Tibetan students living in China’s Qinghai province have appealed at the beginning of the 2018 school year for more teachers able to give instruction not only in Mandarin but in Tibetan, saying that of 359 teachers newly hired in their district, not one can give instruction in both languages.
In a letter written in Chinese and recently sent to local authorities, students living in Qinghai’s Tsoshar prefecture ask why more bilingual teachers can’t be hired, noting that in Tsoshar’s Yadzi and Palung (also called Bayen) counties, only 270 teachers able to teach in Tibetan serve a student population of 9,800.
In one Yadzi county school alone, 10 out of 14 instructors are substitute teachers and not fully trained, notes the letter, a copy of which was obtained by RFA.
“So given the reality of these inadequate teaching resources in Tsoshar, it is unfathomable that the hiring of bilingual teachers is not given priority by the authorities,” the letter says. “When there is no equality among languages, how can there be harmony and equality among [China’s] nationalities?”
Moves by Qinghai authorities in October 2010 to make Mandarin the sole language of instruction in the schools were met with large-scale protests by Tibetan students concerned over the erosion of Tibetan language, culture, and national identity in Tibetan areas of China, and implementation of the policy was postponed.
Speaking to RFA’s Tibetan Service, Lobsang Nyima, liaison officer for Chinese outreach at the Office of Tibet in Australia, said that bilingual education in Tibetan areas has long aimed at bringing Tibetan students up with a knowledge of both modern and traditional Tibetan education systems.
“But there are signs of decline in the continuation of this practice,” Nyima said.
“After the Chinese government began to realize that teaching in the Tibetan language would sustain a strong sense of the Tibetan people’s identity, many Tibetans who made efforts to raise issues connected to the Tibetan language began to be suppressed by the authorities,” he said.
“The case of Tashi Wangchuk is a perfect example of this,” Nyima said.
On May 22, a Qinghai court sentenced Tibetan shopkeeper and language activist Tashi Wangchuk, 33, to a five-year prison term for promoting “separatism” following his efforts to preserve and promote the use of his native language in Tibetan-populated regions of China.
Wangchuk should "never have spent a single day in detention," James Tager, deputy director of free expression research and policy at PEN America, said in a statement following Wangchuk's sentencing.
"This type of peaceful advocacy of Tibetan language rights is protected under international law, and of course it is explicitly protected under the Chinese constitution and regional ethnic autonomy laws," Tager said.
Writers, singers, and educators promoting Tibetan national identity and culture have frequently been detained by Chinese authorities, with many handed long jail terms, following region-wide protests against Chinese rule that swept Tibetan areas of China in 2008.
Language rights have become a particular focus for Tibetan efforts to assert national identity in recent years, with informally organized language courses typically deemed “illegal associations” and teachers subject to detention and arrest, sources say.
Reported by Dawa Dolma and Thakla Gyal for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Dorjee Damdul. Written in English by Richard Finney.