Bilingual preschool policy spurs fears of marginalising of Tibetan

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 04 December, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 04 December, 2010, 12:00am

The central government plans to offer two years of free, bilingual preschool education in rural areas of Tibet by 2015.

Activists says it is a move to make sure all Tibetans, including semi- nomadic herders, learn Putonghua from childhood, but a Tibetan scholar said the plan would aid farmers' and herdsmen's children and provide them with an equal chance to be educated like their peers in city areas.

The autonomous region's education department said yesterday all children in farming and herding areas would receive at least two years of free preschool education in Tibetan and Putonghua by 2015.

'By then, at least 60 per cent of Tibetan children will attend kindergarten, compared with the current 24.5 per cent,' Xinhua quoted a department spokesman as saying.

He said the move was aimed at improving Tibetan children's proficiency in Tibetan and Putonghua and preparing them for formal school education.

Xinhua said the central government would fund the free preschool education, but city dwellers in the autonomous region would still have to pay for their children's preschooling, like elsewhere on the mainland.

The spokesman said some rural primary schools would be encouraged to have preschool classes, particularly those in herding areas with few kindergartens.

Beijing-based Tibetan activist Tserang Woeser said the move indicated the central government was stepping up efforts to marginalise the Tibetan language in Tibet.

'Bilingual education has been widely implemented in all primary, secondary and high schools in Tibet since the 1980s, except for kindergartens. But many kindergartens in city areas like Lhasa are actually starting so-called bilingual education,' she said. 'Now it's even been extended to preschool education in farming and herding zones, it means the Tibetan language has been further marginalised.'

She said the so-called 'bilingual education' policy forced Tibetan children to take either a 'Putonghua class' or a 'Tibetan language class' when in kindergarten.

The 'Tibetan language class' is designed for Tibetan children, who have to learn both Tibetan and Putonghua, while the 'Putonghua class' is for Han Chinese.

With parents of the rural children largely reliant on farming and herding for a living and with no stable income or living places, she said kindergartens had to operate like boarding schools, putting Tibetan language skills at even greater risk.

However, Dr Tanzen Lhundup, director of the research office at the government-backed China Tibetology Research Centre, said the policy would have a long-term positive impact on rural Tibetan children and would not marginalise the language.

'There is a great gap between children in cities and rural areas in Tibet, with most farmers' and herdsmen's children lacking clean, nutritional food and safe living places,' he said.

'With 80 per cent of the Tibetan population farmers and herdsmen who live in poverty, the new policy will not only improve the younger generation's education level, but also their growing environment if our government can provide them with a quality preschool education as well as good board and lodging.'



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