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China/Tibet: Tibetan language under threat

EducationWorld June 08 | EducationWorld

Tibetan teachers fear hard-won gains over teaching pupils in their native language may be reversed in the wake of the unrest that has erupted against their countrys Chinese rulers. Although schools are open, teachers report an atmosphere of intimidation, with many pupils being forced to undergo patriotic education which includes denouncing the Dalai Lama.For decades, children in Tibetan secondary schools have been taught in Chinese, with few exceptions. Pupils at primary schools have had more opportunities to learn in their mother tongue, but usually only for a maximum of three years, leaving many with literacy problems.
This has embarrassed a government eager to show how Chinese rule has improved life in Tibet. As a result, some gains were made prior to the recent unrest in an effort to push up literacy rates. These included allowing work to begin on an all-Tibetan language middle school in Sichuan, eastern Tibet.
Comments Tashi Rabgay, co-director of the Tibet Project which is building the school: The board of education itself asked us to make it a Tibetan medium school. Normally you dont see monks teaching in schools, but the authorities allowed this because there is such a lack of teachers in Tibetan. However, the future of such projects has been unclear since the March riots in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, in which at least 16 people died. Everything is up in the air following the unrest, says Ms. Rabgay.
Other Tibetan teachers share her concerns. Tsering Dorje, an ex-teacher now in Dharamasala, India, says that before the unrest Chinese officials made promises on Tibetan education, and used economic incentives to make Tibetans loyal to the government, which included building schools and roads. But that has clearly failed and they may decide to use harsh methods against our culture.
Charities and campaign groups say the lack of lessons in Tibetan explains why schools there suffer from high drop-out rates. Ironically, this has also led to pupils failing to learn Chinese proficiently. According to Andrew Fischer of the London School of Economics, the latest official statistics show there has been no improvement in education levels in Tibet for over a decade.

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