The next generation: the state of education in Tibet today


A report released by the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) today describes wide-spread and systematic violations by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) of Tibetan children’s rights to education. “The Next Generation: The State of Education in Tibet Today”, a 100 page report based on interviews conducted in Spring 1997 with 50 Tibetan children who have fled from Tibet in the previous two or three years, reveals the imposition of prohibitively high school fees, the phasing out of Tibetan language and culture, discrimination, indoctrination lessons and excessively cruel punishments.

The children interviewed by TCHRD ranged in age from 9 to 21 years and represented all three provinces of Tibet. Ninety-six percent of them had fled Tibet for reasons of education, generally under the most hazardous conditions and at great financial and personal cost to their family.

It is estimated that in the ten years since 1984 between 6000 to 9000 Tibetan children and young adults have fled Tibet in order to seek educational opportunities in India and Nepal. In 1996, of the 2000 Tibetans who arrived in Nepal on their way to seek exile in India, approximately 45 percent were children and nearly 80 percent of these children were sent unaccompanied by their parents in the hope that they would receive education in exile.

Tibet has been illegally occupied by China since 1949 and is currently administered by the authorities of the PRC. By signing the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the PRC is bound to provide the Tibetan children with an education which is consistent with the obligations of the CRC. Yet roughly one third of the school-aged children in Tibet continue to receive no education at all, compared with just 1.5 percent of Chinese children. This is not due only to the remoteness of some Tibetan regions, an argument frequently invoked by the PRC, but rather to the prohibitively high school fees charged by the Chinese authorities and discrimination against Tibetan children in school admission.

Despite the Convention’s requirement that primary education should be free and accessible for every child, only 17 percent of the interviewed students who had received primary education in Tibet were not required to pay any school fees to the Chinese authorities. Primary school fees paid varied from between 20 to over 6000 yuan a year. In 31 percent of the interviewed cases, students had to pay more than 500 yuan in primary school fees a year.

Thirty-nine percent of the interviewed students who had attended school in Tibet also reported that they had to pay bribes to their teachers or the authorities. Said one child; “I had to pay for my books and food, for my table and chair, and for the brooms in the classroom … I also had to pay bribes to my teachers. I gave them cards, flowers, meat and butter and for the teachers’ holiday we had to pay 90 yuan each. I had to buy my own school uniform.”

The phasing out of Tibetan language in schooling is ominous. In April 1997, officials in the “Tibet Autonomous Region” announced that Tibetan language will no longer be the sole language for education in primary schools. Of the TCHRD survey group, 53 percent of the students who attended a primary school were taught in Chinese.

Of the interviewed students who had attended a middle school in Tibet, only 17 percent attended a middle school where the main teaching language was Tibetan. Even in Tibetan language classes, lessons were reportedly conducted in Chinese. The same pattern is evident at the tertiary level; all except one of the 17 university courses at the University of Tibet are now taught in Chinese.

Interviews conducted for “The Next Generation” found that Tibetan children attending Chinese schools received almost no education on their Tibetan cultural heritage. Of 38 Tibetan children interviewed who had been to a school in Tibet, only three reported to have had any education on Tibetan culture, religion or history. All three cases, by violating Chinese official school policy, posed great risk to both student and teacher.

Most students reported that they were constantly indoctrinated about the greatness of Mao Tse Tung, Li Peng, Chinese socialism and China’s achievements in general and that if they chose not to answer ideological questions “properly”, they risked failure or beatings. One child reported that all students had to sing the Chinese national anthem, starting at grade one: “At that time I didn’t know the Chinese national anthem at all and for this the teacher forced me to stretch out my lips and then he would hit my lips with a stick.”

All of the children interviewed who had visited government-sponsored primary schools reported that they were not allowed to honour any Tibetan holidays except for the Tibetan New Year and were forced to celebrate Chinese holidays. This applied even in schools where there were no Chinese students at all.

Seventy-eight percent of the students who visited a government-sponsored primary school reported that they were forbidden to wear Tibetan clothes to school. Some students reported that they received corporal punishment from teachers for wearing Tibetan clothes to school. Others said that they had to wear Tibetan dress when Chinese officials or foreigners came to visit the school. Some students were forbidden to worship the Dalai Lama, to visit a temple, to eat Tibetan food or to read books in Tibetan language.

Tibetan school children were also coerced by teachers to go home and spy on their family; “They promised us 200 yuan if we found any evidence against our parents that proved they talked about subjects relating to Tibetan culture, history or religion,” said a 13 year-old girl.

In contravention of provisions in the CRC and the UN Convention Against Torture, to which China is also a States Party, children described a variety of brutal punishments implemented in Chinese-administered schools in Tibet. Reports of being made to clean drains, wash teachers’ clothing and clean industrial areas were received from the interviewed students. Even primary school students – children between 6 and 12 years – were subjected to beatings using rubber clubs, whips, belts, electric wires, chair legs, whole chairs, bamboo sticks and other instruments.

One boy, now 12 years old, remembers the time a Chinese student told a Chinese teacher that he had made him fall: “The teacher mixed sand with pieces of broken glass and water. I had to kneel for one hour in this mud. The glass cut into my knees and into my feet. It hurt very much and my knees were bleeding. The teacher told me that if I moved because it hurt I would have to kneel for an even longer time. I still dream about it. … I stayed in hospital for four weeks due to some infection. Another Tibetan boy had received the same punishment … The glass had gone all the way to the bone and infected it and later the boy’s leg had to be amputated from the knee down.”

“Based on the current state of affairs with regard to education, the future of Tibetan children seems to be one of under-education, unemployment and ignorance of their Tibetan heritage,” declared Mr Lobsang Nyandak, Executive Director of TCHRD. “This situation serves dual purposes,” said Mr Nyandak, “to keep Tibetans out of positions of economic power or political influence and to completely integrate the next generation of Tibetans into the Chinese culture.”

The Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy is concerned that, if the education of the Tibetan children in Tibet continues in this way, the chance of the unique and ancient Tibetan culture surviving even another generation is grim. TCHRD considers China’s education policy and administration to directly contravene at least eight provisions of the CRC which safeguard the child’s right: to education; to development of the child’s cultural identity, language and values; to freedom of expression; to freedom of thought and religion; to practise minority rights of culture, religion and language; to be free from interference with his or her family and home; to be protected from exploitation and work interfering with education; and not to be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.