China’s Minority Education Policy: Tibet


This week we explored China’s education policy in relation to its education policy for minority groups. We chose the article “Exclusionary Policies and Practices in Chinese Minority Education: The Case of Tibetan Education” by Bonnie Johnson and Nalini Chhetri of Pennsylvania State University.

Our analysis

– What kind of model:
*Nationalist-Cultural Model: Preservation of national cultural heritage; Education as infrastructure of solidifying common national-cultural identity; Collectivist; Extensive state intervention; Collective identity interests take precedence over individual rights
*Nationalist concept of culture

– What patterns we see:
* All about the patterns: they want to transmit a SINGLE, fluid culture, which means they need one cultural system to transmit
* Try to “pacify” minorities but they are still only a small part of what actually goes on
* Educational curriculum is set in stone for all of China
* Separate but distinct bilingual policies
* Chinese is used for all official and judicial purposes

– What are the contradictions:
* The educational system really makes exclusion a frightening reality. It is especially difficult for a linguistically- minority student to advance through the system.
* Provides mass education for nine years of schooling–however government’s
ability to provide mass education is limited by both economic and societal influences.
Economically, the task of building over one million schools (the number required to
implement this objective) is a strain on the limited resources of the government.
* Of the Tibetan children who enroll in elementary school, less than 10 percent will go on to junior high school.  There is a second examination after Junior High School/ Middle School
to advance to high school, which is even more competitive than the first. Likewise a
third and final examination, called the “National Examination” is required to gain
admission to university.
* Chinese families have a ‘one child’ policy–but minority families are permitted to have more than one child, and are sometimes exempted from paying taxes to the central government.

– What is missing:
* Prior to 1951, Tibet had its own traditional form of education–monastic education.
Need some way to get back to that.
* Lack of Tibetan universities.
* Way to incorporate Tibetan students.

– What are consistent features:
*Goal of universal primary education
*Achievement measured by examination
*Uniform curriculum with nationalist message
*Teaching styles that emphasize authority of the teacher
*Demands for greater amount of recitation and memorization

– Our recommendations:
*Bolster higher education opportunities in Tibetan and support for Tibetan universities
*Tibetans should have a voice in the creation of this policy — bring in traditions from monastic education


3 responses »

  1. I thought this policy was very fascinating especially since it is a modern piece of Chinese legislation. While it is commendable that China provides 9 years of education to its citizens, minority groups like Tibetans are disproportionately disenfranchised. After reading the Johnson and Chetri paper, I realize that this policy is similar in scope to the language policies used to wipe out aboriginal language and culture in Australia. In Australia, the majority culture agreed to educate the native populace however, English was the only language permitted at school and traditional religions were prohibited.

    It is my hope that Tibetans will gain equal standing in Chinese society.

    Trailer for Rabbit Proof Fence:

  2. This reminds me a lot of what happens in American schools, particularly in the Southwest with the Hispanic population. Things are taught in English and those who don’t speak it at home struggle with it. They are also forced to take standardized tests in English (I think according to No Child Left Behind, they can take them in their native language for three years maybe, and then they have to take them in English), which obviously effects how well they perform on the tests, which effects how far they get within the educational system. it would be interesting to compare China and the U.S. in this respect.

  3. Human Rights Group and Jessica – Thank you for making some great cross-comparisons. I appreciate that the U.S. was also highlighted–our education policies are also guilty of suppressing multilingual education. Indeed, there are all too many cases of linguistic oppression by government policy throughout the world–I also think of Peru where indigenous Quechua is now an almost-dead language (not to mention countless other indigenous languages in Central and South America); South Africa where Afrikaans and English are official languages, but Bantu languages are not; the Franco regime’s oppression of Basque and Catalan; as well as the ban on Kurdish language in Turkey (previously), Iran, Iraq and Syria. And so many more.

    However, even when taught in their native language throughout elementary and higher education, it might not be enough. The realities of the globalized job market today preclude many from the job market who might otherwise be very able to hold certain positions, simply due to the fact that they are not as proficient in the dominant language. In this instance, I think of the Philippines, where education in Tagalog and other local languages in highly encouraged, alongside English. But if one’s English is not up to snuff, good luck finding a decent paying job (whatever that means in the Philippines). The same is true in China. Without the prospect of political and socio-economic gains, even the choice for an education in Tibetan language would be a false one.There needs to be systematic acceptance of multilingualism at all levels of administration and commerce.

    I plan to take a class on International Perspectives on Bilingual Education this summer. Hopefully, by the end of it, I will possess a greater understanding of effective models of bilingual education and what may work in areas with deep-rooted historical conflict—if there are any.

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