“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.

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 Industrial School, Pennsylvania, U.S. c1900. © Cumberland County Historical Society

Tribal children at an Indian residential school for 27,000 pupils, which opened in 1993. © Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences

Historic factory schooling

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.

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.

Destroying communities and languages

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.

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.

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. The world’s largest Factory School stated that it turns “Tax consumers into tax payers, liabilities into assets.”

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 try 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.

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.

Papuan boys locked in an Islamic boarding school in Jakarta. © Michael Bachelard / Survival

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. Tribal peoples are the best conservationists and guardians of the natural world. Thousands of years of collective wisdom, understanding, and insight can be lost within one generation when children are not learning in their communities and languages.

The Enawene Nawe of Brazil control their education, which is rooted in their culture and language. © Survival International

What’s the solution?

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.

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

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

Baka child studying with indigenous education project ’Two Rabbits’ in Cameroon © Sarah Strader/chasingtworabbits.org

What is Survival doing?

Exposing the problem

We need the world to know the extent and impact of Factory Schools to help end this brutal system.

Advocating for change

We are lobbying governments and the UN to demand that these schools are stopped.

Promoting a solution

We are collecting examples of positive schools and education programs where tribal children are learning on their land, with their families, in their languages. We are sharing these widely to inspire hope and change.

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.

What can you do?