Here’s Why Education Has Never Been Easy For Indigenous Students

The clamor for equality has never been this loud in recent years. Modern society has come to recognize the evils brought about by the unequal treatment of people based solely on their race, gender, social status, and the like – especially in the field of education. There have been various incidences of a social uproar to make the school systems all over the world a safe space for everybody to learn and grow.


The Façade: Society Claims To Be Accepting Of Indigenous Students

Every 9th of August, the world celebrates the United Nations International Day of Indigenous Peoples – a supposed opportune time to bring the world’s attention to the plight of the indigenous communities that make up 5% of the world’s population and 15% of the poorest of society. In addition, almost every single government and other international human rights association would claim to have already recognized the rights of indigenous peoples.

But have we really come that far in actually giving the indigenous peoples the kind of regard that they deserve?

The Truth: It Is Difficult For Indigenous Students To Get Decent Education

Let the global statistics tell the story. While more and more indigenous students would like to enter school because their population is growing, only 22% of those who are aged above 25 did not graduate high school because the dropout rate among indigenous students is twice the number of the non-indigenous ones.


In Canada, only 60% of school-age indigenous peoples are out-of-school. In Australia, the enrollment rate of high school indigenous students is 20% lower than the non-indigenous high schoolers. While in Latin America and Caribbean regions, 85% enroll for secondary education, but only 40% get to finish it. “The imposition of culturally inappropriate development and policies on indigenous peoples without proper consultation has exacerbated poverty and led to the loss of their lands, livelihoods, cultures, languages and knowledge systems,” says Gina Cosentino Ph.D.

So truth be told, the answer to the prior question is a resounding NO – but why?

The Foundation: There Is An Underlying Cultural Division That Remains

At first glance, we may think about practical reasons why it gets more difficult for indigenous students to study. For one, most indigenous communities are located in far-flung areas as they are keen on preserving their traditions. This case makes transportation a lot more difficult and costly for them.

Most of the time, the students get discouraged to go to leading universities because they might speak a language that is distinct from their peers, they look strange, they have a different belief – and all sorts of diversity conflicts. However, these surface-level issues are only by-products of the real problem behind educational discrimination for indigenous students.


More than physical difficulties, what keeps us from creating inclusive educational systems is the long-standing cultural rift that is already embedded in the way we think and feel about indigenous communities. According to Kevin Lowe, Ph.D., “It’s an issue that goes directly to the heart of the inability of the nation to come to terms with a history which they aren’t willing to own.”

We have already been so used to racism that it becomes an unwritten institution even in schools. Governments have taken the time to draft legislation recognizing the rights of indigenous students, but many have fallen short of building actual roads that could bridge their physical gap first. Had there been more socialized tuition programs for indigenous students, they would not have dropped out before they even finished school.

We haven’t paid attention to intentionally integrate indigenous cultures in the subjects being taught at school to empower the indigenous students to preserve their own culture while learning in non-indigenous universities. And the most unfortunate is that in most schools, history has already been reconstructed in a way that sidelines or even eliminates the value and the struggles of historical indigenous communities.

Where are we in our journey to equality and in our promise to celebrate our diversity?

Anthony Drillon Ph.D. states “….Aboriginal people, when given the right opportunities, go on to thrive”. It is time that we get serious when we say that education is a universal human right and that no one can ever be denied easy access to education just because of things they have no control over in the first place – such as his or her roots. Therefore, whatever the students’ cultural identities may be, it is both unlawful and immoral to have them stripped off of their chance to enter school because there is an inherent need to respect their identities and give them opportunities to succeed.


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