Daniel Mato: Futures of Education



Intercultural Collaboration between Institutions of Higher Education, and Indigenous and Afro-descendants in Latin America


Daniel Mato

CONICET-Universidad Nacional Tres de Febrero (Argentina)


What are the emerging forms of intercultural collaboration between Universities and other Institutions of Higher Education (IHE) and organizations or communities of Indigenous and Afro-descendant in Latin America? The following overview is based on research done by the Project on Cultural Diversity, Interculturality and Higher Education, of the UNESCO International Institute for Higher Education in Latina America and the Caribbean (UNESCO-IESALC), I have directed since 2007. With the collaboration of almost 70 researchers from 11 Latin American countries, the Project has up to now published 4 books, which present ten studies on national contexts, as well as 40 studies about particular experiences, which in addition offers basic data about other 60 experiences.(1) The intercultural collaboration experiences that we have up to now identified can be classified into four main modalities:

1. Intercultural collaboration in degree and graduate programs created by “conventional” Universities and other IHEs seeking to respond to the demands or proposals of indigenous and/or Afro-descendant communities.

There are a wide variety of modalities within these types of experiences. There are some in which the intercultural collaboration is limited, while others exhibit significant participation of indigenous and/or Afro-descendant organizations and/or communities. Some of them exhibit a significant participation of professors from the aforementioned peoples, as well as a remarkable inclusion of their languages, knowledge, learning styles, and knowledge production modes. Our Project has identified about sixty experiences of this kind through about twelve Latin American countries. Our books offer information on them, here I could only mention the names of a few of them, as for example the Indigenous Teacher Training Degree Program of the Mato Grosso State University and that of the Insikiran Nucleus of the Federal University of Roraima, both in Brazil, where currently exist 20 programs of this kind. In the case of Colombia, the Project has only studied the experience of the Degree in Ethnoeducation of the University of Cauca, but there are other similar ones in some other Colombian public universities; it has also studied the experience of the Center for Advanced Pedagogical Studies at the University of the Pacific, which offers a 14-month Teaching Qualification Course in Afro-Colombian Ethnoeducation.

2. Intercultural collaboration in teaching, research and/or social service programs developed by “conventional” Universities and other IHEs with the participation of communities of indigenous and/or Afro-descendant peoples.

This large and diverse group of experiences could be classified in three subsets; however some of them are part of more than one of these.

The first subset includes experiences mainly focused on teaching projects and programs, but which also include important research and/or community liaison components. These differ from the ones described in the previous section because they do not lead to degrees. Depending on the cases, these experiences incorporate the participation of educators who belong to the aforementioned peoples, and/or a significant inclusion of the languages, knowledge, learning styles, and modes of knowledge production of these peoples.

The second subset includes experiences where intercultural collaboration mainly takes place in research programs and/or technology generation projects, some of which include instructional activities while others do not. Depending on the case, these experiences produce knowledge about these communities, systematize their languages and knowledge, and/or generate technologies, which the scholars share with the communities, or that are products of modalities of co-work between scholars and communities.

The third subset includes experiences in which collaboration takes place especially through so-called “social service.” The experiences we consider here are not limited to the “application” of scholarly knowledge in the communities since they integrate it with knowledge of the communities themselves.

3. Intercultural collaboration between Universities and other IHEs and indigenous or Afro-descendant organizations through partnerships aimed at responding to indigenous and/or Afro-descendant peoples´ proposals to achieve higher education.

Our Project has managed to identify only four experiences of this type up to now. One of them is that of the Indigenous Organization of Antioquia in association with the Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana and the University of Antioquia, in Colombia. Other two experiences are partnerships developed by the Interethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Jungle. The forth experience has been developed by an Afro-Descendant research and education NGO, the Manuel Zapata Olivella Insitute which have created professional programs through an alliance with the University of La Guajira, a public Colombian.

4. Experiences of intercultural collaboration in Intercultural Institutions of Higher Education (IIHEs)

IIHEs characteristically incorporate languages, knowledge, learning styles, and modes of knowledge production from different cultural traditions. We may differentiate between at least four kinds of IIHEs currently existing in Latin America.

On the one hand we found institutions established by indigenous and/or Afro-descendant leaderships and/or organizations. An example of this kind is the Kawsay Intercultural Indigenous University, product of a network of indigenous organizations of Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia. Another example is the Indigenous Amazonian Training Center, established by the Coordination of Indigenous Organizations of the Brazilian Amazon, in Brazil. A third example is the Autonomous Indigenous and Intercultural University, created by the Indigenous Regional Counsel of Cauca (CRIC), in Colombia. A forth example it is that of the “Amawtay Wasi” Intercultural University of Indigenous Nationalities and Peoples, established by some sectors of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE). Other two salient examples are those of the University of the Autonomous Regions of the Nicaraguan Caribbean Coast (URACCAN), and that of the Bluefields Indian & Caribbean University, both founded in Nicaragua through the initiative of indigenous and Afro-descendant local leaderships.

A second kind of IIHEs would be made of those created by government agencies such as, for instance, the Educational and Research Center for the Aboriginal Modality (CIFMA), created by the government of the Chaco province in Argentina, or the nine IHE dedicated to this same end in the Salta province. Similar IIHEs also exist in Bolivia, Ecuador, Mexico, and Peru, among other countries. Another example of this kind is that of the already ten intercultural universities supported by the Secretary of Public Education in Mexico. A third kind is made of only one case, the Indigenous Intercultural University, created by the Fund for the Development of Indigenous Peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean, a multilateral agency that has representation from both governments and indigenous organizations. Finally, a fourth kind also counts with only one case; it is the Ayuk Intercultural University, created in Mexico as part of the Jesuit University system.

The main mission of all IIHEs that currently exist in Latin America is to prepare professionals in ways sensitive to cultural specificities and diversity, a fundamental condition to make possible effective action and leadership in culturally diverse countries. The training these institutions provide takes advantage of both indigenous and/or Afro-descendant peoples’ and “Western Modern” knowledge.

Within this whole, however, it is necessary to differentiate the cases of those institutions that indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples/communities have created themselves from those that have been created by State agencies. Those created by indigenous and Afro-descendant organizations respond not only to a generic interest in training professionals capable of being effective in culturally diverse countries, but also more particularly to an interest in training the technicians, professionals, and leaders that these organizations and the communities they represent need in order not only to improve the quality of life of such communities, but also to develop and advance their projects of future, which both reflect their respective worldviews, and contribute to furthering the process of democratization in Latin American societies. Nevertheless, there are usually significant differences between their projects of future and those of the States. These differences have been the matter of conflicts, as well as resistance on the part of States to acknowledge Indigenous Universities and/or the degrees they grant, which goes against the rights established in the ILO’s Convention No.169.(2)



(1) The books published by our Project are available on the Internet and offer further information https://www.iesalc.unesco.org.ve/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=22&Itemid=405&lang=es. These books include articles in Spanish and Portuguese, for a comprehensive discussion of these experiences in English see Daniel Mato (2011) “Forms of intercultural collaboration between institutions of higher education and indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples in Latin America,” Postcolonial Studies14(3): 331-346. More recently we have created a Program on the subject at Universidad Nacional de Tres de Febrero (https://untref.edu.ar/sitios/ciea/programas-y-proyectos/), as well as a Latin American Inter-University Network on Higher Education and Indigenous Peoples, which includes current information on other experiences, see: https://untref.edu.ar/sitios/ciea/programa-esial/

(2) See: https://www.ilo.org/indigenous/Conventions/no169/lang–en/index.htm, and Daniel Mato (2014) “Universidades Indígenas en América Latina. Experiencias, logros, problemas, conflictos y desafíos,” Revista ISEES 14.: 17-45 (https://www.isees.org/file.aspx?id=7623)


Daniel Mato is Principal Researcher of the National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET) at the Center for Interdisciplinary Advanced Research at Universidad Nacional de Tres de Febrero, Argentina. Since 2007 he has been the Chair of the Programme on Cultural Diversity and Interculturality in Higher Education of the UNESCO International Institute for Higher Education in Latin America and the Caribbean. He has worked closely together with intellectuals and organizations of indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples since 1986. He has also been a visiting professor at universities of Spain, United States and several Latin American countries. Email: dmato2007@gmail.com


Banner Image: The Wiphala is a flag increasingly used by indigenous movements in South America, especially in the Andes. Photo taken by the WebForum’s editor during the People’s Climate March on Earth Day 2014 in New York City.

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