Education, Employment Top Concerns for Tibetan Youth


Aug. 1, 2006: Tibetan children dress in ethnic costumes in China's southwestern province of Sichuan. Photo: AFP/Liu Jin

WASHINGTON—Tibetan youths seeking jobs inside Tibet are increasingly frustrated by a system that depends on making the right connections and learning Mandarin Chinese, young Tibetans and outside experts say.

“Since we do not have any connections, we are unable to do anything,” one Tibetan college student in China, who identified himself as Tenzin, told RFA’s Tibetan service in a call-in show.

“For those who have connections, job placements are probably confirmed,” Tenzin said, adding that he planned to graduate this year but hadn’t yet found work.

Another caller, a U.S. resident who identified herself as Ngakdron, said her relatives in Tibet had done well in their studies in China but couldn’t find work “relevant” to what they had learned.

“They sat for examinations after returning from China,” she said. “They told me that they did very well on the examinations. They also told me that they have faced lots of problems in not getting employed according to their test results.”

Since we do not have any connections, we are unable to do anything,

“A few of them did get jobs, but they were sent to very remote areas,” Ngakdron added.

Thierry Dodin, director of the London-based research group TibetInfoNet, said in a separate interview that a “huge percentage” of Tibetans who flee Chinese rule into neighboring regions each year are young people hoping to further their studies.

Chinese language favored

“Most of them come to India or Nepal to get some education, the type of education they cannot get—or at least think they cannot get—in Tibet itself,” Dodin said.

Tibetan youths also leave their Chinese-governed homeland because China isn’t the multicultural state it claims to be, he added. “All the structures of the state are Chinese, and they are perceived as Chinese and resented as such.”

Children at the Ghondong Bhakhang School in the heart of traditional Lhasa learn to write Tibetan script. Photo: AFP/Melanie Bell

“And young people, of course, are more prone to be impassioned about these issues,” Thierry said.

Tibet expert Robbie Barnett said that for young Tibetans, “upward mobility into the middle class and into secure positions is more and more dependent on learning Chinese. Tibetan becomes more and more rarely a way to get a position.”

This situation is “much worse” in the central Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR), said Barnett, an adjunct assistant professor of contemporary Tibetan studies at New York’s Columbia University.

“There is much less opportunity for professional use of Tibetan than there is in the [ethnic] Tibetan regions outside the TAR. This is because the education system in the TAR has never been Tibetanized beyond primary school. “

“Secondary schools and most university departments are in Chinese, mainly,” Barnett said.

In eastern Tibet’s Kham and Amdo regions, though, instruction is given in Tibetan in middle schools and in some universities and “minorities colleges,” Barnett said. “That’s one reason why intellectual innovation, writing, film-making, poetry tend to come out of Amdo and eastern Tibet, in the Tibetan language.”

Nomad lifestyle threatened

“So there is real cultural activity in the Tibetan language and a much more open attitude by the local governments in those areas than in the TAR. But it still is not always leading to jobs.”

Meanwhile, threats have emerged to traditional employment in the nomad regions of Tibet.

According to a June 10 report released in London by the advocacy group Human Rights Watch, the Chinese government has begun to forcibly relocate Tibetan herders to urban areas and farmland, seizing their herds and moving them into “newly built housing colonies without consultation or compensation.”

Sophie Richardson, deputy director of the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch’s Washington office, said that one “was a young man who described having [afterward] left China because he couldn’t get an education in a language he spoke and because he couldn’t pursue the one kind of livelihood he knew how to pursue.”

“This man was in his mid-20s,” Richardson said. “He had been raised by herders to be a herder. This was what he knew how to do.”

The condition of Tibet’s middle class has improved, though, “under the latest efforts of Beijing to try to kick-start the Tibetan economy into fast gear, to try and solve their problems by giving people money,” said Barnett.

“This has worked quite well in the cities and towns in Tibetan areas, as it has throughout a lot of China.”

“The younger community that enters this comfort zone where they have enough resources in their family or some other way to pay for a decent education, let’s say to graduate from high school probably, which is a very small percentage—I think they’re having a very good lifestyle at the moment,” Barnett said.

“But I think for the much larger group of people on the fringes of the new affluence, I’m not sure how their future looks.”

Original reporting by Dolkar for RFA’s Tibetan service. RFA Tibetan service director: Jigme Ngapo. Written in English with additional reporting by Richard Finney. Edited for the Web by Sarah Jackson-Han.


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.