Authorities in a Tibetan-populated region of western China’s Sichuan province are threatening to close a local school, saying it will be immediately shut down if it fails to provide classroom instruction exclusively in Chinese, Tibetan sources say.
The Gyalten School, operating in the Tehor Dhargay Rongpa Tsal subdistrict of the Kardze (in Chinese, Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, was founded in 1994 by religious leader Tulku Gyalten Lobsang Jampa, a local source told RFA this week.
“And though the school was founded by a Tibetan lama, it does not operate as a private school. It is registered and administered under the Chinese government and runs like a government school,” RFA’s source said in a written message sent under condition of anonymity.
“And yes, I have heard about a notice sent to the school to change its medium of instruction to Chinese,” the source said.
Also speaking to RFA, a Tibetan living in India confirmed the threat to close the school, citing contacts in the Kardze region.
“And if the school refuses to implement the changes, the Chinese government has threatened to shut it down,” the source said.
“Also beginning this school year, the annual entrance exams were all conducted in Chinese,” the source added.
The Gyalten School holds classes up through sixth grade where Tibetan, English, Chinese, math, science, and vocational training are taught as part of the curriculum, sources say. So far, 642 Tibetan students have graduated from the school.
Tulku Gyalten Lobsang Jampa, the school’s founder, also serves as vice-chair of the Buddhist Association of Sichuan and is a member of China’s National People’s Congress, the rubber-stamp parliament.
Private schools already closed
Authorities in Sichuan had already begun this year to close down private Tibetan schools offering classes taught in the Tibetan language, forcing students to go instead to government-run schools where they will be taught entirely in Chinese, sources told RFA in earlier reports.
The move is being pushed in the name of providing uniformity in the use of textbooks and instructional materials, but parents of the affected children and other local Tibetans have expressed concern over the imposed requirements, saying that keeping young Tibetans away from their culture and language will have severe negative consequences for the future.
Just under 1.5 million Tibetans live in historically Tibetan parts of western Sichuan province, according to China’s 2010 census.
Language rights have become a particular focus for Tibetan efforts to assert national identity in recent years, with informally organized language courses in the monasteries and towns deemed “illegal associations” and teachers subject to detention and arrest, sources say.
Reported by Sangyal Kunchok for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Tenzin Dickyi. Written in English by Richard Finney.