Ecuador is located on the northwest coast of South America, south of Colombia and bordering Peru on the east and south. As one of the smallest countries in Latin America, it supports a population of just over twelve million and is divided into three geographic regions: the coast (la costa), the highlands (la sierra), and the Amazon Basin (la oriente). In addition to Spanish, about a dozen indigenous languages are spoken. Each region is representative of indigenous groups that illustrate Ecuador as a multiethnic and multilingual country (Baldauf & Kaplan, 2006). The Incas had conquered the Highlands and parts of the Coat shortly before the Spaniards arrived, imposing their language Quichua, on the groups living in those areas. As a Spanish colony, Spanish was established as the de facto official language of Ecuador, the political and economic systems modeled and then restructured after Spain. Upon independence in 1830, the aim of the new national leaders was assimilation of the indigenous populations into mainstream society. The government’s proposal to “eradicate” traces of Indian identity and convert them to Christianity was so that they may be able to participate in nation building. As formal school instruction was given in Spanish and not offered in indigenous languages, families of substantial means and in official positions were served, creating a class division those with high financial status and indigenous populations (Landry, 2011).
Despite these efforts and after more than four centuries under challenging circumstances, many of the Indian languages were able to survive. Individuals with mixed indigenous and Spanish heritage (mestizos) and indigenous people currently make up the largest part of the population. In most schools, instruction is conducted in Spanish and is oriented towards Spanish or Hispanic culture (Baldauf & Kaplan, 2006). Indigenous languages are not taught to non-indigenous Spanish speaks. In contrast, all indigenous students are required to learn Spanish as a second language and are very often educated exclusively with Spanish as the medium. Ecuador initiated programs for indigenous bilingual education beginning in the 1970’s as the government aimed to address the needs of its indigenous population (Yánez Cossío, 1991). Not only was the knowledge of language promoted, but also the effort to recognize cultural values of the socioeconomic reality (Yánez Cossío, 1991). In 1980, a common alphabet was created for all indigenous languages and by 1984 there were three hundred bilingual primary schools. These efforts were temporarily suspended, but four years later they were restored in addition with secondary education and colleges for teacher training (Yánez Cossío, 1991). Although all government agencies did not understand or agree with these changes, in 1988 a new Directorate for Bilingual Intercultural Education was established with the aim to provide an education for every citizen speaking indigenous languages (Yánez Cossío, 1991). Various movements and formal pronouncements such as this have acknowledged and given a voice to indigenous communities, although the execution of and delivery of these initiatives have been lacking on the part of the government (Landry, 2011). The Ley Organica de Educación Intercultural mandates for all citizens in Ecuador rights in formation of their own as well as official languages. Several groups have taken action in maintaining indigenous languages in Ecuador, establishing their own programs to help preserve their native tongue languages and promote linguistic diversity (Landry, 2011).
See also Indigenous Languages.