilingual program, the weaknesses in its coverage, and its other limitations.
We insist that our Coastal peoples and the Autonomous Governments assume responsibility for an integrated thrust on bilingual and intercultural education in both autonomous regions.
We therefore urge the Regional Councils and Governments to take the following measures immediately:
1. To convoke from our multiethnic society a representative and qualified group who would constitute in each Autonomous Region a Supreme Regional Council on Education that will safeguard the definition, development, evaluation, and control of the regional autonomous educational system.
2. To define an educational and linguistic policy for each autonomous region.
3. To guarantee that the autonomous educational system be strengthened in terms of the stability of its technical teams, the assistance extended to students and the implementation of an adequate training program. Within this context we demand the immediate reintegration of the Intercultural and Bilingual Education Teams that have been separated from their responsibilities and have been placed in other areas within the educational system.
4. To design a policy of the training of intercultural and bilingual teachers based in the cultural regions and oriented towards productive activities and the rational and sustainable use of the environment. Toward this end it is imperative that the curriculum of teacher training colleges be adapted.
5. To negotiate with the international community and its agencies of cooperation the funds necessary to complement the national and regional resources to finance the regional education system, which should have its own budget.
We invite the National Government and particularly the Ministry of Education to collaborate with the Autonomous Regions in implementing the regional education system.
As a contribution of the Autonomous Regions of the Caribbean Coast to the national education system and as a gesture to enrich the national cultural patrimony we will promote the formation of a national curriculum functioning in an intercultural school for all Nicaraguans.
We invite representatives from the following peoples: the Miskitu, Sumu-Mayangna, Rama, Creole, Garifuna, and Mestizo to participate actively in the formation of our regional educational system, by contributing with their knowledge learned from the elders and from other sources. They should assume an active role working with regional and municipal authorities and should defend that role as a privilege for the reproduction and fortification of our cultural identity.
We the peoples of the Caribbean Coast, proud of our progress in the exercise of our Autonomy, aware of our commitment to the hope of indigenous peoples, peoples of African origin, and other ethnic peoples of our larger continent, we undertake together with our invited guests to this Symposium the commitment to continue strengthening the interchange by learning and growing together.
Bluefields, April 27, 1996
Publishers Note: Creole English (the language of a sizeable minority of Caribbean Coast Nicaraguans was one of the official languages of the Symposium, although most participants spoke in Spanish. The Declaration of Bluefields published here is the official text issued at the Symposium.