Peru’s Discrimination in the Schools or “What Side of the Tracks are you from” ?

by H Mac Wooten

Discrimination in the schools  

In practical and symbolic terms, the key to Peru’s’ door of society is the learning of Spanish and of reading-writing, all of which were previously denied to the Indians.  It is more than ironic that the Indians are among the largest group being discriminated against even today.  Quechua was spoken here long before Pizarro conquered the Incas and introduced the Spanish language.  (In 1572 – The Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire was completed with the fall of the last Inca stronghold.  Túpac Amaru, son of Manco Inca and the last ruler of the Inca Empire, was captured and executed in 1572).

The oldest known “published” written Quechua is a grammar and dictionary written by Fray Domingo de Santo Tomás in 1560.  The name of that work is Grammatica o Arte de la Lengua General de los Indios de los Reynos del Peru.  Presumably, he (and possibly others) would have written Quechua informally prior to that publication.  Which Quechua language “lengua general” refers to is an unresolved issue.   Some say it was the Cuzco Quechua of the day.  Others argue it was a lingua franca (based on Southern Quechua in general).  And others say it was a lingua franca that arose over a 30-40 year period due to new sociolinguistic conditions triggered by the Spanish conquest.

In the Lima-Province division is also important, but it is more or less subordinated to the first: a private school in the provinces that is attended by the middle and upper class will be better valued (and will effectively also have an education of better quality) than a public school in Lima, but when comparing two state schools that are similar, the one in Lima will have the advantage.  Surveys show that teachers in Argentina, Peru and Uruguay have high levels of rejection towards diversity.  Some of the highest percentages of negative discrimination are, as in the case of Mexico, against homosexuals. 20% of teachers in Uruguay, 34% in Argentina and 55% in Peru, would not accept having homosexuals as neighbors. There is also a strong rejection based on nationality, ethnicity or social condition of origin. In this survey 11% of teachers in Uruguay, 15% in Argentina and 38% in Peru discriminate against people based on their nationality or ethnicity.  There is also discrimination against inhabitants of ‘Slums’ among 16% of the teachers in Peru, 33% of Uruguayan teachers and 53% of Argentinean teachers.  Not only is rejection towards people from neighboring countries, but also towards immigrants from other latitudes and persons based on their religion.  Around 19% or 20% of teachers in Peru, discriminate against Arab and Jewish people, against Japanese, Chinese, Ecuadorians and Chileans as well as Argentinians.  Peruvians with  darker skin color are generally discriminated against.  Having a darker skin color (native Inca heritage) rather that a lighter skin color (Spanish decent) alone may dictate what school you’re allowed to attend.

Teachers and principals recognize at a discursive level that discrimination should not be a part of school practices, however, this is not necessarily so.  A study (International Institute for Educational Planning, 2003) on discrimination in schools in Lima and Cusco.       Teachers are not prepared neither academically nor emotionally to identify the discriminatory attitudes, even violent ones, that occur every day in the classroom.” Hence, said situations are resolved according to the perspectives of each teacher based on personal experience, more or less lucid, more or less vulnerable, which in many instances produces its unconscious reproduction, without being aware of the pain/harm done on the boys and girls.

 In Lima, in marginal urban zones, discrimination seems to be more associated to economic differences or cultural levels, while in the provinces discrimination in schools is more directly associated to language and place of origin.  When you really speak to the Indians of the countryside in Quechua , there is a moment when you begin to speak in Spanish and then, it slips out, it lets loose, then our colleagues say: ‘This one is ‘moteando’ (speaking with errors), you are murdering Cervantes’.  They don’t realize that at some point they also slip up, (that) it is having an impact on them.  There is discrimination among ourselves ‘that I am of blue blood, that I have this and such surname’, this is not something new, but has always occurred.

Like children everywhere, they can be very cruel in their discrimination of others because of the use of language.   Some children are embarrassed of speaking Quechua because they begin to get mocked ‘go eat cancha (maize), with your ‘mote’    Hygiene is also associated with what is clean, the non-contaminated, the pure, the white, all which comes from the modern urban world.  Not exclusive to rural schools, the restrooms in schools almost never have toilet seats or toilet paper or soap. The sink is usually located outside.  This is not particularly uncommon in Peru or other developing countries as many restaurants and other public places aren’t equipped with these indoor luxury facilities either.  No, the government doesn’t provide toilet paper or soap in the schools.  An apparently neutral description on the use of bathrooms is not innocent: in the complaints laid down by the teachers, children appear as unclean and contaminating and therefore linked to the world of the impure or of what isn’t white.

The School Cafeteria

 The declared anti-racism does not seem sufficiently consequential or deep enough to question a rooted common sense.  Furthermore, the children with more urban characteristics use the subject to make fun of the peasants and physically attack those who appear dirty.  In this case, the teacher implicitly accepts the aggressive attitude, for his criticism is exclusively directed against those who do not respect the norms of hygiene.” (Ansión 2004: 3)  Teachers in general also have no training with dealing with Gender Identities or attitudes towards violence.

Civic Values  The strength of discrimination mechanisms and the use of violence in the school can often be  directly related with the values that are diffused from the school itself in terms of authority and discipline.  Civic values are often confused with ‘patriotic values’, at the same time assimilated with the obvious symbols (the flag, the shield, the national anthem) and heroes whose origin lay in warlike events.  A generalized expression of this perspective is the school parade, (mostly in larger urban schools) which is a nothing but a children’s version of the military ones.   A proper moment to also ‘instill values’ is the so-called Monday ‘formation’, an occasion in which the children fall into lines, in military fashion, in the school playground, and are subjected to a speech from the principal on a set subject.

Teach a Teacher and our Volunteers provide Professional Development and help teach basic teaching skills to Teachers in some of the poorest areas.   Please visit us at and and at teachateacher on Facebook.

Mac Wooten is President of Teach a Teacher Nonprofit.  A native of Greenville S.C.   We live and focus most of our  work in the Ancash region of Peru.


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