By Jesus Centeno
(FILE) A student is reflected in a table attends Tibetan calligraphy class in The Second Senior High School, during the government organised tour in Shannan, Qusong County, Tibet Autonomous Region, China, 18 June 2023. EFE/EPA/ALEX PLAVEVSKI
Lhasa, Tibet, Jul 28 (EFE) – In a secondary school in Shannan, 150 kilometers southeast of Lhasa, students, officials and teachers have been summoned on a Sunday, a day of rest, to echo the Chinese government’s slogan that education unfolds in Tibet in “harmony and normality”.
Students in schools such as the one Efe gained access to in an organized visit by the Chinese government, the only way to enter Tibet as a foreign journalist, learn both Mandarin and Tibetan, although this minority group spends seems completely immersed in Chinese culture.
The Communist Party (CCP) visit aims to challenge criticism Beijing faces over allegations of forced assimilation policies towards Tibetans which the central government says are aimed at “promoting the development” of the region.
Although some locals, speaking anonymously to EFE, said they were stung by the growing prominence of Mandarin, authorities argue it is the only way forward.
“There are 30 full-time Tibetan language teachers in our school. The hours of Tibetan classes? Five to seven per week, the same as Mandarin,” says the school’s vice president, Wang Chuin’eqa, after a brief tour of the classrooms.
She adds that the curriculum varies depending on the age of students.
“There are more Tibetan subjects in the first year of secondary school…. In the following years, less.”
Officials take journalists to traditional music lessons and open-air dance performances, an example of the region’s journey to “prosperity” and “ethnic harmony.”
They also take reporters to a Tibetan calligraphy class, where, brush in hand, teacher Dorjee Tsering proudly explains that he has taught the art for 18 years.
“Write well, be a good man,” reads one of the slogans draped on the wall while one of the students, Tashi Zhuoga, points out that he practices this art form as an after-school activity and that his ambition is to meet his teachers’ expectations.
CONTROVERSIAL BOARDING SCHOOLS
(FILE) Students of The Second Senior High School during the government organised tour in Shannan, Qusong County, Tibet Autonomous Region, China, 18 June 2023. EFE/EPA/ALEX PLAVEVSKI
The education centers, which are also boarding schools, are risking new generations losing touch with their heritage, according to nonprofits and the United Nations.
Activists fear that Tibetan children will lose the ability to communicate with parents and grandparents, which would inevitably contribute to the erosion of their identity, given the “curriculum in Mandarin Chinese (Putonghua) without access to traditional or culturally relevant learning,” a UN report warned.
According to the UN experts, “the Putonghua language governmental schools do not provide a substantive study of Tibetan minority’s language, history and culture.”
Tibet’s exiled political leader Penpa Tsering last month warned that China was perpetrating a “cultural genocide” and turning Tibet into a “huge prison.’
According to UN rapporteurs, the number of boarding students is proportionally larger in Tibet than in the rest of China, where only 20% of children are educated in similar institutions, compared to almost one million children in Tibet, which is the vast majority of children.
Experts say that the closure of rural schools in the region has prompted this shift to boarding school culture, although the Chinese government says that boarding schools represent “a great opportunity” for
Tibetan children that will open new doors for them professionally.
Chinese flags flutter and mingle with messages of patriotism and gratitude towards the CCP within the school premises.
Dawa Tsering, deputy director of the Shannan school, which was founded in 2004 and has dorms, a canteen, a library and a sports field for its more than 2,000 students, says that the vast majority of them come from families with few resources.
Lasong, a student at the school, explains that his home is in Nakuru County and that his parents are shepherds.
“Yes, I have to study Chinese, I want to go to Tibet University,” he says, while his classmate Tashi Yuzhen says that she started learning Chinese in the first grade of primary school.
“By the sixth grade I was fluent,” she says.
An official hosting the visit is quick to underscore that “it is the families who take the decision” of whether or not to send their children to these centers.
“Life for children in rural areas, at high altitude, is hard. Here, in boarding schools, they will improve,” he says.
He adds that it is “untrue” that the Tibetan language is not protected and that the government has invested heavily in protecting their culture, “in practice and by law.”
“I don’t understand the motives for the accusations,” he muses. EFE