aboriginal.jpgAboriginal children, who have no interest and no motivation to learn English, should be forced to do so to escape a life of poverty and inequality. Without skills in English and Maths, they cannot be employed in civilised society. Furthermore, welfare payments to the aboriginal families will be withheld if their children are not sent to school to learn English. This is the claim made by Australian Indigenous Affair Minister Mal Brough.

I imagine the scene of an aboriginal child being dragged by the hair and forced into a chair before being made to learn to distinguish the past tense in sentences. The teacher will have to keep an eagle eye on the squirming and restless child throughout the forty minutes of lesson. The teacher will also lecture the child on the importance of learning English to get a job as a lawyer, engineer, or accountant.

Aboriginal children, more than any learners of English, need to be motivated to learn the language. They may not have any intrinsic or extrinsic motivation to learn English due to their lifestyle and living environment. Forcing English on them will have a detrimental effect on the children where the language becomes associated with boredom, meaningless lessons, punishment and a sense of failure. These feelings will be transferred to the civilised society they are supposed to enter.

Their lives are not poor or impoverished except by our standards and due to our abuse of their natural environment and resources. They are dignified human beings who have a rich culture and existence which we are still grappling to understand or appreciate. After we have destroyed their environment and lives, we are now playing the Good Samaritan to civilise these indigenous people and convert them to our way of life so that we don’t have to repair and restore what we have damaged.

There may be one or two aboriginal children who will adapt to our system and values and be successful in this new environment; the majority will get a partial education and drop out with a lot of resentment and little kills to survive in our society or under our terms. After several generations, the aboriginal way of life and indigenous knowledge of the natural environment will be irrevocably lost. There will be no use crying over spilt milk, then, for a large and valuable part of our world and history will disappear.

We can impart skills which are relevant to a people as their society changes and evolves. But we cannot impose our culture on them. And teaching a language is a science in itself which require long-term planning, research, expertise and experience. Politicians will do well to consult the experts in drafting and implementing education policies.