The Risk Presented by China’s Colonial Boarding Schools in Tibet

At the United Nations, the tables are being cleared for the Universal Periodic Review, a roughly quadrennial process where member states human rights situation comes under scrutiny. It could be a particularly troubling time for China given its discord with the West, that could see more countries taking a close look at Beijing’s human rights practices.

Some of these relate to China’s education policies in Tibet that Dr Gyal Lo, a Canada-based Tibetan sociologist describes as “colonial”. In an interview with StratNews Global, he said that after closely studying the education system, he was able to draw some conclusions.

“While teachers are teaching, students are learning and schools are running, yet our society is not making any progress. So, what is wrong with our education system. We analysed the curriculum and the education policy and I was the first to academically describe China’s school system in Tibet as colonial boarding schools”, he said.

The system he said, draws from China’s education policy that has two aspects: one hidden and the other that is “on the table”.

“When you read what’s on the table, there’s no problem, but it’s in the implementation of the document on the ground that the double game is played. One should closely watch how it is implemented, since it is done in a way they want.”

Gyal Lo says the hidden policy is what matters here for this is what has been at play for over six decades. The hidden policy limits instruction in Tibetan language, culture and tradition to about 20%. Earlier it was more but since Xi Jinping took over in 2008, the approach has changed.

“They want one culture, one nation one language. So, there’s no space for our culture and language. This is I think is China’s top ideological conspiracy being practiced over many decades in Tibetan society. Our school system produces cheap labour. They have weaponised the school system to turn four generations of Tibetans into cheap labour.”

The Chinese of course deny any wrongdoing in Tibet and when pressed, resort to circumlocution. For instance, they claim that the number of students in boarding schools is low, and only cite the case of the Tibet Autonomous Region, which is sparsely populated. But Dr Gyal Lo points to the other regions of Tibet the Chinese prefer not to talk about: Utsang, Amdo and Kham populated by 2/3rds of ethnic Tibetans.

Key questions put to the Chinese rarely elicit a reply, of if they do, it is usually a lie, he says. At the same time, he feels the UN is the best place to put pressure on China to clean up its act in Tibet. The Chinese tend to listen to those who are rich and powerful while ignoring the weak.

This has implications for India. If Tibetan language and culture are safeguarded and allowed to be practiced, India is safe given the knowledge and awareness each culture has of the other. But if the colonial boarding schools become the norm in Tibet, with its focus on Sinicizing Tibetans, then Tibetans thinking like Chinese will only deepen India’s insecurity.

News Desk

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