Chile/ 4.2 Specific policy issues and recent debates  

4.2.5 Language issues and policies

In Chile, linguistic policy has been developed in the area of education, through initiatives from the Ministry of Education and the National Corporation for Indigenous Development (CONADI). Already in 1996, Decree No. 40 (which defines the fundamental objectives and minimum content of elementary education in Chile) indicates that the institutions must provide the means for children in indigenous communities to develop their native languages (National Congress of Chile, 1996). Likewise, the guiding principles of the Chilean education system declared by the General Education Law of 2009 (commonly known as LGE; National Congress of Chile, 2009a) mention interculturality, understood as the valuation of the individual in their cultural and native specificity, taking into account their language, world vision and history.

The indications from Decree No. 40 are amended in 2009 by Decree N. 280 (National Congress of Chile, 2009b), which recognises the multiculturalism and plurilingualism of our country, considering language as essential knowledge in the understanding and valuation of culture, covering the areas of Oral Tradition and Written Communication. The decree creates the Sector of Learning of Indigenous Languages in the objectives and minimum content of Chilean education, making it mandatory for all institutions to have 20% or more students with indigenous heritage, and optional for the rest of institutions of elementary education. This legal document defines as indigenous languages those pertaining to the ethnic groups recognised by the Chilean State after Law No. 19.253 on protection, promotion and development of the indigenous peoples (National Congress of Chile, 1993b). The list of ethnic groups and languages recognised is the following:

-        Aymara.

-        Colla.

-        Diaguita.

-        Kawashkar or Alacalufe.

-        Likan Antai or Atacameña.

-        Mapuche.

-        Quechua.

-        Rapa Nui or Pascuense.

-        Yámana or Yagan.

With a history that goes back to 1996, the Ministry of Education implements the Bilingual Intercultural Education Programme (PEIB), which has as an objective the development of languages and cultures of the native peoples and the formation of intercultural citizens in the education system. The programme aspires for all students, without ethnical distinction, to acquire knowledge of the native languages and cultures through pedagogical practices and intercultural institutional management. PEIB develops initiatives around the following lines of action:

-        Implementation of the subject and sector of Indigenous Languages in educational institutions.

-        Cultural and linguistic revitalisation.

-        Interculturality in the school environment.

-        Bilingualism strategies.

Despite the existence of PEIB, it is possible to identify inconsistencies and difficulties in the formulation of curricula and educational programmes aimed at the promotion of indigenous languages, both in terms of objectives and regarding the methodologies and levels of achievement (Matus & Loncon, 2012). Specific issues include the lack of normalisation of indigenous languages, low social appreciation of indigenous languages, lack of specific pedagogical training, and low implementation of the intercultural paradigm (PEIB, 2012).

On the other hand, since 1995 CONADI administrates the Fund for Culture and Education, which has as an objective the conservation and development of tangible and intangible cultural heritage of the indigenous peoples and the establishment of educational foundations benefiting the younger generations. Among the different programmes that form a part of the Fund for Culture and Education of CONADI, the following stand out regarding linguistic policy:

-        The application of intercultural bilingual curriculum and pedagogical design, whose objectives are:

  • To build processes of interculturalism and bilingualism according to the needs of indigenous and non indigenous students in pre-school, elementary and middle school institutions where the programme intervenes.
  • To open academic spaces in universities for indigenous knowledge and science.
  • To recuperate the history and wisdom of indigenous peoples, in order to integrate it as pedagogical content in the classroom.
  • To generate basic and specific courses on indigenous languages, culture, arts, world vision and history, for the education of teachers who work at intercultural education institutions.

-        To recuperate and revitalise indigenous languages. To support permanent work with indigenous communities, where one of the main projects has been the consensus design of the “Azümchefe” writing system for the Mapuche language (CONADI, 2007). The objectives of this programme are (CONADI, 2006):

  • To contribute to the recovery of vernacular languages in the indigenous children and adolescents of the country.
  • To develop plans of oral and written vernacular languages, to be provided to children and adolescents in school.
  • To develop educational resources for teaching and learning vernacular languages for children and adolescents.
  • To generate instances of indigenous participation in the development, promotion and valuation of indigenous languages.

The Fund for Culture and Education of CONADI also provides support to the conformation of Academies of Indigenous Languages throughout the country, in agreement with the objectives proposed by the cultural policy of the State of Chile for the period 2005-2010 (CNCA, 2005).

Another relevant initiative carried out by CONADI in collaboration with the Inter-American Development Bank was the experience of the Origins Programme, in operation since 2001, and currently in the phase of completion. The Origins Programme was aimed at promoting the integral development of indigenous communities, strengthening their cultural, human, social, natural, physical and heritage capital, and providing public services pertinent to these communities. Among its components, the Origin Programme contemplated the support to indigenous languages in the education system (CONADI, 2001).


Chapter published: 28-12-2013


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