Tibetan children denied classes in their mother tongue, Human Rights Watch says

Poster issued by China in primary schools in Tibet. Translation: “Love the national flag, Sing the national anthem Mandarin is the working language in schools Please speak the common language (Mandarin) and write the characters correctly”. Source: Dondrup
Poster issued by China in primary schools in Tibet. Translation: “Love the national flag, Sing the national anthem Mandarin is the working language in schools Please speak the common language (Mandarin) and write the characters correctly”. Source: Dondrup
Poster issued by China in primary schools in Tibet. Translation: “Love the national flag, Sing the national anthem Mandarin is the working language in schools Please speak the common language (Mandarin) and write the characters correctly”. Source: Dondrup
12th March 2020

New report finds that Tibetan primary school and kindergarten children in rural areas are increasingly being taught in Chinese at the expense of Tibetan.

The Chinese government’s education policy has accelerated the demise of classes taught in the Tibetan language in primary schools across Tibet, a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report said last Thursday. 

China’s ‘bilingual education’ policy has been carried out over the last decade in the areas of Tibet governed as the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), as well as other parts of Tibet. The policy has boosted Chinese-language education at all levels but has also caused the deterioration of Tibetan language learning, HRW said. 

Chinese has been the main language of instruction in the TAR for nearly all middle and high schools since the 1960s. But new educational practices in the area have seen more primary schools and kindergartens adopting Chinese as the teaching language for Tibetan students, the report said.

“China’s ‘bilingual education’ policy is motivated by political imperatives rather than educational ones,” HRW China director, Sophie Richardson said in a press release. “The Chinese government is violating its international legal obligations to provide Tibetan-language instruction to Tibetans.”

The trend towards Tibetans being taught in Chinese at primary schools in towns and cities is known, but there are now indications it is becoming usual in rural areas too.

The full report called ‘China’s ‘Bilingual Education’ Policy in Tibet’’ said HRW held interviews with parents of rural primary school children in the northern TAR.

Parents reported the Chinese-medium teaching system had been introduced in their local primary schools the previous March.

The official position of authorities in the TAR is that both Tibetan and Chinese language should be promoted, but in practice Chinese is dominant, the report said.

The Chinese constitution guarantees minority language rights and Tibetan language education was introduced in some primary schools in Tibet in the 1980’s, but the current authorities consider Tibetan language  to be a ‘separatist’ activity. 

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