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Boarding schools improving education in Tibet

By Liu Shanhuai | China Daily | Updated: 2023-09-13 07:18

Jin Ding/China Daily

Certain so-called international experts have been deliberately ignoring facts and making unfounded allegations against boarding schools in China's Tibet autonomous region. These so-called experts have been spreading lies, in order to mislead the people around the world and tarnish the achievements of education in Tibet.

The construction of boarding schools is a common practice in many countries. Boarding schools are built to meet the diversified educational needs of children. In general, there are three types of boarding schools.

The first type is for children who have to commute long distances to reach school or have other difficulties in attending school.

The second type is to meet the educational needs of special children. Countries such as the United States and Japan have established therapeutic boarding schools and special education boarding schools to meet the educational needs of special children.

The third type provides "elite" education. There are many "elite" boarding schools in countries such as the United Kingdom and France. They provide education for the children of affluent families, and have a strong faculty and abundant teaching resources, focus on the comprehensive as well as personalized development of students. Many see such boarding schools as important training grounds for "elite" talents.

Countries like the US and Canada, in the past, had established compulsory boarding schools with the aim of "assimilating" Indigenous peoples in mainstream society. Based on this colonial concept, these schools were run by military-style management, and prohibited children from using their native language, wearing traditional clothes, eating traditional foods, or performing any rituals that reflected Indigenous cultures on the campus.

The boarding schools constructed by the central government in Tibet belong to the first type. In the early days of the People's Republic of China, boarding schools were built mainly in pastoral, remote mountainous and less-developed areas — places where ethnic minorities generally live. Houses in such areas were scattered and, as a result, students had to walk very long distances to reach school or couldn't concentrate on studies.

In order to address these challenges, as well as improve the education level, the central government built boarding schools in some areas and provided free boarding and food. By the early 1980s, the effectiveness of these boarding schools was evident to all.

Over the past 20 years, the central government has built a large number of high-quality boarding schools in rural areas to ensure that students in the countryside receive quality education. In fact, building rural boarding schools has become a major livelihood project in China and such schools are helping improve the education level of students, particularly in rural and ethnic minority areas.

First, boarding schools provide a free, safe and convenient learning atmosphere, and have significantly reduced the dropout rate. Such schools are established based on the characteristics of the scattered populations and less-developed transportation network in certain areas.

Tibet has a vast territory, sparse population, complex and diverse terrain, and harsh climate. Because of these natural conditions, combined with the settlement patterns of the population, many students have to trudge long distances to and from school, which exposes them to safety hazards. The central government has built boarding schools to ensure these students have access to free, safe and quality education.

However, parents decide whether their children should live in boarding schools, even though the Tibet regional administration provides free "food, accommodation, and study expenses" from preschool to high school level, as well as transportation subsidy for the children of all farmers and herdsmen, and urban families facing financial difficulties.

To provide a healthy living environment for students, boarding schools are equipped with basic facilities such as washing machines and water heaters, and have dedicated teachers. Traditional Tibetan food, such as tsampa (roasted barley flour) and butter tea, too, is provided for the students if they ask for it. Many boarding students have said the school meals are better than those at home.

Second, the boarding schools in Tibet provide comprehensive and high-quality education for the students. In most areas with sparse populations and harsh climatic conditions, the infrastructure for transportation, housing and healthcare is below par, making it difficult to attract good teachers to, and offer a complete curriculum in, schools. By building boarding schools in these areas, the central government has concentrated the educational resources and greatly improved the overall infrastructure. Boarding schools also provide teachers with better working and living conditions, ensure a stable faculty, and offer a complete curriculum. As a matter of fact, all boarding schools in Tibet offer a complete curriculum that includes basic and ethnic cultural courses, and a local syllabus designed by the schools.

And third, the boarding schools have student-centric management, and prioritize the comprehensive development of students by providing a healthy learning environment. They promote collaboration between home and school by organizing regular parent-teacher meetings and open days, allowing parents to get a sound knowledge of the living conditions of the schools and how and what their children are studying.

These schools fully respect ethnic cultural differences and offer courses in subjects such as the Tibetan language, Tibetan dance and traditional Tibetan sports. Also, they allow students to wear traditional Tibetan dresses. As for the school management, they value the wishes of students and parents, allowing parents to visit their children at any time. And students have the option to go home on weekends, holidays (including traditional Tibetan festivals such as Tibetan New Year and Shoton Festival), and during winter and summer vacations.

Students whose homes are far from the schools enjoy a flexible "extended weekend" vacation system, such as "10 days of school, four days off" to ensure they spend sufficient time with their parents.

As such, the central government is confident and capable enough to further improve the operation of boarding schools and the education quality in Tibet.

The author is the vice-president of China Institute of Rural Education Development at Northeast Normal University. The views don't necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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