China is requiring Tibetan students to take college entrance exams in Mandarin only

Critics say move is aimed at erasing Tibetan culture and Sinicizing the region
By Sangyal Kunchok for RFA Tibetan
2023.06.13
China is requiring Tibetan students to take college entrance exams in Mandarin only Parents wait for students outside a test site for China’s national college entrance exam, in Lhasa, southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region, June 7, 2023.
Jiang Fan/Xinhua via Getty Images

Tibetan students who took China’s annual college entrance exam over the weekend had to do so completely in Mandarin, likely putting many at a disadvantage, residents in Tibet told Radio Free Asia.

The exams, held from June 7-9 across China, will go a long way toward determining the fates of more than 13 million students. 

In previous years, ethnic minorities, including Tibetans, had been allowed to take the test in their native languages, but this year marks the first that the test was given only in Mandarin. Also, ethnic minorities no longer get five extra minutes to complete the test as they had in the past.

The Mandarin-only policy for the test is concurrent with other controversial educational policies meant to establish Mandarin as the medium of instruction within Tibetan schools–which Tibetan activists say is part of Beijing’s plan to eliminate Tibetan culture and Sinicize the region. 

 “In 2022, the Chinese government imposed the Model 2 Education System under which Mandarin was made the primary medium of instruction in all the primary and secondary schools across Golog, Kardze and Qinghai,” a Tibetan resident of Tibet told RFA’s Tibetan Service on condition of anonymity for security reasons.

“Now beginning this year, the Chinese government has imposed Mandarin as the medium for college entrance exams.”

Opponents to the Model 2 Education system argue that the policy will destroy Tibetan language and culture, and it has no basis in law.

“Due to the sudden shift on the Chinese government’s education reforms, Tibetan students are not as well prepared and proficient enough in Mandarin to compete with [Mandarin native speaker]students who have always been learning in Mandarin,” the resident said. “This is a disadvantage for Tibetan students over [native Mandarin speaking] students who score more easily and get admission in college. Hence, many Tibetan students will not get into good colleges.”   

Removing the  extra time for ethnic minority students is also problematic, another resident, who declined to be named, told RFA.

“[They] used to get five extra minutes, but now with the reforms, these extra minutes are revoked,” the second resident said. “These reforms have made it near impossible for Tibetan students to score well to get into college, and without a proper degree, it is impossible to get a decent job.”

The trend could be dangerous for the entire Tibetan community, the second resident said.

“We will see an incredible increase in the number of Tibetan students who cannot attend college and pursue a higher education.”

China’s educational reforms are a contradiction of its law on Regional National Autonomy, Pema Gyal, a researcher at the London-based Tibet Watch advocacy and monitoring group.

“The law states that minority schools should, if possible, use textbooks printed in their own languages, and lessons should be taught in those languages, and this contradicts with what the government is doing right now,” said Pema Gyal. “This is an attempt to Sinicize the education system in Tibet and therefore so many Tibetan students are not able to pursue higher education.” 

Translated by Tenzin Dickyi. Edited by Eugene Whong.

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