Presentation Details

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ The Eleventh International Literacy and Education Research Network Conference on Learning

Meaning and The Good Life: Reconfiguring the Role of Education in Indigenous Cultural Contexts

Dr. Anna M. Quirk.

Throughout the world, indigenous peoples have historically been excluded from formal education. Many NGOs are stepping up educational development initiatives in hopes of addressing indigenous marginalization. As they do, educators hear more and more about culturally appropriate, meaning-based curricula. This paper reviews a meaning-based approach to indigenous education and what this approach aims to accomplish for participants. Using examples from field visits to rural schools in Guatemala and Thailand, I posit that while meaning-based curricula illuminate a learning pathway that is engaging and inclusive of indigenous populations, the power of meaning may not be a sufficient agent in reconfiguring the role of education in indigenous cultural contexts. Field research in Guatemala and Thailand shows that for many indigenous communities, markers of The Good Life are outwardly quantifiable. This paper suggests that in cultures where the question of survival has been an overarching force in cultural development, meaning-based approaches to education and curriculum must be paired with quantifiable measures of short-term benefit. I argue that without clearly quantifiable results, young peoples' participation in educational systems may not be readily supported by existing social structures, thus calling into question the sustainability of development efforts made without such measures.


Dr. Anna M. Quirk  (United States)
Executive Director

Innovative Projects in Socioeconomic Emergence (IPSE inc.)

Anna Quirk is founder and Executive Director of IPSE inc., an international development nonprofit dedicated to helping communities disclose new possibilities for learning and socioeconomic improvement. Anna’s interests include cultural identity in contexts of change, indigenous populations, trans-cultural learning, participatory/meaning-based action, and critical hermeneutics.

  • Indigenous Education
  • Critical Hermeneutics
  • Meaning-based
  • Guatemala
  • Thailand
  • Quiche
  • Mlabri
  • Intercultural and Bilingual Education
  • Participatory Development
  • International Development
  • Indigenous Literacy
  • Interpretive Anthropology

(30 min. Conference Paper, English)