Rights group condemns China for denying mother-tongue education to Tibetan Children

(Photo courtesy: Human Rights Watch)

(TibetanReview.net, Mar05’20) – New York-based international human rights organization Human Rights Watch has on Mar 5 accused China of implementing a policy to accelerate the demise of Tibetan-medium instruction in primary schools in Tibetan areas in the name of providing “bilingual education”. The policy, carried out over the past decade in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and other Tibetan areas, has increased Chinese language schooling at all levels except for the study of Tibetan language itself, said a new report published by the group.

Under the guise of improving access to education, the Chinese government has rolled back minority education rights in Tibet. Instead, it has been implementing a compulsory “bilingual” kindergartens education system that immerses Tibetan children in Chinese language and state propaganda from age 3 in the name of “strengthening the unity of nationalities,” said the 91-page report titled “China’s ‘Bilingual Education’ Policy in Tibet: Tibetan-Medium Schooling Under Threat.”

Describing these developments as a reflection of an assimilationist policy for minorities, the report said the policy had gained momentum under President Xi Jinping’s leadership.

“China’s ‘bilingual education’ policy is motivated by political imperatives rather than educational ones,” said Sophie Richardson, the group’s China director. “The Chinese government is violating its international legal obligations to provide Tibetan-language instruction to Tibetans.”

The report is based on in-depth interviews with Tibetan schoolteachers, academics, and former officials, and includes translations of recent petitions by Tibetans and debates on language rights and education.

The group acknowledges that it was necessary and desirable for children to acquire fluency in Chinese but noted that this was in no way incompatible with Tibetan-medium instruction at the kindergarten and primary level.

The report notes that China’s version of bilingual education contravenes international human rights law, particularly the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. UN committees such as those on the Rights of the Child; Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; and Elimination of Racial Discrimination have all expressed concern over the rights of Tibetans to education in their own language and culture in China, the group has pointed out.

The group urged UN member countries to urgently and publicly raise their concerns over the issue in bilateral meetings and international forums.

Calling China’s current bilingual education policy a violation of the country’s own constitution, international standards, expert consensus on the importance of mother-tongue instruction, and the basic aspirations of the Tibetan people, Richardson has said, “Forced assimilation is no solution to the governance of ethnic minority regions, nor is national security an acceptable justification for the denial of mother-tongue education rights.”


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