Tibetan children taken from homes, sent to Chinese boarding schools: report

The program moves forward China's plans to separate Tibetan children from their own culture, a report says.
By Sangyal Kunchok
2021.12.13
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Tibetan children taken from homes, sent to Chinese boarding schools: report A political education class is shown in session in a Tibetan school in Qinghai in an undated photo.
Photo from Tibet

Chinese authorities in Tibet have set up a region-wide network of boarding schools for Tibetan children, separating them from their parents and homes in a bid to reduce their contact with their native language and culture, a new report by a Tibetan rights group says.

Classes in the schools are taught primarily in Chinese and feature intense political indoctrination, according to the report titled Separated From Their Families, Hidden From the World, released in December by the Tibet Action Institute.

The schools are described by China as a way to provide education to a Tibetan population spread over vast areas, but are really part of an assimilation campaign promoted by Chinese President Xi Jinping “to eliminate threats to Chinese Communist Party control by eliminating ethnic differences,” the report says.

Describing the boarding schools as Chinese “colonial projects,” the Institute said that approximately 800,000 Tibetan children of ages up to 18 now live in the schools, where they suffer psychological and emotional trauma caused by forced separation from their families and culture.

“And the implications for whole generations of Tibetans and the long-term survival of Tibetan identity are grave,” the report says.

A Tibetan teacher quoted in the report said that Chinese authorities in eastern Tibet now require children aged four and above to live in the schools, where “teachers only speak in Mandarin and conduct all school curriculum in Mandarin, including nursery rhymes and bedtime stories.”

“When they join primary school at age seven, hardly any of them can speak Tibetan,” the teacher said.

“Every day for three years, I never felt happy starting a day or going to class,” one former boarding school student said, also quoted in the report. “My only thought was, ‘When I get to go back home,’” he said.

Private schools warned

Private schools in Qinghai province’s Golog (in Chinese, Guoluo) county have meanwhile been warned they may be shut down, as China moves to standardize its approach to education in Tibetan areas, Tibetan sources say.

Schools now under special scrutiny in Qinghai include the Ragya Institute and the Tadrak Private Institute, where Tibetan monks and nuns who have traditionally taught classes are now forbidden to teach, one source told RFA.

“Beginning this year, the drive to teach the Chinese language in Tibetan schools has escalated, and [Chinese President] Xi Jinping’s political ideology is now being taught in the schools,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons.

“It has also become very difficult to learn what is happening in these schools on a day-to-day basis,” the source said.

All textbooks in the schools will eventually be translated into Chinese, another source said, also speaking on condition of anonymity.

“Teachers and students must ‘transform their thoughts,’ monks will not be permitted to be teachers, and the schools will not present classes on Tibetan Buddhism,” the source said.

'Sinicizing Tibetan life'

Also speaking to RFA, Phentok — a researcher at the Dharamsala, India-based Tibet Policy Institute — called China’s education programs in Tibet an attempt to “Sinicize Tibetan life through policies that separate Tibetans from their language, culture and religion, and especially their devotion to the Dalai Lama.”

Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama is widely reviled by Chinese leaders as a separatist intent on splitting Tibet, a formerly independent Himalayan country which was invaded and incorporated into China by force in 1950, from Beijing’s control.

The Dalai Lama, who now lives in exile in India, says however that he only seeks a greater autonomy for Tibet as a part of China, with guaranteed protections for Tibet’s language, culture and religion.

Language rights have become a particular focus for Tibetan efforts to assert national identity in recent years, with informally organized language courses in the monasteries and towns deemed “illegal associations” and teachers subject to detention and arrest, sources say.

Translated by Tenzin Dickyi for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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