Indigenous Language Education in Mexico – What is the purpose? | By Daniel Won

National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Peoples of Mexico (CNDI) reported in 2015 that 40% or more Municipalities in Mexico speak an indigenous language and the data displays that Spanish is not the only spoken language in Mexico. However, a recent census in 2010 shows indigenous language speakers to be “6.6 percent of Mexico’s population, down from 10.4 percent in 1960”, with a rapid decline. Therefore, both the government of Mexico and indigenous communities are interested in preserving the languages through education, although with different reasons.

Recently on October 20th, 2016, a Secretary of Public Education in Mexico, Aurelio Nuño, recognized 15 winning stories at 17th National Indigenous and Migrant Children Story Competition. The event was widely covered by a number of articles as the secretary supported the indigenous narratives and languages. At the competition, Aurelio Nuño advocated the education of indigenous languages and stressed its importance, saying that good education can make dreams become reality and bring options to life. In addition, Nuño also mentioned the importance of Spanish and English education, because the purpose of the education is to have more opportunities and better lives. This philosophy of the secretary is well reflected in his work as he has been trying to give students opportunities of employment and create more productive lifestyles. The Mexican government views the education as a useful tool to increase the national productivity and foster better economy.

However, non-mainstream medias have different perspectives on the purpose of education. Just outside of Mexico City (capital), many local newspapers and journals in indigenous communities such as Oaxaca, view the education as basic human rights. Articles often quote UN’s declaration that states the education in one’s own language as a human right and ask the government to provide such rights for indigenous communities. The Mexican government is also accused of not providing adequate education and support in indigenous communities. To the communities, indigenous language education is about preserving lifestyles, customs, and traditions, rather than just giving more opportunities and becoming productive.


While the government sees the education as an effective mean to promote national growth and productivity, the indigenous communities see it as a basic human right that is unmet. Therefore, these two different perspectives on the indigenous language education create a tension and the government ends up not being as supportive for a type of education that the communities desire. In order to be effective in the provision of education, it would be necessary to understand different perspectives and come to a consensus that captures both sides of the stories.

Currently, most of the articles in mainstream media only cover the government side of the story with a lack of attention on a local community level. It is only when actively seeking and delving into other non-mainstream mediums of communication, one can find ‘other’ stories and voices that reflect indigenous’ views. Therefore, a first step would be to have an equal representation in the media, to ensure that the indigenous communities are heard.


Acosta, G. G. (2016, October 18). Educación pública les dará libertad: Nuño a indígenas. Retrieved November 4, 2016, from

Bazak, J. (2016, October 17). The last of the Mayans: Preserving Chiapas’ indigenous languages in the 21st century. Retrieved November 4, 2016, from Council on Hemispheric Affairs,

Cordero, C. (2016, October 20). Distingue SEP 15 narraciones de niños indígenas – Quadratín. Retrieved November 4, 2016, from Quadratin,

Hernández, C. A. (2016, August 9). Los indígenas, invisibles. Especiales. Retrieved from

Moreno, T. (2016, October 20). Destaca Nuño importancia de educación bilingüe. Retrieved November 4, 2016, from El Universal,

Notimex. (2016, October 20). México debe entender importancia de valorar las raíces indígenas: Nuño. Retrieved November 4, 2016, from 24 Horas,

Secretaría de Educación Pública. (2016, October 20). 17° Concurso Nacional “Las Narraciones de Niñas y Niños Indígenas y Migrantes.” Retrieved November 4, 2016, from Government of Mexico,






One thought on “Indigenous Language Education in Mexico – What is the purpose? | By Daniel Won

  1. James B says:

    Daniel – I thought this was a really interesting discussion of the different views or motivations for promoting minority/indigenous language education. It is a really important topic, as pressures from dominant languages, like English and Spanish, push more and more languages to the brink of extinction. I found it interesting that the government would promote indigenous language education for economic reasons. It seems to me that economics is a major driving force behind the decline in world languages. I agree with you that an ideal solution would capture both the local community’s and the government’s perspectives and desires when it comes to language education. (With the local community’s desires being the more important voice in this conversation).


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