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"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

A bilingual boon for Tibet

August 9, 2010 (Sri Lanka)
Chow How Ban
August 8, 2010

The education system in Tibet differs from that
of other parts of China. And it is also one of
the most controversial what with the thorny
ethnic and religious is­­sues in this disputed territory.

Tibet is one of the seven provinces and regions
to teach both the mother tongue as well as
Mandarin in schools and higher institutions of learning.

On the one hand, bilingual education is something
native Tibetans have long fought for as a means
to preserve their language and culture.

But the Dalai Lama-led Tibetan Government in
Exile claims that the current education system
places more significance on Mandarin, and will
only destroy Tibetan culture and language.

The political polemics aside, Unesco, in a
report, acknowledges Tibet has established in the
last five decades a complete education system
covering free education, schools with better
facilities and greater access to higher education.

Cang Qiong, vice-principal of Shigatse Shanghai
Experimental School, said his school adopted a
flexible bilingual education ap­­­­proach without
any bias towards Mandarin or Tibetan.

"The subjects are taught in either Tibetan or
Chinese depending on the language the textbooks
are written in," he said in an interview.

Tibetan language teacher Yixi Pingcuo said that
pupils in his class had shown great enthusiasm
and interest in learning the language.

"What we need to do now is to help Tibetan
children build a more solid foundation of the
language and inculcate in them the unique culture," he said.

Chinese People’s Political Con­sultative
Conference member Tu­­deng Kezhu, a native who
has worked in the education field in Tibet for
more than 20 years, told China Radio
International that bilingual education was widely
adopted in agricultural and pastoral areas.

"The government has spent a lot of money on
infrastructure projects under the resettlement
project for herdsmen and farmers.

"No matter where you go in Tibet, the best
building you can find will be the school," he said.

Since the Western Region De­­velopment Strategy
was initiated by the central government in 2000,
he said, the gap between western China and
coastal areas in terms of education and economic development had narrowed.

The central government has increased its
subsidies and mobilised schools and teachers
throughout China to help Tibet with its
development. Now every child in Tibet goes to school for free.

Before 1980, few Tibetans could go to university
because they did not fare well in the university
entrance examination, which was in Chinese.

The Chinese education ministry then revised the
enrolment regulations to set up minority
nationality classes and permitted local education
departments to set their own entrance exams.

By 2005, the average number of students enrolled
in colleges and universities was 1,139 per
100,000 in Tibet, surpassing other low university
enrolment provinces like Guizhou (838), Yunnan
(904) and Qinghai (905). The national average then was 1,613.

Kezhu said Tibetan students were also able to
attend free inland Tibetan classes while
experiencing other cultures away from home.

Baizhu was among the beneficiaries of the inland
Tibetan class programme who returned to the
Tibetan capital of Lhasa to work for a government agency after graduation.

"The inland Tibetan class programme is one of the
government’s preferential policies for us. As
long as you pass the exams, you’ll be taken in and need not pay," she said.

The preferential policies have helped extend
opportunities to ethnic minorities and raise the
status of Tibetans, but not at the expense of the
quality of higher education, said the Unesco report.
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