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Statement by Ms. Qin Xiaomei at the 3rd Session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues
(May 11, 2004, New York)

2004/05/11


Mr. Chairman,

I'm very pleased to act as the portfolio holder of this item and make a keynote presentation on education for indigenous people.

Mr. Chairman,

The first issue I want to touch upon is the importance of education to indigenous people.

I know a photographer who enjoys shooting pictures of indigenous scenery. He hopes to help others understand indigenous people, curb their prejudice against and soften their curiosity over indigenous people. He said one day, however, that "the indigenous images I took some ten years ago are hard to come by now." Indeed, the traditional features of languages and culture unique to indigenous people are vanishing. This is an issue that should command our attention.

Education is the most effective means to protect the cultural tradition of indigenous people in such a way that the valuable heritage of their ancestors is succeeded to by indigenous people, and that all cultures of mankind are inherited. As stated in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, "one of the purposes of a child's education is to foster his or her parents, as well as his or her own cultural identity, language and values."

Of course, the value and significance of education is not limited to inheriting culture. More importantly, education is a basic human right for indigenous people. It is also an indispensable prerequisite for the realization of other human rights. Without education, there would be no full realization of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights such as right to work, freedom of expression equal access to public services and enjoyment of benefits brought about by the progress of science. Those who are politically, economically and socially marginalized have an opportunity, after receiving education, to alleviate from poverty, and participate and enjoy social life on a full and adequate basis. Therefore, education is an effective means leading to equality, freedom and quality of life.

Research has shown that investment in education is the most effective means to enhance the living standards of indigenous people as over one half of their livelihood enhancement indices are derived directly from education. This demonstrates that education is not only conducive to the realization of the individual rights for indigenous people, but serves also as an impetus for the economic and social development of indigenous regions. This in turns becomes a safeguard of the collective rights for indigenous people.

Mr. Chairman,

The realization of the right to education for indigenous people covers mainly the following two goals:one, their equal and voluntary enjoyment of various degrees and categories of education; and two, their right to establish and manage educational institutions adapted to their own cultures and using their own languages and pedagogies.

Regarding the first goal, the following principles are crucial:

1. Non-discrimination. Students of indigenous people should not be deprived of their rights ro equal education based on ethnicity, gender or age.

2. practical access. Convenient school locations and appropriate surroundings should be provided to students of indigenous people.

3. Economic access. Professor Ole Henrik Magga, the chairman of this Forum stated that "indigenous people are the poor of the poor, and parents of indigenous people find it hard to afford their children a full and complete education even in developed countries. " Therefore, the cost of education should be affordable to indigenous people.

4. acceptability. The form and content of education should be acceptable to students and parents of indigenous people from their cultural perspectives and in terms of quality of education.

5. Voluntary basis. Indigenous people are entitled to their rights to select schools at their will according to their own culture and faith and complying with the minimum standards of education as specified by authorities.

Regarding the second goal, indigenous people are entitled to establish and manage their own institutions of education including their autonomous design provision and review of education This showcases the protection of their autonomy and is a major conduit to protect the indigenous culture. State governments should safeguard such rights, and do all they can to provide financial, material, and human resources support.

In addition, I also want to stress the synergy of education for indigenous people and education for non-indigenous people. Through mutual exchanges and cultural understanding, the indigenous culture is in the position to join in with the home country culture to defend against the negative impacts of cultural globalization and sync up with the diversified world. This may very well be a historical challenge.

Mr. Chairman,

I recall that we discussed at our last session educational issues facing indigenous people, that is, low enrolment, low graduation rate, high drop-out, insufficient supply of teachers and educational discrimination and marginalization.

These problems are rooted in historical, geographical, and even conceptual elements. The key lies in their speedy solutions. Governments and indigenous people should communicate and consult with each other on the basis of equality and trust.

Governments should heed the concerns of indigenous people and adopt thorough and proportionate preferential treatments to assure their rights to education. Any form of educational discrimination should be prevented in particular to achieve the goal of "education for all with equal opportunity and treatment "as specified in the UNESCO Convention against Discrimination in Education.

Mr. Chairman,

As I stated earlier, education is an effective conduit leading to equality, freedom and quality of life. In order to find a way out to achieve the goals and solve the problem, state and local governments should adopt legislative and administrative measures, and international organizations and civil society should lead a helping hand as well.

In accordance with the provisions contained in the international human rights instruments such as International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, ILO's Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, UNESCO's Convention against Discrimination in Education, many governments have in recent years taken into account their own situations, formulated policies and programs to safeguard indigenous people's equal rights to education, and adopted positive measures in finding solutions to the educational issues facing indigenous people. The following offers some successful experiences:

1. Reduction and exemption of tuition, and lenient enrolment requirements for indigenous people through government assistance plans. Indigenous children living in remote and underdeveloped areas are offered with boarding schools and subsidized for their living expenses.

2. Incorporation of indigenous people's perspectives in textbook compilation and curricula design, execution, monitoring and review. The needs of indigenous students are taken into account to fit into courses such as medium and small business administration, and township public administration.

3. Training of indigenous teachers to increase their employment in the education sector. Indigenous people's education Foundation is set up to embrace community resources for multiple inputs in running the school system.

4. Organization such as Centers for Indigenous People are established against the backdrop of indigenous people inundating non-indigenous areas. Courses researching indigenous issues are offered to help those who left home in childhood to understand their own characteristics and restore their dignity and pride.

5. Sister Schools are established between indigenous and non-indigenous schools to conduct student exchanges parties and visits in an effort to cultivate students' proficiency for appreciation and respect for, and assimilation of other cultures.

In international dimensions, this Forum proposed to related United Nations agencies to establish an International Indigenous People's University, to hold a world Forum on Education for Indigenous people, and to invite indigenous people to participate in UN activities in the field of education. I'm pleased to learn that UNESCO held a debate on education for indigenous people in Paris last November, and that the chairman of this forum, Professor Ole Henrik Magga attended the Forum and made a presentation on indigenous people and quality education. UNESCO also distributed a publication on best practices for indigenous people's education for others to research and adopt. UNICEF also advocated bilingual and cross-cultural education for indigenous people, and conducted "school for girls" and ""women literacy" programs in Mexico, Ecuador, Bolivia and other countries. We look forward to the continued inclusion of education for indigenous people by related UN agencies into their priority agenda into their priority agenda and the implementation of the Forum's recommendations through flexible and multivariate means.

Mr. Chairman,

The Theme of this session is indigenous women. I'd like to offer my observations on education for indigenous women. Education is a very important right for women. Without the right to education, women would be fundamentally affected in terms of their livelihood, resulting in a vicious circle of reproduction, health, employment and participation of social life. As indigenous people, and as women, indigenous women suffer the double discrimination of ethnicity and gender. In the area of education, girl illiteracy rate remains high with lower enrolment and higher drop-out rate compared to that for boys. Significantly fewer women obtain higher education compared with men. As result, education for indigenous women deserves special attention of this forum.

Governments and international organizations should follow provisions as contained in the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women to stamp out any stereotypes on men and women in education, revise textbooks, modify pedagogies and narrow down the gaps between men and women in education, reduce the female drop-our rate and raise women literacy so as to ensure women's enjoyment of equal right to education. These rights afforded to indigenous women as basic conditions to compete on an equal basis with men for survival and development are conducive to the overall development of indigenous communities.

Mr. Chairman,

The Coincidence of UN Decade for Indigenous People and UN Decade for Human Rights Education, which both started form 1995, may have already been taken note of. Through these two UN decades are to conclude this year, the principle of non-discrimination and non-violation of rights against vulnerable groups as reflected in education for indigenous people should continue to be preserved and promoted.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

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