Background briefing

Factory Schools

“In school, the teachers call us dirty. They call us pigs and dogs.” Rahman, Orang Asli, Malaysia

Today around two million tribal children worldwide are being taught in Factory Schools, where they are stripped of their indigenous identity and indoctrinated to conform to the dominant society.

We’re on a mission to end Factory Schooling. Tribal and indigenous peoples’ education must be under their control; it must be rooted in the people’s own land, language and culture; and instil pride in themselves and their people.

Help us put indigenous education back under indigenous control: Sign our pledge to show your support.

Factory Schools see something “wrong” with being indigenous

The “education” they provide is intended to “correct” this. Factory Schools claim they give indigenous children the means to “succeed” in the dominant society, but history shows that Factory Schools destroy lives, causing trauma and devastation to children, their families, and their communities for generations.

Carlisle Indian School, U.S. 1884

Carlisle Indian School, U.S. 1884

A toxic legacy

In the 19th and 20th Centuries Factory Schools in Canada, Australia, and the U.S. were known as Residential Schools or Boarding Schools. In Canada alone, over 6,000 children died in them – that’s one in every 25 children who attended.

The unimaginable trauma that this system caused has left a painfully raw legacy in many communities, with high rates of depression, suicide, and alcohol and substance abuse.

It seems inconceivable that such schools could continue to exist, but right now there are thousands of them across Africa, Asia and South America.

Factory Schooling Today

We estimate that two million tribal children are today being “educated” in Factory Schools worldwide.

Norieen Yaakob of the Temiar tribe of Malaysia barely survived running away from her residential school. She was found 47 days after fleeing her school; five other children died.

Norieen Yaakob of the Temiar tribe of Malaysia barely survived running away from her residential school. She was found 47 days after fleeing her school; five other children died.

Killing children and destroying communities

In these schools, children are cut off from their homes, family, language and culture, and are often abused emotionally, physically or sexually. Just in the Indian state of Maharashtra, for example, almost 1,500 tribal children died in residential schools between 2001-2016, including over 30 suicides.

Factory Schools teach children that the beliefs and knowledge of their own people are “backwards,” inferior, or wrong.

Millions of tribal children are forbidden or discouraged from speaking their mother tongue at school. This threatens the survival of indigenous languages. The fundamental cause of language extinction is when children no longer speak the language of their parents. This is a disaster, because indigenous languages are fundamental to understanding the world we live in, who we really are and what humans are capable of.

In this International Year of Indigenous Languages, Survival is exposing Factory Schools as one of the biggest threats to endangered languages.

Turning “liabilities” into “assets”

Factory Schools exist to turn tribal and indigenous children – who have their own language and culture – into compliant workers-of-the-future. In the words of the world’s largest Factory School: “We turn tax consumers into tax payers, liabilities into assets.”

Tribal children assemble at Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences (KISS)

Tribal children assemble at Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences (KISS)

Big corporations and extractive industries often sponsor Factory Schools. These companies want to profit from indigenous land, labor and resources, and Factory Schools are a cheap means to secure this in the long term.

Extractive industries in India and Mexico support schools which teach children to embrace mining, and to reject the connection their people have to their lands as “primitive.”

States use schooling as a means of inculcating patriotism and quashing independence movements, such as in West Papua, where the Indonesian government is attempting to “Indonesianize” indigenous Papuans, and violently represses dissent.

Papuan boys who have been taken to an Islamic boarding school in Jakarta.

Papuan boys who have been taken to an Islamic boarding school in Jakarta.

Religious conversion is another motive. In Bangladesh and Indonesia, Islamic missionizing underscores much tribal schooling; in South America various Christian churches run residential mission schools. Hindu fundamentalists in India target tribal children for conversion via schooling.

A loss to all humanity

This contempt for indigenous knowledge and culture ends up destroying tribal peoples and their unique cultures and knowledge.

At home, tribal children learn complex and sophisticated skills and knowledge which allow them to live well on their land and nurture it for the future. Though this has survived through hundreds of generations, it can be wiped out in just one.

The Enawene Nawe are one of the tribes taking back control of their education.

The Enawene Nawe are one of the tribes taking back control of their education.

The answer

Tribal and indigenous peoples’ education must be under their control. It must be rooted in the people’s own land, language and culture, and give children both a sound education and pride in themselves and their people.

Orang Rimba children learning with Sokola Rimba (The Jungle School), Indonesia

Orang Rimba children learning with Sokola Rimba (The Jungle School), Indonesia

Let’s make this a reality for all tribal children – before it is too late.

What is Survival doing?

- Working in partnership with indigenous communities around the world to expose the scale of the problem.
- Lobbying governments to provide tribal communities with community-based education instead of residential schooling.
- Collating positive examples of indigenous-led education, to hold up as a model for change.
- Presenting evidence to policy-makers to show that children and communities thrive when indigenous education is under indigenous control.

We won’t give up until every tribal and indigenous community is able to choose an education for their children that respects their family, culture, language and links to their land – and gives more than it takes.

How can you help?

As a first step, please pledge your support to our campaign for indigenous education to be under indigenous control.

We cannot do this without you – please join us.

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