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  • 10 Mar, 2022
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Education in Tibet: An Indoctrination Tool of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)

Introduction

In the month of July 2021, without giving any official reason, the Chinese authorities in Golog, eastern Tibet, ordered [1] to shut down a private Tibetan school, Sengdruk Taktse middle school, in Darlak County. On 1st August 2021, Rinchen Kyi, one of the longest serving teachers at Sengdruk Taktse Middle school was arrested in Golog, eastern Tibet on the charge of inciting separatism under Chinese law. Clearly, the motives behind the closure of the school and the arbitrary arrest of the Tibetan teacher were political; the school primary language was Tibetan and it also provided Tibetan culture-based learning. Since the year 1949, when China invaded the country of Tibet, the Tibetan people have been going through similar difficult situations to date. In the Chinese Communist Party’s agenda to Sinicize Tibetan culture and religion, a key strategy is to Sinicize Tibet’s education system.

If we look at the state of Tibetan education today, China is significantly diminishing the access of ethnic Tibetans to education in their own mother tongue [2]. As a result, many Tibetans in Tibet are held back by a lack of education, as there are number of Tibetans who can’t even read or write in their own language. Recently, Chinese authorities in Golog forcefully shut down Sengdruk Tatkse Middle School, a renowned school in early July 2021 and Loten, a college graduate student was arrested after he spoke in an online messaging group on WeChat expressing disagreement with the policy of Sinicization of the education system in Golog. He has since been kept in a detention center in Xiling City.

What is the state of education in China-occupied Tibet today? What are the key issues ailing the Tibetan education system? How is China trying to use education as a tool to Sinicize Tibetan culture, religion and language?

History

Before China invaded Tibet, monasteries in Tibet were key components of Tibetan national identity. Along with religious teachings, monasteries also served as centers of learning Buddhism, language, and Tibet’s unique culture [13]. These monasteries acted as schools where children were taught in their mother tongue. Traditionally, each Tibetan family had relatives serving as monks and nuns in different monasteries.

Drepung, Sera and Ganden were the three great Gelug monastic universities in the vicinity of Lhasa [4]. Drepung monastery was founded by Jamyang Chojey Tashi Palden and housed 6,000-9,000 students at various periods in history. Sera Monastery was founded in 1419 by Sakya Yeshe, and housed around 5,000 monks. Ganden Monastery was an intensive school of learning and its abbots were reportedly elected from amongst the scholars within the college. These monasteries served as repositories of treasures of Tibetan art, literature, traditions and also centres for study of painting, sculpture, embroidery and music.

The Chinese authorities saw monasteries as a threat and they set out to destroy these centres of learning. These were said to be “rival power bases” and “intrinsically disloyal to China’s central government” [5]. Chinese authorities have gradually phased out local schools in Tibet, replacing them with centralized boarding schools, especially for elementary-aged children over the previous decade. Monastery schools and other privately managed Tibetan schools have also been forced to close, forcing parents to send their children overseas.

The effort which China government is taking in Sinicization has harmed not only Tibetan culture and religion but also Tibetan language [6]. The Chinese government is trying hard to tarnish all aspects related to Tibetan culture.

Status Quo

1. Bilingual Education Policy

For years in Tibet, kindergartens and elementary education were conducted entirely in Tibetan language. But recently the Chinese government has introduced a new educational policy called the “Bilingual” education policy by which both Tibetan and Chinese languages will be taught in not only middle schools but also in elementary and kindergarten schools. These policies seem to be aimed at introducing children to Chinese propaganda from a young age and cutting them off from Tibetan language and history.

Bilingual education has tremendously affected the life of Tibetan students in Tibet. Most of the subjects are being taught in Chinese language; 95% of books and reading materials are in Chinese and 5% are in Tibetan. Even the teachers are highly affected as Chinese government has swapped massive numbers of Chinese teachers to Tibet. Some Tibetan teachers were expelled from their job and some were sent for training to become fluent in Chinese language [7].

Even for employment opportunities, instead of Tibetan language, Tibetans require a good command of the Chinese language because of which Tibetan youth face a lot of unemployment in Tibet. According to Central Tibetan Administration, Tibetan university graduates are finding it tough to get jobs in Tibet’s capital Lhasa as most of the professional jobs are being offered to Han Chinese [8]. Though Article 4 of People’s Republic of China constitution ensures that the state shall protect the lawful rights and interests of all ethnic Tibetans, this is being violated when it comes to imposition of Mandarin on Tibetans.

2. Military Education Camps

Chinese officials have been pushing Tibetans to relinquish their own culture, religion, and customs. Furthermore, the Chinese are eroding the Tibetan language and imposing Mandarin into schools. During their summer vacations, school-aged youngsters are forced to attend concentrated programmes called "Military education" by the Chinese Communist Party.

In Nyingtri, the southeastern Tibetan region across the border from Arunachal Pradesh in India, existence of such military camps was reported [9]. These centres are meant to offer national defense education for Tibet's youth in order to inculcate patriotism, love for China, and the spirit of defending national borders, according to the agenda.

Soldiers provide training at this military summer camp, where children gather to learn about Chinese culture and patriotism, with the goal of weakening Tibetan cultural learning. Tibetan children are also denied the opportunity to learn their own language while in military camps.

3. Colonial Boarding Schools

According to the Tibet Institute Action report, China has created a network of vast ‘Colonial Boarding Schools’ in Tibet, where Tibetans are forced to live separate from their families, subjected to highly politicized education (primarily in Chinese) to erase from them their own culture and traditions. The schools which the Chinese government promotes as a way of giving education are the cornerstone of Chinese President Xi Jinping's assimilationist policy, which aims to eliminate ethnic diversity to prevent threats to Chinese Communist Party authority [10].

According to research, there are an estimated 800,000 to 900,000 Tibetan pupils aged six to eighteen in these state-run schools, as well as an unknown number of four and five-year-olds. The schools are used to mould children into Chinese nationals who support the Communist Party of China. Students are forced to study largely in Chinese, are prohibited from practicing their faith, and are subjected to political indoctrination after being separated from their families and communities.

This has ramifications for entire generations of Tibetans, as well as the long-term survival of Tibetan identity. China is not only disconnecting the entire generations of Tibetans and their families but also alienating them from their distinct culture, religion, and language.

4. Fees

Most Tibetan children are not able to get adequate education because of the high fees, the scarcity of schools in remote regions, and because of the inability to pay bribes to Chinese authorities which led to closure of many Tibetan private schools [11].

Chinese law permits schools to charge miscellaneous fees which include charges for admission, registration, books, uniforms and even for desks, chairs, and various fines due to which most Tibetan children can't afford schools.

If we talk about rural and nomadic region in Tibet, there are virtually two million Tibetan nomads who are spread over a vast area in Tibet and the numbers of schools are very few. But even if the schools are very few, those children have to travel a long way to reach the nearest schools [12].

5. Ban on religious instruction

Earlier during school holidays, Tibetan parents were willing to send their children to local monasteries to get educated about their motherland, specifically the Tibetan language, areas, culture, religion, and various other things related to Tibet. Chinese authorities have imposed ban on Tibetan children attending those classes. The Chinese authorities were trying to stop those school children from keeping contact with monks which indicates that Chinese authorities were seeking to restrict children not only on Tibetan education but also on religious activities. Monks from any monastery who is caught arranging the informal classes in monasteries for local children in the name of Tibetan classes or extra tuition is ordered by officials to be immediately expelled from their respective monastery and have to face detention or convicted to jail minimum for five years [9].

Moreover, even the notice has been issued by various schools towards parents ordering that their children are not to take any kind of extra tuition, religious activities or to visit religious places such as monasteries. If anyone was found going against these rules, then the families are reported instantly to the city education bureau and have to face the repercussions.

6. Punishment & Torture

Chinese teachers discriminate against Tibetan students in various ways. For instance, they knowingly make Tibetan students to perform physical labor, such as cleaning toilets, sweeping and cooking. They also reportedly denigrate Tibetan students by using such negative words which put Tibetan students into a mentally tortured state.

Teachers at Tibetan elementary schools use corporal punishment on a regular basis, which is generally considered torture under international law. For instance, lateness, poor class or exam performance, failure to turn in homework, and acts with perceived political significance, such as failing to hold China's official flag as needed at an assembly, are all punished with corporal punishment by Tibetan teachers.

Corporal punishments include beatings with sticks, bamboo staffs, whips, wires, brooms, and belts, forced kneeling on sharp objects, such as glass, stones or spiked iron bars, and application of electric shocks. In mixed primary schools that are attended by both Tibetan and Chinese students, teachers appear to use corporal punishment frequently with greater severity against Tibetan students than against their Chinese peers. Also at times, they publicly humiliate and harass Tibetan students [13].

In another case, during an assembly in a school, one Tibetan lad unintentionally failed to hold the Chinese flag properly. As a punishment, the school authorities hurt him with a pin and burnt the area around the wounds with an incense stick.

7. Discrimination

In schools where both Tibetans and Chinese students’ study, Tibetan students repeatedly face ethnic discrimination. Most of the Tibetan children do not receive the same quality of teaching as the Chinese students. Chinese parents are also reported to provide many gifts as bribes to teachers to secure preferential treatment for their children.

Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) had reported how Tibetans are systematically humiliated in schools; Tibetans are referred to as “pagmi” (a derogatory term for those who wear animal skins), “chedak” (means one who licks utensils) and “Allo” (Chinese term for “kugpa” or fool). Similarly, in all disputes between a Chinese and a Tibetan pupil, it is invariably the Tibetan student who is expelled [11].

Conclusion

It is clear that Chinese Communist Party is trying to restrict the space for Tibetan children to learn in Tibetan language. The need of the hour is to garner public attention to these Chinese attempts and hold China accountable. The global civil society should come together to pressure China to acknowledge Tibetans’ right to education in their mother tongue. According to Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) [16], everyone has the right to education and parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children. Article 2 of UDHR also states that everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language and religion. Tibetan children also deserve a childhood bereft of fear, torture and coercion.

"The success of our education does not lie in the number of diplomas issued to graduates from universities, collegesand secondary schools. It lies, in the final analysis, in whether our graduating students are opposed to or turn their hearts to the Dalai Clique and in whether they are loyal to or do not care about our great motherland and the great socialist cause…." [17]

These were the words spoken by the then regional Party Secretary, Chen Kuiyuan at the “TAR” Conference on Education in Lhasa in 1994. This encompasses the philosophy of Chinese education policy. The aim of China's education policy in Tibet is to instil in children a loyalty for Chinese Communist Party and a hatred for the culture they were born into. The boarding schools, closure of monasteries, imposition of Mandarin, punishments, torture and arbitrary arrests of teachers and monks are just tools in this grand scheme of things.

End Notes

[1] “Outcry from Tibetans after school is given orders to close”, Tibet Watch, February 1, 2022. https://www.tibetwatch.org/news/2021/7/19/outcry-from-tibetans-after-school-is-given-orders-to-close

[2] “Tibet’s Monasteries”, Free Tibet, February 1, 2022. https://freetibet.org/tibets-monasteries

[3] “China’s Bilingual Education Policy in Tibet”, Human Rights Watch, February 02, 2022. https://www.hrw.org/report/2020/03/04/chinas-bilingual-education-policy-tibet/tibetan-medium-schooling-under-threat  

[4] “Tibetan University Graduates can’t find work despite promises of opportunity”, Radio Free Asia, February 03, 2022. https://www.rfa.org/english/news/tibet/work-11222021155847.html

[5] “New Military Education Camps in Tibet’s youth constructed in Nyingtri”, Tibet Watch, February 15, 2022. https://www.tibetwatch.org/news/2021/8/2/new-military-education-camps-for-tibets-youth-constructed-in-nyingchi

[6] “Separated from their Families, Hidden from the World China’s Vast System of Colonial Boarding Schools inside Tibet”, Tibet Action Institute, February 15, 2022. https://tibetaction.net/campaigns/colonialboardingschools/

[7] “A Generation in Peril: The Lives of Tibetan Children under Chinese Rule”, Tibet Justice Centre, February 15, 2022. http://www.tibetjustice.org/reports/children/summary/index.html

[8] “Schooling for knowledge and cultural survival: Tibetan community schools in nomadic herding areas”, Taylor & Francis Online, February 16, 2022. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00131910701794598

[9] “Tibetan students ordered not to take part in religious activities during winter break” International Campaign for Free Tibet, February 16, 2022. https://savetibet.org/tibetan-students-ordered-not-to-take-part-in-religious-activities-during-winter-break/

[10] “A Generation in Peril: The Lives of Tibetan Children under Chinese Rule”, Tibet Justice Centre, February 17, 2022. http://www.tibetjustice.org/reports/children/summary/index.html

[11] “Discrimination in School”, TCHRD, February 17, 2022. https://tchrd.org/discrimination-in-school/

[12] "China: Tibetan Children Denied Mother-Tongue Classes." Central Tibetan Administration, February 18, 2022. China: Tibetan Children Denied Mother-Tongue Classes - Central Tibetan Administration

[13] “Tibet’s History and Culture”, Free Tibet, February 18, 2022. https://freetibet.org/about/history-religion-culture

[14] “Drepung Monastery, the Largest Tibetan monastery in Lhasa”, Tibet Vista, February 19, 2022. https://www.tibettravel.org/tibet-travel-guide/drepung-largest-tibetan-monastery.html

[15] “International Campaign for Tibet at the UN Forum: Worsening Plight of Tibetans”, The Times of India, 19 February, 2022. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/blogs/ChanakyaCode/international-campaign-for-tibet-at-un-forum-worsening-plight-of-tibetans/   

[16] “Universal Declaration of Human Rights”, United Nations, February 19, 2022. https://www.un.org/en/about-us/universal-declaration-of-human rights#:~:text=Article%2026,on%20the%20basis%20of%20merit  

[17] “Education under China”, The Office of Tibet, February 19, 2022. https://tibetoffice.org/education-under-china 

Team TRC

Jyotsna Jayaram (Research Associate)

Lakshmi P (Senior Research Associate)

Tashi S (Consultant)

Tenzin Tsetan (Consultant)

Tenzin Samphel (Consultant)