Archive for the ‘Need for a School for Tibetans’ Category

Mandarin Chinese is set to replace Tibetan as the official language of instruction in Tibetan schools in Qinghai province.  In an October 2010 decision, the provincial government of Qinghai, which had previously allowed schools offering the nine years of compulsory education to use Tibetan as the language of instruction, indicated that Mandarin must be the language of instruction by 2015.  Xinhua, the official news agency, reported widespread protests to this move October 17-20 in Tibetan areas of Qinghai: Malho (Chin: Huangnan), Tsolho (Chin: Hainan) Tsojang (Chin: Haibei) and Golog (Chin: Guoluo).

The Mayul School, located in Golog, does not need to adhere to this policy since it is a private vocational institution, but if Tibetan is dropped from the regular curriculum, then future students at the Mayul School will be less prepared for their course of study in Tibetan language. These changes might also cause a further deterioration of the attendance rate for Tibetan students, which averages just 2.2 years of education as opposed to over 10 years for Han Chinese living in urban areas.

Students Outside an Classroom Building, Mayul School, Qinghai

The loss of Tibetan as the language of instruction in schools would further endanger the vitality of Tibetan culture and identity, making the role of the Mayul School all the more important as a place where students can study traditional Tibetan culture, while learning foreign languages, in their own language. Preservation of native languages is a right affirmed in the Chinese constitution, which states: “The people of all nationalities have the freedom to use and develop their own spoken and written languages, and to preserve or reform their own ways and customs.” Our hope is that educational reform in Qinghai will align with this constitutional right and allow Tibetan school children to study Tibetan in Tibetan.

– Eric C. Rath


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A September 2, 2010 article in the Guardian spotlighted the environmental degradation of the Tibetan plateau particularly in Qinghai province, location of our grant.  This damage is caused by agricultural mismanagement and global warning.

Yak Grazing, perhaps a vanishing site in rural Qinghai

One impact of environmental degradation is the government’s removal of Tibetan nomads off of the land and  to reservations where they cannot find work and face the loss of their traditional culture. As the article’s author, Jonathan Watts, writes:

“Qinghai is dotted with resettlement centres, many on the way to becoming ghettos. Nomads are paid an annual allowance – of 3,000 yuan (about £300) to 8,000 yuan per household – to give up herding for 10 years and be provided with housing. As in some native American reservations in the US and Canada, they have trouble finding jobs. Many end up either unemployed or recycling rubbish or collecting dung.”

We witnessed the construction of many of these ghettos which consist of row after row of small houses with little other infrastructure around them, as I have written about elsewhere on this blog. The full text of the Guardian article is available here.

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On a September 2009 trip to Golok, Howard Stahl — president of the Blue Valley Foundation, the American branch of the Gesar Foundation, which is our Tibetan partner charity for this project — took several photos of the Mayul School.

Administration Building

Administration Building

The first photo shows the progress on the administration building (the white building in the center), which will also house the library and teachers’ offices. When we were there in August, the building was just a concrete shell.

Cafeteria Kitchen

In this photo, the chef is working in the school’s cafeteria. Note the steamed bread in the foreground.

Students in the Cafeteria

Classrooms and dorms

The final photo shows a classroom on the left with the school’s dorms on the right and rear. The color of the buildings, chosen by Hungkar Dorje, is that of Manjushri, the Bodhisattva of wisdom.

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Many of the students at the Mayul School come from nomad families, and this recent news story reminded us of the drastic changes occurring in nomad communities due to new government policies.

Chinese government forcibly relocates Tibetan nomads (Xinhua).

The Chinese government announced that it has moved about 50,000 Tibetan nomads from their homelands in the Sanjiangyuan reserve, in Qinghai province, as part of a resettlement programme that began in 2005. Beijing says the programme is meant to protect the ecosystem of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau – the region is home to the headwaters of three major Asian rivers: the Yellow, Yangtze and Mekong. According to Xinhua, 49,631 Tibetans from nomadic families have been settled over the past four years. The TAR government has offered the nomads vocational training and set up a fund to encourage them to start their own businesses, while building new schools and other facilities, Xinhua quoted a TAR official as saying. In 2007, Beijing announced that the authorities eventually planned to resettle 100,000 Tibetan nomads. from http://www.tibetinfonet.net/content/news/110 (25. Aug 2009)

During our visit we drove past several of these new settlements where the government is constructing homes for nomads. The settlements, often found on the outskirts of existing towns like Gande, consist of row after row of single story buildings made of cinder blocks. These buildings have windows and a doorway on one side but no other windows on the other sides which gives them the appearance of two-car garages. One local informant reported that nomads who refused to settle in these homes faced arrest.

Nomad Settlement in Golok

Nomad Homes in Golok

One photo shows a tractor in front of one of these homes, which is a typical means of transportation in Qinghai, but there are no places available to keep livestock, which deprives nomads of their traditional source of livelihood. Indeed, the reason for the settlement is to prevent the nomads from keeping yaks and sheep despite the fact that the desertification of Qinghai is due to past government policies of rural collectivization and intensive agriculture rather than the grazing practices of Tibetan nomads that have proven sustainable for centuries.

Site of Forced Nomad Settlement

Site of Forced Nomad Settlement

The new settlement buildings are dark, squalid structures compared to the tents that are the nomads traditional homes. Tents can be opened to the fresh air, are bright inside, and can be highly decorated outside.

Nomaf Tents

Nomad Tents

The shift from tents to concrete buildings illustrates the loss of cultural identity that will accompany the forced settling of Tibetan nomads. It reminds us of the important role of education in preserving traditional culture and providing new opportunities and sources of livelihood for displaced populations.

– Eric C. Rath

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