Indigenous Universities in Mexico Improve Learning Outcomes


SEATTLE — There are 15 million indigenous people in Mexico and more than six million of them speak one of the 68 languages that exist in the country. This diversity has become a barrier for many members of these communities, especially in school, where lectures are only given in Spanish, the country’s official language.

This problem affects all education levels, starting with early education. But the gap gets wider at the college level; only between 1 and 3 percent of those enrolled in university in Mexico are indigenous. Indigenous universities in Mexico, called intercultural universities, try to solve this problem by offering bilingual classes in several topics, such as computer science, culture, literature and administration.

Today, there are 11 intercultural universities in Mexico, concentrated mainly in poor states, where most of the indigenous communities are located. In the 2015-2016 school year, 14,000 indigenous people were enrolled in these universities, which is a small percentage of the indigenous community. This number highlights the education inequality between indigenous and non-indigenous groups.

However, almost 16 years after the intercultural universities were launched by the Mexican government in 2001, the project has had a few promising outcomes, leaving room for more improvements and ideas. Indigenous universities in Mexico must advance, but there are some cases that can be examples for the future.

Two of the 11 intercultural universities have increased their enrollment in recent years: the Intercultural University of Sinaloa and the Intercultural University of the State of Mexico. The Intercultural University of Sinaloa has some remarkable features. It has three different campuses in Sinaloa, located in northern Mexico, infrastructure that makes higher enrollment possible. In addition, the university offers competitive courses such as computer engineering, one of the most popular programs, just behind psychology and systems engineering. The school provides education in the languages of Mayos, Cahitas and Tarahumaras, the largest indigenous communities in Sinaloa.

The Intercultural University of the State of Mexico has seen solid growth between 2011 and 2014. The institution increased its enrollment by 32 percent during those years. Even though culture and language is the most popular course on campus, the Intercultural Health Clinic is one of its most important university projects. The clinic combines traditional and conventional medicine, a mix that has encouraged students to implement indigenous knowledge into their research.

In terms of infrastructure, this year the Intercultural University of Michoacan, located in western Mexico, added a second campus. The new building has 12 classrooms, a laboratory and a library. The local and federal government invested 18 million pesos into its construction. Moreover, the local government announced that students will have access to Beca Futuro, a program that provides scholarships in the state.

In addition, other Mexican universities support indigenous education, such as the Huatusco Institute, which has developed a mobile application that translates Nahuatl, one of the most common indigenous languages, to Spanish. Metstlisoft, as it is called, will help Nahuatl and Spanish speakers learn new words. The project is still developing.

Indigenous universities in Mexico are a worthwhile project that can continue to improve. Some campuses are being expanded and modernized. However, enrollment remains low in most of the universities. In general, Mexico’s educational system has advanced in recent years, but when students get to upper levels, graduation and performance rates decrease significantly, a tendency that is shared with indigenous education as a whole. With continued investments in campus locations and more resources to serve minority language speakers, more indigenous people will be able to access higher education.

– Dario Ledesma

Photo: Flickr


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