Education under China

Education in Chinese Occupied Tibet

The overriding goal of Beijing’s education policy in Tibet is to instill loyalty to the “Great Motherland” and the Communist Party. Speaking at the “TAR” Conference on Education in Lhasa in 1994, the then regional Party Secretary, Chen Kuiyuan, said:

The success of our education does not lie in the number of diplomas issued to graduates from universities, colleges…and secondary schools. It lies, in the final analysis, in whether our graduating students are opposed to or turn their hearts to the Dalai Clique and in whether they are loyal to or do not care about our great motherland and the great socialist cause….

This policy had blinded the authorities to a number of core issues relating to human resource development on the plateau. Despite the authorities’ claim of having “taken on an important task over the past few decades to develop popular or mass education in Tibet,” education–the foundation for the development of human resources—has always been put on the back burner of priority programmes.

In pre-1959 independent Tibet, over 6000 monasteries and nunneries served as centers of literacy. In addition, Tibet had many lay schools run by the government as well as by individuals. The Chinese Communist Party labeled these traditional learning centers as fountainheads of “blind faith” and nurturing grounds for “feudal oppression.” They were, therefore, targeted for attack and closure soon after the “liberation” of Tibet.

In their place, the authorities forced Tibetans in agricultural and pastoral areas to establish people-funded schools, known as mangtsuk lobdra. Not a single cent of Chinese Government grants was spent on these schools and the majority of them could not be regarded as schools by international standards. But these institutes did serve to create impressive statistics for China’s propaganda purposes. This is clearly reflected in the following statements of three Chinese sociologists:

There are only 58 middle-level schools (in the “TAR”). Out of them only 13 are real middle schools. Altogether, there are only 2 450 primary schools in Tibet. Out of them, only 451 are funded by the government. Over 2000 of these schools are funded by the people. These schools do not have a sound foundation and are not properly equipped. The level of education is either completely nil or extremely low. Therefore, the question of scientific skills can be ruled out among them. At present 90 percent of farmers and herders do not receive lower middle-level education.

In view of this, talking about upper middle school and university education is like asking people to eat well when there are no food grains available. Only 45 percent of the children of school-going age go to primary schools. From them, 10.6 percent manage to graduate to the lower-middle school. In other words, 55 percent of the children do not even get primary-level education. In the whole of the “TAR”, there are over 9000 teachers of various levels, far fewer than the actual number required. Fifty percent of these teachers are not qualified enough. Equality among nationalities will come about only if this is reformed and improved.

In the 1980s, Beijing’s liberalized policy encouraged a favorable atmosphere for development of an education system that catered to the felt-needs of Tibetans. Unfortunately, China’s broader economic and strategic interests at that time led to a decrease in State funding for education. As a result, the decade saw the closure of 62 percent fall in the number of students.

In the 1990s, the “TAR” was allotted more money for education as a result of the region having been declared a Special Economic Zone. And, in 1994 Beijing adopted compulsory education policy for the “TAR.” But the budget allocation for education went mostly to State-run schools (Shung-tsuk lobdra), where Chinese students predominate. Schools in rural areas—where the majority of Tibetans live—continued to be neglected. Qun Zeng, Vice-director of the Education Commission of the “TAR” said:

There are too many rain ban (errata: this should be ming ban meaning “people-funded) schools, too many lower classes, too high a proportion of schools dropouts and too few complete the primary school [wan quan xiao xue]. For instance, there are a total of 2800 primary schools in the region, of which 1787 or 74.5 percent, are rain ban (read ming ban) primary schools with crude facilities and low quality teachers and which can operate no more than the first or second grades of schooling. Of the 500 or so currently-existing government-run (gong ban) primary schools, more than half can operate no more than the first grades of schooling owing to limitations of facilities and teachers. There are only 100 or so complete primary schools actually capable of operating the six grades of elementary education, and most of these are situated in cities and townships above the county level whereas few are to be found in the agricultural and pastoral districts. There is, on average, fewer than a single complete primary school for each of 897 townships in the region, with the result that only about 60.4 percent of school-aged children are in school—the lowest rate in all of China.

Besides, with the massive influx of Chinese immigrants on the plateau, the linguistic and cultural needs of the Chinese children have influenced the education system—particularly at secondary and university levels—so that the Chinese language has eclipsed Tibetan as the medium for schooling.

The evolution of Tibet’s education in the 1990s can be assessed from the situation of “mass education” in Chamdo prefecture—one of the “TAR’s” most affluent regions. An article by Shang Xioling, reporter for “TAR” Radio and Tang Ching, special reporter on “TAR” education, gives an alarming insight into education conditions in and around Chamdo. Their article, headlined “Notes on the Sad Story of Education in Chamdo,” was published in the July 15, 1993 edition of one of Chamdo’s Chinese language news papers.

The authors revealed that of the 110,000 school age children in Chamdo, more than 70,000 (63.64 percent) had no educational opportunity. They reported that illiteracy and semi-literacy rate of Chamdo prefecture was 78.8 percent. Shang and Tang wrote that although the claimed average school enrollment rate in the “TAR” was 60.4 percent, the enrollment rate in Chamdo prefecture was only 34 percent.

These revelations from Shang and Tang expose the dubious quality of Chinese government statistics. If Chamdo—as one of the most highly developed areas in the “TAR”—had an enrollment rate of only 34 percent, the “TAR” average in the same period could not be as high as 60.4 percent. Furthermore, what the authorities fail to admit is that the “TAR” and other Tibetan areas of Qinghai (Amdo) and Sichuan (Kham) are still at the bottom of China’s education index—lower even than Guizhou, China’s backward province.

According to China’s Fourth National Census of 1990, only .29 percent of Tibetans had a college-level education; 1.23 percent senior-middle schooling; 2.47 percent junior-middle schooling; and 18.52 percent primary school education. China’s national average was 1.42 percent with college level education, 8.04 percent senior-middle schooling, and 37.06 percent primary school education.

The census report showed that 62.85 percent of the productive population (between the age group 0f 15-40) was illiterate or semi-literate and 84.76 percent of women in the work force was illiterate or semi-literate. Among Tibetans employed in the “TAR’s” public sector industries, 80 percent were illiterate or semi-literate. China’s Fifth National Census was conducted on November 1, 2000, but statistical data is not yet available.

Grooming Political Tools

In the late 1990s, more than one-third of Tibetan secondary students from the “TAR” were sent to China for education. In Beijing’s Tibet Middle School alone, there are nearly 1000 Tibetan students—760 in junior and 200 in secondary programmes. Students went to China undertake seven year courses; they return home only once for vacation. The aim of sending Tibet’s brightest youths to China is to groom them as tools for China’s political control in Tibet.

Tibetans rightfully resent this as a policy aimed at undermining their identity and culture. The late Panchen Lama stated that educating Tibetan children in China would only have the effect of alienating them from their cultural roots. Similarly, a Tibetan official in the “TAR” said that the aim of setting up “Tibetan secondary schools in central China is to assimilate the next Tibetan generation.”

By 1994 there were 13, 000 Tibetans enrolled in 104 schools scattered across twenty-six Chinese provinces. The majority of these are normal Chinese schools with special classes designated for Tibetans. However, 18 of them are full-fledged “Tibetan Secondary Schools”; three of them—based in Beijing, Chengdu and Tianjin—have junior and senior secondary programs, while the remaining ones have junior secondary programs only. Seventy-five percent of Tibetans graduating from these junior secondary schools were sent to technical secondary schools.

Such an elitist education program consumes a large portion of the “TAR’s” annual education budget while rural Tibet’s allotment does not even provide for adequate basic education. Between 1984 and 1991, the “TAR” spent 53 million yuan on Tibetan secondary students in China. In 1994 alone, the “TAR” fixed a budget of 1050 yuan on each Tibetan secondary student in China.

Eradicating Tibetan Language

Between 1959 and 1979 the Communist campaign to destroy the “Four Old’s” targeted Tibetan language for elimination. In the 1980s, however, Beijing took some positive steps to promote literacy in Tibetan language and devised an education system that answered the Tibetan people’s needs.

In 1987 the “TAR” People’s Congress in Lhasa passed a legislation making Tibetan the medium of instruction at primary school, and stipulating that Chinese language should be introduced only from age nine. The legislation promised to set up Tibetan-medium junior secondary schools in the “TAR” by 1993 and to make most university courses available in Tibetan shortly after 2000. But this policy remained unimplemented due to an acute shortage of funding and, later, due to the lack of political will. As result, the Tibetan language continued to be marginalized, causing concerns for its very survival among many Tibetans.

In 1988, the late Panchen Lama, while addressing the first meeting of China’s Institute of Tibetology in Beijing, commented:

The land, which managed itself well for 1300 years, from the seventh century, lost its language after it was liberated. Whether we remained backward or made mistakes, we managed our life on the world’s highest plateau by using only Tibetan. We had everything written in our own language, be it Buddhism, crafts, astronomy, poems, logic. All administrative works were also done in Tibetan. When the institute of Tibetology was founded, I spoke in the People’s Palace and said that the Tibetan studies should be based on the foundation of Tibet’s own religion and culture. So far we have underestimated these subjects…. It may not be the deliberate goal of the Party to let Tibetan culture die, but I wonder whether the Tibetan language will survive or be eradicated.

In 1992 Professor Dungkar Lobsang Trinley—one of modern Tibet’s leading cultural and intellectual figures who was also recognized by the Chinese leadership as a “national treasure”—said that “inspite of Tibetan being declared the first language to be used in all government offices and meetings, and in official correspondence, Chinese has been used everywhere as the working language.” This state of affairs, he argued, resulted in Tibetans losing control over their destiny. Professor Dungkar went on to say, “All hope in our future, all other developments, cultural identity, and protection of our heritage depends on this (Tibetan language). Without educated people in all fields, able to express themselves in their own language, Tibetans are in danger of being assimilated. We have reached that point.”

Dherong Tsering Dhondup, another scholar in Tibet, raised a similar concern after conducting a detailed survey of the status of Tibetan language in many parts of Eastern Tibet, now parts of China’s Sichuan Province.

In his report, published in the early 1990s, Dherong wrote that out of the 6044 Tibetan party members and officials in the nine districts forming Karze Tibet Autonomous Prefecture, only 991 were literate in Tibetan. Similarly, the majority of the 25 Tibetan students in one class in Dhartsedo could not speak Tibetan at all. Dherong cited three principal reasons for this: The first, he said, is the Chinese Government’s chauvinistic policy, which accelerates the process of Sinicization; the second is the notion of Tibetan being a worthless language in today’s society; and the third, the inferiority complex suffered by Tibetans, which hampers their initiative to protect their own language.

Elaborating on Beijing’s chauvinistic policies, Dherong wrote that the socialist era calls for joint efforts to promote all nationalities, and not wipe out any particular nationality. The Chinese constitution guarantees each nationality freedom to manage its own education, science, culture, health and hygiene, and the right to protect the nationality’s cultural heritage. However, these constitutionally-enshrined rights, he argued, had never been fully implemented for Tibetans.