Plan to teach Putonghua to young Uygurs
Cary Huang in Beijing
The central government will splash out billions of yuan to promote education, with the particular goal of promoting the use of the Chinese language among young Uygurs in restive Xinjiang as the leadership struggles to deal with ethnic tensions in the region.
At a regional top-level conference yesterday, the local authorities announced an ambitious drive to promote the use of Putonghua, setting the goal that all kindergartens in the region will have access to bilingual education by 2012 and all schools by 2015. The government also wants all students to be fluent in Chinese and Uygur by 2020, Xinhua reported.
'At the central working conference on Xinjiang last week, the Ministry of Education announced it would give an additional 80 billion yuan in the next five years to help develop education in the region,' said an educator familiar with the programme on condition of anonymity.
The region has averaged about 30 billion yuan annually in fiscal revenue in recent years.
Professor Teng Xing of the Research Institute of Ethnic Education attached to Minzhu University of China, previously known as the Central University for Nationalities, said promoting bilingual education was important to ending ethnic strife in the region.
'It is a very, very important step taken by the central government to promote long-lasting unity of nationalities and social stability,' Teng said of the educational programme. Teng is an expert in ethnic minority education in China and has conducted research in Xinjiang.
Teng said bilingual education would help promote young Uygurs' competitiveness in the job market, as Chinese language skills would become a necessity for all labourers. The programme would help communication between ethnic minority Uygurs and the majority Han.
At yesterday's meeting, the regional authorities unveiled measures to improve people's livelihoods and implement a strategic plan outlined by the central government last week.
At a conference chaired by President Hu Jintao that ended on Wednesday last week, Beijing pledged to raise the per capita gross domestic product in Xinjiang to the national average by 2015 and eliminate poverty in the region by 2020.
The package concerned all aspects of people's lives in Xinjiang: housing, living facilities, bilingual education, employment, cultivation of talent, social security and income, said Zhang Chunxian, the newly appointed Xinjiang party chief, who replaced Politburo member Wang Lequn.
As part of the measures, the regional government also pledged to eliminate the phenomenon of the 'totally unemployed family', where nobody in a family is employed. 'From now on, we will now keep records of totally unemployed families, and resolve this issue within 24 hours after finding them,' Xinhua reported.
The government also pledged to expand the pension and medical insurance programmes to cover everyone in the region by 2012.
The government will build houses for 700,000 rural families by 2015 and help 100,000 nomadic families have permanent residences by 2020.
Analysts said that behind the efforts to upgrade living standards among the Uygurs is Beijing's determination to end ethnic strife in the region. Xinjiang has been rocked by a spate of ethnic violence in the past two years. In July, at least 197 people were killed and thousands injured, according to official figures, after Turkic-speaking Uygurs clashed with majority Han.
The central government is worried that a lack of development in Xinjiang will turn the region into a hotbed for radicals, seriously threatening security and stability.
This is the sum, in billions of yuan, that will be spent on educating young Uygurs in restive Xinjiang: 80b yuan