A Generation in Peril: The Lives of Tibetan Children Under Chinese Rule
II. Education

"The success of our education does not lie in the number of diplomas issued to graduates from universities, colleges, polytechnic schools and middle 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. This is the most salient and the most important criteria for assessing right and wrong, and the contributions and mistakes of our educational work in Tibet." -Chen Kuiyuan, former TAR Party Secretary

Nyima's Story:

Nyima is an eleven-year-old girl from Lhasa. In September 1998, she made the arduous journey to India. Like many Tibetan children in exile, she came to India with two aspirations: to meet the Dalai Lama and to get a better education. In Lhasa, she had been the sole child in her family able to attend school, apparently because the family's poverty prohibited her four younger siblings from obtaining the necessary documents and paying the monthly 'miscellaneous' costs required by the school. Her father traded wood, and her mother sold cloth. Together, they were barely able to raise the 425 yuan (about $53) that the school charged Tibetan students for books, pens and 'special' class, which Nyima told us was a fee that went directly to the teacher to help students prepare for exams. Chinese students, she said, paid a lower fee.

Nyima attended school from 7 A.M. to 10 P.M. Chinese students left at 7 P.M. When she asked her teacher the reason, Nyima said she had been told that 'the Chinese are smarter and the Tibetans are more foolish.' Nyima did not think highly of her teachers. The quality of their teaching, she said, depended on whether students gave them 'gifts,' usually watches or money. She explained that each day her Chinese teacher would divide the class into students who did and those who did not give gifts. He taught the former group first. Only when they fully understood the lesson did he teach the latter group. At times, this meant he did not teach them at all. Nyima could rarely afford gifts, but she passed exams with help from a friend in the privileged group. No Tibetan culture, history or religion was taught at school. It was forbidden for students to mention Buddhism or the Dalai Lama. Religious practice could result in expulsion. On one occasion, she wore prayer beads to school. The teacher threatened to punish her if she did not remove them. The school celebrated only Chinese, not Tibetan, holidays. And only Tibetan students, not Chinese, Nyima said, were forced to clean toilets and sweep the school grounds.

It would be inaccurate to call Nyima's experiences 'typical.' We heard a broad range of accounts regarding the schools in Tibet. The ability of Tibetan children to obtain an education appears to vary depending on, among other factors, whether the child lives in a rural or urban region, the ethnic composition of the students and teachers, the tuition, extra fees and 'gifts' a child's parents can afford to pay, and finally, the nature of the school that he or she attends - an important factor that requires some preliminary discussion.

According to the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, children in Tibet generally receive their primary school education in Tibet in the six-year lobchung, of which there are two types: the mangtsug (local schools supported solely by the community) and the zhungtsug (state institutions that receive financial support from the Chinese government). State-funded primary schools exist primarily in urban regions and admission reportedly often depends upon connections. TIN's recent study of education in the TAR likewise distinguishes 'community' schools, funded by local taxation, from 'state-run' schools, which receive central government funding. In rural and nomadic regions of the TAR, where more than eighty percent of Tibetans live, 'education is almost entirely provided by community schools.' Our interviews confirmed this basic division, although Tibetan children did not emphasize or appear particularly aware of any rigid distinction between mangtsug and zhungtsug. Moreover, we found that some Tibetan children receive their primary education at neither of these institutions. Instead, they attend what appear to be private schools, funded variously by foreign charities, by Tibetans acting independently of the local community government (particularly in more isolated regions of Tibet) or by local monasteries and rinpoches (Tibetan lamas).

Another factor that affects Tibetan children's primary education is the ethnic composition of their schools. This often reflects the demographics of the local population in the school's area. But in state-run institutions it may also depend on guangxi ('connections') a factor that tends to favor students whose parents work in government offices or administrative positions in the school system. Tibetan children from rural and nomadic regions populated principally by Tibetans sometimes attended community schools at which most, if not all, teachers and students were Tibetan. By contrast, in more urban regions of the TAR - particularly in and around Lhasa - Tibetan children frequently reported attending mixed schools with both Chinese and Tibetan students. Teachers, too, could be either Chinese or Tibetan, but Chinese teachers appear to predominate in state-run institutions. In regions of Kham and Amdo where the population is divided more equally between Tibetans and Chinese, mixed community schools also exist.

While these variables make it difficult to generalize, several broad trends emerged in our research. Though Chinese law dictates free and compulsory primary school education, many children were unable to attend school because of so-called 'miscellaneous costs,' tuition in all but name. Others could attend but received an inferior education because their parents could not afford the 'gifts' that many Chinese parents paid to teachers. Children in rural regions face many more obstacles to obtaining an education than those in urban areas, including the absence of primary schools, low or no government funding at the community schools, a consequent lack of resources and an inadequate number and poor quality of teachers. The medium of instruction varies, but the Chinese language predominates in most schools. This prevents many Tibetan children, no matter their aptitude, from progressing beyond primary school because admissions exams are administered almost completely in Chinese. Outright ethnic discrimination also appears to play a major role in education, both at the primary school level and in the admissions process for secondary education. The curriculum in all but a few (usually private and self-funded) Tibetan schools is overtly political. Lessons in Tibetan history, culture and religion are virtually non-existent. In fact, they are often actively discouraged and even punished. These circumstances motivate many Tibetan parents to avoid sending their children to primary school altogether, to send them (where possible) to alternative institutions such as monasteries, to withdraw them at an early age or to send them to Tibetan schools in India - at great risk to both themselves and their children.

A.The International Legal Context: The Right to an Education -->