Press Conference on World Bank Study on Indigenous People

26 April 2010

Press Conference on World Bank Study on Indigenous People

26 April 2010
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference on World Bank Study on Indigenous People


A new study by the World Bank had confirmed that indigenous people, making up 5 per cent of the world’s population, were still among the poorest of the poor, although findings indicated that indigenous peoples in Asia were closing the gap faster than indigenous peoples in other parts of the world.

Addressing journalists at a Headquarters press conference this afternoon, on the margins of the ninth session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, Harry Patrinos, co-author of the study Indigenous Peoples, Poverty and Development, said the status of indigenous peoples from Latin America, compared to that of indigenous peoples in Asia, had changed little in recent years, raising questions about the benefits of targeted initiatives, such as bilingual education programmes, which was popular in that region.

Mr. Patrinos, a lead education economist at the World Bank, said there had been some rise in school enrolment levels among indigenous peoples in Latin American countries with a policy of bilingual education.  However, without control groups, it was not possible to attribute that rise to bilingual schooling.

Asked by one journalist to comment specifically about Mexico, Mr. Patrinos said there was no evidence that bilingual education had contributed to improved income gains among indigenous peoples in that country, although it was possible that it had improved school enrolment levels within that population.

However, he praised Mexico’s cash transfer programme, whose beneficiaries included indigenous peoples, saying it had probably contributed to their increased access to schools and other social services, such as health care.  But, there was no way to tell if the quality of schooling received by indigenous pupils was adequate, and unless it improved, the income gap between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples would likely persist.

He added that Mexico now had a policy of allowing parents from indigenous communities to participate in the design of school programmes, where they were given funds and special materials, which he said was promising.  Bolivia had a programme modelled on the Mexican programme.

By contrast, Asian countries such as China, India and Viet Nam relied less on targeted programmes, preferring the adoption of strategies aimed at the economic growth of entire regions, he said.  Poverty rates declined more rapidly in those countries compared to Latin American nations, indicating that, perhaps, there were merits to pursuing broad-based policies.

Asked to explain why poverty tended to persist among indigenous peoples around the world, Mr. Patrinos cited one popular theory ‑‑ that indigenous people had a history of being dispossessed of their land.  But, he quickly added that household surveys, on which the World Bank study was based, were “not the best instruments” to examine such issues.

He said discrimination against indigenous peoples was also hard to detect, although crude statistical techniques did exist to measure it.  For example, a study conducted five years ago in Latin America had shown that between one quarter to a third of the difference in income between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples could not be explained through education level or other observable measures, and, thus, was attributed to discrimination.  That mystery factor had diminished over time, which raised hopes that well-designed education programmes and other social services could help reduce the income gap between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples.

Mr. Patrinos said the study’s findings pointed to the value of placing the needs of indigenous populations at the centre of poverty reduction strategies, and also called for more disaggregated data.  And, while it was important to promote widespread and sustainable economic growth, better designed programmes targeting indigenous people were also needed.

Elisabeth Huybens, a sector manager at the World Bank’s Department of Social Development, who was also present at the press conference, said those findings had been presented at a side event at the Permanent Forum.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.