UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
CENTER FOR LATIN AMERICAN STUDIES
VOLUME 10, NUMBER 4
MAY 30, 1975
A Report on Rural Education
for the Avmara of Bolivia:
New Trends and Developments
Andrew W. Miracle received an A.B. from Princeton University in 1967 and an MA. in Latin
American Studies from the University of Florida in 1973. His master's thesis was entitled Educationa'
Congruency in a Stratified Society: A Bolivian Case Study. Mr. Miracle has taught in Florida pndit
schools for three years and has worked on projects investigating educational innovations in Por .e
public schools as well as the effects of desegregation. furrenthy he fs w-,iring his dissertaiuo; br &
Ph.D. in anthropology at the Universiry of Forida. Htis dissertation searcherc. -Perceptior ?at.er;:.S
and Behavior in a Bicultu:,l Environmenr: A Study of Av rna Behaicy y S.-is SpeakingK C-2Yz,
rooms, was supported L-y a Fuibright-1Yays ,2,, d and gtfr, ., tfne Ntionai Insti'ute ei,
Health. For the past two years Mr. Miracle ,as aisc. served as viesfdei nne AymQnara ndc':
Inc.. which promotes educational endeavors among the Aymuara.
For whatever reasons, and by whatever standards, the schooling
of rural Aymara children has generally been judged inadequate.
Culturally isolated, the Aymara have resisted attempts at assimila-
tion for over six hundred years in situations of close contact with
both the conquering Inca and Hispanic cultures. Today, while the
school is the primary instrument for directed culture change
toward a goal of national integration, the effect has been small.
Attrition rates in the schools are extremely high, and few Aymara
students achieve functional literacy in Spanish fro.n their school.
ing. A brief look at the educational history and setting will assist in
understanding the current school environment.
After independence from Spain and up until the present
century, very little was done in the way of developing rural educa-
icn-and even less in providing education for the Amerindian
Sapulation of Bolivia. Beginning around the turn of this century,
various po it cians, educators, and men of letters began discussing
.e ;dea of p!e',iding education in the rural areas of the country.
Still, by -929 there were only fifty-eight primary schools serving
.om- s-udents and 655 orovinciai schools with almost
30,000 pupils (Sufrez, 1963:303). However, these schools were noe
for Amerindian children, but rather for the children of hacendado
and the few businessmen who lived .n the towns of tie ccinwrv-
side. One attitude. expressed by ?resident Bautis:a Saavedra
(!920-1925) was that a literate Indian populadon would be very
dangerous, and thaE what was really needed was 7or L*
campesinos (peasants) to become good famrers (Guillen, 1919:5.
Between 1943 and !945, wil. K .S. advice and assistance,
Bolivia completely reorganized i's r'a schoo s. The o-3g-am .
the newly restructured rural scho4 ca!ed for thoe "civilization' of
the Indians through flve steps zr -oa!ls: ') o eeveop good livir:g
habits in the campesino, chiang n, dangerous and unhealth-,
practices, 2) to make tl capes, good agronoristi who wou
4:onserve the resource,-f toe no:. 9 no rorcte the use of far r
an.mas, 4. to prornoe a 1astc krncwcedge af reading, w-iting, ae2.c
arithmetic, and 5 to meke the -.'.,esino a geod fami y ,.,an
The 1tcvolutio ,'t 952, ; s, it; '.I.etoric, made few
changes in :he syst-.r Cr va, ,t..' ...nI r3L Scoo !R,
placed under tie authoriv of the Ministry of A.suwnts C'amlsino%
(Peasant Affairs). while the urban schools were the sole concern of
the Ministry of Education. Comitas (1967) has outlined the social
and educational consequences of this policy.
Provisions were made for nuclear schools, sectional schools.
vocational-technical schools and rural normal schools-which
would prepare teachers for rural schools but not for teaching in
urban schools. No provisions were made for secondary schools or
for possible admission of graduates of rural schools to university
level work. The stated objectives were very similar to those of the
pre-revolutionary rural schools outlined above. It was not until
1970 that the educational structures were changed, placing rural
schools as well as urban schools under the authority of the
Ministry of Education.
Since its inception, the official policy of rural education has been
castellanizacin ; that is. to teach Spanish (and Spanish literacy) to
all school children. In order to accomplish castellanizacidn all
instruction is supposed to be given in Spanish from the first day of
the ftrst grade on-even if all students in the class are monolingual
in Ayma-a (or Quechua).
In light of this policy it is interesting to look at the figures on
illiteracy and academic success in rural areas. (These figures
reflect the situation in the entire rural area, not just in
Ay -nara-speaking areas.)
Illiteracy for individuals fifteen years or older stands at approx-
imately 60% nationally for Bolivia: 17% in the urban areas and
85% in the rural areas of the country (Bolivia, 1970).
It is estimated that 56% of the rural children of school age (6-14
years) either do not have access to a school or do not attend a
school for one reason or another. Of those that do enter school.
onty 8% finish the fourth grade. and only 2% finish the sixth
grade. thereby completing primary school (Gelinas, 1974:22).
In the face of these statistics, the expansion of schools
continues. The building of schools in rural areas is usually
undertaken jointly by the local community and some extra-
community agency. The community may receive funds for all or
par! of the necessary materials; the community usually supplies
the labor. Some agencies currently involved in school building
programs are the Ministerio de Desarrollo de Communidades,
Accio" Civ'ica (which is an affiliate of the Bolivian Military) and the
United States A.l.D. program. It appears that at the current time
almos,. all villages in Aymara-speaking areas of the country which&
are situated on a road have at !east a one room school for grades
.-4. Many communities that are located even some distance frorn
the nearest road (eight hours or more) also have a school building.
Since the change in educational structure in 1970 many Aymara
towns now boast a new colegio, or secondary school.
Within these school buildings the teaching situation. is far from
ideal. Only about 40% of the teachers in rural schools are from
rural areas (Bolivia, 1973:39:5ff). The urban and semi-urban
teachers assigned to rural schools often have trouble adjusting to
.he camoesi,,) environment and usually would prefer to be in an
urnan situa ion. All teachers Pre faced with a somewhat dfficut
-.st. 77'cre is rnuch ,ra ,s'. ring of teachers, often wit n a schoo
Having outlined the historical base and a few salient features of
present day schooling in Bolivia we will now turn to a different
question. Htow do two languageiculture communities, the
Hispanic and the Aymara. interpret these "facts?" How do they
perceive the present educational situation in Bolivia?
Essentially. the Hispanic sectors which control the Ministry of
Education, the newspapers, and other institutions affecting rural
schools have long promulgated the concepts of "national integra-
tion" through castellanizacidn. National integration is usually
explained as the incorporation of ail Bolivians, including the
campesino. into full citizenship and participation in the political.
social, and economic spheres of the nation. it wouhd appear ti.at
national integration is seen as a means toward modernization of
the country's structures. At the same time caseacnizci6,-
(achievement of Spanish literacy ) is seen as the most se.iaz
aspect of education, and a necessary requ site for ac~k-vin_
Thus, as reflected in the official goals of rural schooling set by
the Hispanic sectors, we have already noted the general
perspective of Hispanic Bolivians toward rural education- The
campesinPs should be educated toward the goal of becoming rrc!or
Hispanic-like. They should speak Spanissh, giving up suc;t nasty
habits as coca and public drunkenness, and become Mtore
concerned with cleanliness and perso~z! hygiene. They s.aout'd be
educated in modern agronomy so Es 12 become more ecFerent in
agricultural procedures and tecvnrqes.
The measures for improving rurat education most commonly
expressed by Hispanic Boliviars -e.: !! o increase expenditures
in order to expand and npzc,:,e euca:ior_, 2) to extend schooling
to more children by building inoe'e schools, 3) te iMvrove the
training of teachers and to attract r.ere individuals ico this
profession, and 4) to improve the _ai2cutum.
Despite this stated ideal, a realistic appraisal demonstrates a
continued primary concern for urban as opposed to rural education
on the part of the government. whie the urban population of
Bolivia was only between 2 a2'.5 29% o -,he naiona! population
in !967, urban education receved 2. tes as muc Enancia,
assistance as rural education in that year (Gelinas, L974.:23,4)
The traditional Aymara perspectives on formal education differ
from those of the Hispanic sectors. The importance that Avmara
communities have historcay associated witt schools is
demonstrated by the inc.usion of an 2-lrcde de escueias within the
traditional socio-peoit.ca structure c,7' Aymara oommni-es
Moreover, during ti-.e -".'se i c county bared findicarcs of
the early 1950'2, a sirdiccrc :a-,etar- ,,,,s ode deignated for the
educaticna'i :encerns o, ".e :cn.-n;ty.Y, thus para;!e-ng the
traditional structures !Ca;rt, 7:!i Althoug'h'e ;r-,o.-ance
of the sindicaios has 'ong sine' taded -' ost Aynara
communities, !he post oC tne "'calde de escmehkr continues 1"3
While communities have !ong felt t.hat choo!;ng was important.
the causes of this felt teed havt va ried. Apnleby Ipersor;a
:onimunication) says that i' ':' s' tw21 eca f this e'tur,
'derg'-or" schcr c -a'rte "e ,.- -ations -_r. e
De v e'"c, ''_:.?6 ;2 ,;, ',. n' a -: -,
well) by Indians who had somehow learned to read and write
Spanish and had returned to their communities. Appleby attri-
butes this desire for schooling to a rising economic situation (due
to the increase in prices in the world wool market-wool being a
principal export of the altiplano) and a concomitant rise in socio-
Comitas (1967:944) acknowledges the high educational aspira-
tions of the Bolivian campesino, and says that many perceive
education as a catalyst for social mobility while others see educa-
tion as a general panacea for their life, perhaps endowed with
Certainly the Revolution of 1952 gave impetus to a need for
literacy. In the years immediately following the Revolution there
were endless litigations in the courts regarding land tenure. These
legal cases resulted in a real need for literacy in Spanish. During
this period it was not uncommon for young, schooled, and literate
men to assume positions of authority within Aymara communities.
These men were better able to represent their communities'
interests in the world of the Hispanic courts.
The situation at the present presents a myriad of paradoxes.
The traditional value placed on schooling is still to be found in
virtually every community on the altiplano. However,
increasingly, some Aymara are recognizing some of the negative
aspects of the present school system.
Justino Llanque (1974) has termed the current official attitudes
-and practices (in Peru) a form of ethnocide. Others have simply
questioned the fruitfulness of the policy of castellanizacitn
considering its ineffectiveness in the past. Juan de Dios Yapita has
said, "In Aymara areas, where the people speak Aymara. they
ought to be taught in their own language. Everyone knows that the
people speak Aymara but the education is in another language-a
language the people don't understand" (personal communication).
Foremost in the minds of the older members of the community
is the observation that those youths receiving some schooling,
especially those that become literate or even receive a bachillerato
(high school diploma), are more likely to leave the community, and
Formal education carries the youth of a community into a new
and different "culture," while preparing them for upward socio-
economic mobility. As speakers at one colegio's graduation
exercises emphasized, a bachillerato degree "opens doors to the
universty, to the normal, etc." In actuality, however, few rura!
students, even with a bachillerato, are able to complete success-
fully much additional education-nor does it do them much good
to try. Rural students are ill-prepared to compete with urban
trained students in the country's universities. Moreover, it is
difficult to pass the entrance exams, and it is relatively expensive
to attend a university. Therefore, traditionally, the more success-
ful students from rural schools have opted for a rural normal
school and a career as a rural school teacher. Apparently, the
supply of rural teachers has about caught up with the demand and
positions are increasingly difficult to secure. In short, obtaining a
bachillerac does not open all kinds of doors c a successfu'
students. in facL,. the new graduate may find himself accepting ;
posiiio n life "!ormer'y filled by men with nuch less educato-
and far below his expectations.
Within this complex multi-cultural setting there has in recent
years appeared another educational element. A number of
organizations have been formed with the primary purpose of
advancing the educational levels of the Amerindian campesinos m
the Bolivian countryside. A few are bi-ethnic (Quechua and
Aymara); however, a greater number seem to be working mostLy
within the sphere of Aymara. The significant fact about these
organizations is that they are run by Amerindians for the mIt, se
of assisting Amerindians. These are self-help programn in the
most fundamental sense. They are not local programs 6imed at
single community, but regiona! or national programs.
It is still much too soon to judge the overall effecdveness of the
new Amerindian institutions, Moreover, like the.r western
counterparts, the various organizat;oLns are niot :_ s.olithtc 41,
structure or intent. This diversity is a. strength vs tong as it Serves
as a broad foundation and resovrce base. Such adversity call
become destructive If it _eads to facmionslzatho and i-fighting.
However, this would seem most nttkely give'. the r:'msl
traditions of cooperation, comnrorinse, and c3nsensus which hove
operated among the Aymara for centrtei.
Among the four Amerindian organizations with which I am
familiar, and which often integ-ate their programs in the la Paz
area, one is devoted erc.usvey tc education (.L.C.A.1, white
another has a grant from the Interamencan Foundation for work in
the areas of education azd. econorn.c srornotion (MINK'A).
Another organization (Tupac Kat2ri) has 7nstit-ted the practice
among its members of saving smal amaou_-s ta be used
collectively for building raatets, Tusing., Snd eventually a
private rural university. Located in Tia.uanazo, CeLA (Comisiar.
para !a orontcion de !a "engua Aymama) is the mzailr rnstit'-ion c_
the altiplano dedicated to adult educa: on ard :-e nub :!caton
Aymara of agricultural and echwca' mareriais. Al' four art
working in the areas of literacy, teaching Amerindian history, and
promoting pride in Amerindian languages and cultures-pride in
being an Indian.
It will be useful to move from these generalizations and describe
in detail the specifics of one of these organizations-the lInstitute,
de Lengua y Cultuma Aymara (I.L.C.), whose director, Juan da-
Dies Yapita 3s ai:so acring director of the Jnstitugo Nacional de
Estudios Linglfsicos (LN.E.L. !NE.L. unlkie Ine othe:
organizations mentioned here, _s -eiated 'c th.1,e government
through the Direccidn Nacional de Artropologaa, subsidiary of
the Ministry of Education,. Many of t'e proects wl.c' e
described have cee:: spcnorea fci-' ,, .y --..L. nd L.C.A.
fact, at this point ]t !s diffic ut to --eoa-e te two .nstitutics since
they share a single director.
During the months that I have been able to observe the opera-
tions of I.N.E.L./l.L.C.A., a variety of programs have been
carried out or initiated. There have been courses designed to teach
adult Aymara speakers how re .ead and write Aymara using the
phonemic aphabet designed y Mr- ,'.ta; courses designed fo-
Aymara radio announcers to assist -hem i. ,mproving their synta.
and vecab.'eary usmge! an' san_ : rs for Ayrnara-s)eskimg
~feres Zd. srY: -'~- ~c ~'1t Zi- vz as
Bolivia. I.L.C.A. also publishes a monthly bulletin in Aymara as a
means of providing reading material for Aymara readers, and in
cooperation with the other three organizations, it has participated
in a series of radio programs broadcast in Aymara.
Under the umbrella organization of I.N.E.L., a small grant was
secured from the Ford foundation to initiate a socio-linguistic
survey in Bolivia.2 As far as I know this research is unique in that
it is the only academic research project designed and carried out
entirely by Amerindians for the study of Amerindian languages.
I.N.E.L./l.L.C.A. has further printed about 2000 pamphlets to
be used in the teaching of Aymara literacy. Members of the
Aymara Foundation, Inc., a registered non-profit corporation
based in Gainesville, Florida, also cooperated in this work.
As an independent organization, I.L.C.A. is in the process of
establishing small branch libraries in rural communities on the
Bolivian altiplano. The first of these was recently established at
Chukifiapi, a small community on the shores of Lake Titicaca.
Finally, it should be noted that all of these organizations make a
contribution to the Amerindian community merely by their
presence. For the first time, one now hears Aymara spoken in
public places-restaurants, offices, the university-by men in
business suits carrying briefcases. By lending dignity and
acceptability to Amerindian languages, these men and these
organizations are making it possible for monolingual Amerindians
to enter government bureaucracies and private offices in order to
pursue their needs and interests.
Seeing these programs first hand has given me a sense of
potential such programs offer. The contrast with the
ineffectiveness of more traditional programs is striking. For
I have seen market women learn to read and write Aymara in
two or three sessions. I have seen normally reticent Aymara
become extremely animated and excited in class over the
discussion of Aymara language or over a particular cultural
I have seen rural school children, who normally sit impassively
through the regular lessons which are all taught in Spanish,
become so excited during the course of an I.L.C.A. presentation in
their classrooms that they could not contain themselves.
I have heard reports from teachers in whose classrooms I.L.C.A.
has made presentations say that after a single I.L.C.A. literacy
session and the distribution of the I.N.E.L./I.L.C.A. pamphlet on
Aymara literacy, that the students subsequently participated more
in all subject areas, that they were like different students, more
animated, more interested in school. It was suggested that
perhaps by demonstrating the possiblity and validity of using
Aymara in school, the students had gained new motivation.
In concluding we can note that the Amerindian organizations we
have discussed have historical antecedents in the self-run schools
initiated by many Amerindian communities around the turn of the
century. Perhaps these new institutions, like their precursors, may
also be associated with a rise in economic conditions, and with
inc-,essed posibhities for upward socla' and po ,ica! moblity
It should be noted that these new educationally oriented
organizations enjoy certain advantages by operating outside the
formal systems or by maintaining only minimal contact with them.
These organizations enjoy a great deal of freedom that wou.d be
forfeited if they operated as just another government bureaucracy,
or as part of a private western-run assistance agency.
As mentioned above, it is too early to assess these Amerindian
organizations, either individually or as a type. However, they do
seem to offer a new perspective and a different approach in a
situation where the old methods have been inadequate. En thetL
influence and scope these Amerindian organizations certainly do
not represent an educational revolution. Still, perhaps they do
represent the most optimistic educational innovation f&r ulttre
development in Bolivia.
1Mr. Yapita is an Aymara from Compi, Bolivia, who is also a
linguist. He has taught Aymara language and culture at the Uni .
versity of Florida and currently holds a chair at the Uftiversia.d4
Mayor de San Andr6s in La Paz.
2The proposal is titled "La discriminaci6n lingiistica y social,"
and the main investigators are Pedro Plaza, s Quechua .inguist,
and Juan Yapita.
1970 Estrategia socio-econo'mica del desarrollo nacional Min-
isterio de Planificaci6n y Coordinacidn. La Paz. Tomo 11.
1973 Diagndstico integral de la educacio-n boliviana. Ministerio
de Educacion. Direcci6n de Planificaci6n Cducativa.
1971 Bolivia: A Profile. New York: Praeger.
1967 Education and Social Stratification in Contemporary
Bolivia. In Transactions of the New York Academy of
1974 El campesino boliviano y el sistema educacional.
Santiago, Chile: Centro de Investigacion y Desarrollo de
Guillen Pinto, Alfredo
1919 La educacid'n del indio. La Paz.
Llanque Chana, Justino
1974 Educacicn y lengua aymara. Salcedo, Depto. de Puno,
Peru: Escuela Nortn'a Sunenor de Varones "San Zuar
Suarez Arnez, Faustino
1962 '~storia de ia educacir. er Wo'ivia. La Paz: Editorial
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