After the arrest of Rinchen Kyi, a dedicated teacher of the forcibly shut private Tibetan school of Sengdruk Taktse, Free Tibet received reports from its research partner Tibet Watch of the distress and breakdown of its closely-knit community of students.
On 8 July 2021, a week after the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) centenary, Sengdruk Taktse Middle School, was closed without providing any official clarification and all the students were told to enrol in other government-affiliated schools in the region. Despite the co-founder of the school, Khandrul Jigme Kunsang Gyaltsen, keeping to the school’s founding principles of providing education to the destitute, orphaned, and those without the means to access formal schooling, his urgent plea to reconsider the decision was not heeded.
A petition written by an alumnus of the school in Darlag County, located in Golog, eastern Tibet, explained in a heartfelt poem, the meaning of the school to Tibetan culture, children’s future and the aspirations of Tibetan nomads and farmers. Despite the petitioner’s hope and call for the survival of the school, whose gratitude and care was referred to as that of a mother, the school currently remains closed without any clarification about its legal status, ownership of its properties and its future.
In such a precarious state of absence of education grounded in Tibetan language and culture provided by private schools like Sengdruk Taktse, students with families in the area were divided and scattered by enrolling them in the other local Chinese government-affiliated schools. Those from other distant areas of Derge, Khyungchu and Dzachuka are unable to find school admission due to their identity cards carrying details of home addresses registered elsewhere in the region. Their school identity card of Sengdruk Taktse is invalidated and not recognised.
Orphaned children left with no help
Most distressing of all, the local Chinese authorities are neither allowing the former teachers to help and shelter their orphan students nor giving them admission in the government schools. Teachers are kept under additional surveillance and Tibetans in the area are monitored with random cellphone checks.
Without a family, orphans do not have a Household Registration Card based upon which a Resident Identity Card is issued. Most of the private Tibetan schools, therefore, not only issue their address for the application of Resident Identity Card of the orphans but also provide a boarding facility at the school for them to live.
On the school’s graduation day which marked the last day of the school’s existence, its co-founder, a renowned abbot from the esteemed Larung Gar Buddhist Academy, recalled precisely the priority given to the poor and orphans for the enrollment of its first batch of 30 students in 1999.
The forced shutdown of private Tibetan schools adds to the decades-long concerns of shrinking space for Tibetans to exercise their freedom to embrace their language under ambiguous laws and policies that purportedly guarantee autonomy and bilingual education. With informally organized language courses in the monasteries deemed illegal, the traditional centres of knowledge in Tibet have also seen their freedom placed under the CCP’s control and coerced into studying Party history and sinicization of Tibetan Buddhism.
Information supplied by Tibet Watch