Archaeology and Education in Argentina

By Podgorny, Irina | Antiquity, March 2000 | Go to article overview

Archaeology and Education in Argentina


Podgorny, Irina, Antiquity


Key-words: Argentina, museums, education, indigenous peoples

Archaeology -- as a branch of anthropology in Argentina -- mainly deals with the past of its indigenous peoples. This way of understanding archaeology has its roots in the organization of national scientific institutions and in the development of natural history museums of the last century (Lopes & Podgorny in press). As in Brazil (Lopes 1997), the museums were the loci for the establishment of archaeology and natural sciences as academic fields in Argentina. The collections and their classification and exhibition were tied to geographical categorization of aboriginal cultures within the national territory (Podgorny 1999a). In both Buenos Aires and La Plata museums -- the first two centres to develop archaeological studies -- archaeology grew from the travels of exploration that surveyed the resources of the country.

In the early part of the 20th century, archaeology and archaeological remains were recognized as useful in creating the first chapters of a national history. In this way, the past of the indigenous peoples became the prehistory of Argentina, and museums and academics were involved not only in scientific research but also in presentation of their work to the general public. By means of lesson books, popular lectures and school activities ranging from museum visits to illustration and use of replica archaeological/palaeontological collections, museum and university staff were involved in the process of building a national and popular culture on the basis of science (Barrancos 1997; Farro & Podgorny 1998).

It is important to emphasize that the connection between the main museums, universities and educators was strong and encouraged by both the Argentinean elite reformers and the cultural movements linked to the Socialist Party (Barrancos 1997). The general idea was that education, using the tools of science, would help develop the new `Argentinean race' and the combination of indigenous, hispanic and other immigrant heritages would forge one Argentinean culture.

It is not the goal of this brief paper to report on the history of history and science education in Argentina, but it is important to remember that the idea of including archaeology in schools was developed at the turn of the century in the process of building national history. In that context, archaeology took on the role of creating a `shared place' for all the Argentineans in the remote past.

In the last 20 years, Argentina's educational system has been involved in a process of both fragmentation and decentralization. It started in 1978, during the last dictatorship, with the transfer of secondary schools from federal management to provincial level, followed by the transfer of all primary schools in 1991.

During the military government, the Federal state adopted the principle of subsidiarity with regard to financial support, but kept ideological control over education. In the last few years, however, even the latter has, little by little, been kept aside. On the other hand, the traditional organization of Argentinean education in a) the mandatory primary school (1st to 7th year, for 6-12-year-old children) and, b) the secondary schools (1st to 5th year, for 13-18-year-old children) finished with a new structure designed by the `Ley Federal de Educacion' (Education Federal Law). This law, passed in 1993, expanded the mandatory attendance to school up to the 9th year, the former second year of secondary school. The educational system of the country was split into `Educacion Inicial' (up to 5 years old), three cycles of instruction of `Ensenanza General Basica' (EGB -- General Basic Education) followed by three years of `Educacion Polimodal'.

This law also gives general guidelines for the distribution of courses and topics (Common Basic contents or CBC) although their design remains under the control of the provinces and of the schools, which have become the unit in which the teaching is planned and organized (Albergucci 1995; DGC 1995). …

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