Tibetans Driven Out of China by Lack of Schooling


2004-02-18
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Children denied Tibetan-language medium education at home

Thousands of Tibetan children and youths are crossing the border into Nepal every year in search of culturally relevant educational opportunities denied them under Chinese rule at home, RFA's Tibetan service reports.

A report by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said that 1,268 Tibetan refugees travelled through Nepal in 2002. "The majority of them are young Tibetans, whose ages range from six to 30," Kalsang Chimi, director of the Tibetan Reception Center in Kathmandu, told RFA in a recent interview. "They had different reasons for their escape, but the dominant reason was the lack of educational facilities in rural and nomadic areas."

He said that in rural and nomadic areas where educational facilities were available, many couldn't afford school fees. "Therefore they escaped to go to schools in India," Kalsang Chimi said.

Other refugees cited enforced Chinese-language education, which they say undermines Tibetan culture and discourages Tibetans from the opportunities on offer.

"It is crucial to educate Tibetan children on the basis of their psychological requirements," one university student who recently arrived in Nepal said. "To do that, the Tibetan language should be the medium of instruction."

Others confirmed that Tibetan was being dropped in the education system as a medium of instruction and Mandarin forced into its place. "The instruction of science subjects... or social science subjects such as law and economics should be given in Tibetan," said another Tibetan student. "The students' comprehension and understanding would be far better. If they were taught in an environment compatible with the Tibetan students' traditions and culture, the students would learn better."

Of the Tibetans who cross into Nepal, many travel in secret, without passports, and many of the Tibetans are Buddhist monks and nuns fleeing persecution or simply looking for a monastery to pursue their religious studies without fear of harassment.

"Many of the Tibetan refugees are monks and nuns," Kalsang Chimi said. "They ran away from their monasteries because of the Chinese patriotic reeducation campaigns."

He added that the Chinese authorities also limited the number of Tibetans it allowed to become monks and nuns. "It is very difficult for an individual to enroll in a monastery without Chinese official permission. They wanted to attend monasteries in India," he said.

China's economy may be booming in many areas, with rapid development in rich urban centers fueling its image as an Asian power on the rise. But recent in-depth reporting by RFA has highlighted a major struggle among China's poorest communities to provide a basic education for them, a right supposedly guaranteed by the state.

China's ethnic minorities often face a combination of poverty and discrimination in their quest for a decent education. The problem is so acute in Tibet that desperate parents send their children across the border illegally — ; and often unaccompanied — ; into India to take advantage of the free education there.

In October 2003, official media reported that around 27 million children nationwide were unable to attend school, representing around 10 percent of China's school-age children. Hong Kong newspapers said the total — ; allowing for gaps in reporting methods — ; could be twice as high in reality.

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