Oaxaca Indigenous Public Schools: Lessons Learned on Community Education

Estudiantes de secundaria coimunitaria. Foto: Eva López Chávez

FROM THE EDITORS: This relevant article is part of the Tzam Trece Semillas Zapatistas project, a plural, multicultural space that proposes a dialogue (tzam means dialogue in Ayapaneco) between communities, ideas, projects, dreams of the original Mexican peoples. The project’s goal is to publish the work of 130 collaborators in thirteen months, from May 2021 to May 2022, thirteen being a sacred number in the autonomous regions. As Awasqa, we have made a commitment to translate one article into English per month.

SOURCE: https://tzamtrecesemillas.org/sitio/construir-la-escuela-desde-la-comunidad-mi-experiencia-como-docente-en-la-secundaria-comunitaria/

Estudiantes de secundaria coimunitaria. Foto: Eva López Chávez
Community high school students. Photo: Eva López Chávez

Building schools from a community perspective. My experience as a teacher at the Community High School

This essay is a small testimony of my participation in the implementation of Oaxaca’s Community High School model. With the emergence of the Zapatista uprising that sought the vindication of indigenous peoples during that time, the parents and families of the peoples of Oaxaca’s Sierra Norte began demanding an educational model that could allow their daughters and sons to finish high school while maintaining their language and culture.

The lack of secondary schools in the region, the vast distances, and the evident loss of their languages meant that what had been achieved during their first years of education was interrupted after primary school. Thus, between 2003 and 2004, the Directorate of Indigenous Education and Headquarters Number 21 of the Pilot Plan, also known as the Coalition of Indigenous Teachers and Promoters of Oaxaca (CMPIO), undertook the task of designing a secondary school educational project that took into consideration the cultural aspects of our communities and, primordially, helped strengthen and promote our original languages.

On May 15, 2004, the Oaxaca’s State Institute of Public Education authorized the creation of the first five community high schools. During the 2004-2005 school year, we began working with the first generation of students in the communities of San Pedro Yaneri, Ixtlán; San Andrés Solaga, Villa Alta; Santa María Tiltepec, Totontepec, Mixe; and Arroyo Blanco, Santiago Petlapa, Choapan. Most are located in Oaxaca’s Sierra Norte, while the last one is in the community of Tlalixtac Viejo, in the Cañada region.

These communities spoke Zapotec, Ayöök, and Cuicateco. I was assigned to work at the San Pedro Yaneri Community High School, Ixtlán, located five hours from the capital city where Zapotec, a variant of Xidza, is spoken, which is the language I speak. Implementing this new model represented a significant challenge for me since it was completely different from what I was used to. The goal was not about teaching classes, it was about providing the students with the tools necessary to build knowledge, which undoubtedly required a lot of preparation, work, and effort.

But what did this new model consist of? During the first two years of secondary school, students had to work with learning projects focused on community knowledge intertwined simultaneously with comprehensive knowledge. During the third year, they work on research projects to obtain the necessary methodological knowledge to put their research into practice. It is essential to point out that, during each of these steps, we hold community meetings (asambleas) with students, their parents, educational authorities, municipal and community authorities, and community elders.

During the opening seminar at a community meeting, we design the learning project under specific criteria that serve as guides, the student selects a project, and we build a research blueprint with the students, who prioritize the logical order of the topics to be investigated, to later begin with the elements of the investigation. Finally, through consensus, the students agree on a timeframe where they pause to do something we call a “process seminar,” which consists of giving back to the community, in a bilingual format, the knowledge provided by the students’ elders.

During the last two seminars, people from the community can ask, question, and make suggestions to the young presenters. Finally, an evaluation is carried out, which is of great importance. During this stage, we perform a self-evaluation, a co-evaluation, and a hetero-evaluation, through which the students elaborate different materials and develop evaluation indicators.

The group under my supervision during the Opening Seminar community meeting agreed to work on “water pollution.” We developed thematic blocks with their concerns, desires, and interests; we started with the specifics and built towards general knowledge; we began with field observational work and kept a record of reservoirs, streams, rivers, and swamps. Later, we made a full careful observation of the conditions of water sites and water use status.

During the Process Seminar stage, we informed attendees of the community assemblies about the situation of the water springs, which brought about a decision to make a tequio (communal work) to clean it. It is worth mentioning that this community has access to 21 springs within and on the town borders, which provide potable water to the homes, seven springs exclusively for human consumption, ten for bathing, one for a livestock water tank, and three that are in a drought process. Additionally, in the process of the Conclusion Seminar, the students performed arithmetic and calculus operations for the pipes; in chemistry, they took samples for laboratory analysis, elaborated sanitary measures; and wrote and revised their printed reports in Zapotec and Spanish, among other activities for the core research study.

I mentioned in the beginning that this model was challenging for me because I had to be prepared to answer questions and provide support to those who had some difficulties. As a teacher, I always had to be one step ahead, prepared to help and guide the students.

I am convinced that this community educational model trains students, breaks with the competitive model since it motivates them to seek and value community knowledge, encourages camaraderie, teamwork, solidarity, and the preservation of native languages. Therefore, I believe that it is essential to continue promoting it, and we need to receive more support, bibliographic as well as technological, to guarantee access to information for indigenous adolescents, and to be able to continue building spaces to strengthen the use of our languages.

Eva López Chávez

Eva López Chávez

Profesora en educación preescolar, jubilada con 35 años de servicio, de los cuales 17 años trabajó en educación preescolar; 4 años en primaria, 3 años en la Jefatura de Zonas de Supervisión, 3 años en la Secundaria Comunitaria, 3 años como comisionada pedagógica de la Zona Escolar y 5 años como supervisora de la Zona Escolar 114, con sede en Ixtlán de Juárez. Actualmente, imparte clases de zapoteco como segunda lengua en línea lo cual la ha ayudado a reflexionar más distintos aspectos de su idioma materno.

Visit author profile
  • Tzam means “dialogue” in Ayapaneco, one of the more than 60 languages ​​that are spoken on ancestral territory, only that this one, with its less than ten speakers, is in danger of disappearing. Tzam, dialogue, is the heart of this project. Specifically, 10 monthly participations of different indigenous peoples that elaborate on their history and…

    Visit Organisation Profile