By Choekyi Lhamo
DHARAMSHALA, May 30: The US-based Tibet Action Institute said that a Tibetan eyewitness Dr. Gyal Lo, who defected from Tibet last year, has confirmed that China is operating a mandatory system of colonial boarding preschools for children aged four to six in occupied Tibet. In December 2021, the research group published a report “Separated from their Families, Hidden from the World” which claimed that the government policies have built a vast colonial boarding system that targets and exploits minorities, especially Tibetans in pursuit of education.
“It is outright cruelty to separate children from their parents, especially at this extremely young age. Not only is the Chinese government tearing families apart, it is forcing these vulnerable children to become strangers to their own Tibetan culture, severing their spiritual, linguistic and cultural ties to their homes and communities. This is why I’m speaking out today,” Tibetan educator Dr. Gyal Lo said in the press release, urging the UN High commissioner Michelle Bachelet to demand these boarding preschools be closed during her ongoing visit to China. Gyal has visited more than 50 schools and estimated in the statement that at least 100,000 children are living in these institutions, forced away from families.
As per the eyewitness, within his own family, he cited examples of children speaking only in Chinese language in just three months, even though they had been raised speaking in Tibetan. “The boarding preschools – often called kindergartens – require four- to six-year-olds to live at school five days a week, with visits home allowed only on weekends. The students are immersed in Chinese language and intentionally cut off from learning in their mother tongue at a time when this linguistic foundation is needed the most for their development,” the statement released on Tuesday said.
The report by the group drew similarities between western colonial invasion of indigenous peoples and the ongoing Chinese assimilation project implemented through such colonial education projects. “The colonial boarding school program is an insidious tool in the larger project of forcing Tibetans to adopt a homogenous, patriotic, Chinese identity in order to eliminate challenges to the Party or the state,” it further stated.
Gyal also explained the top-down approach with which the Chinese authorities designed and devised executing such pedagogical tactics, by citing an example of a primary school with a preschool attached with it, where the main school was asked to remove all Tibetan representation from classrooms. “Authorities told the Tibetan principal that the school must remove from the classroom walls depictions of Tibetan historical figures and cultural heroes, Tibetan imagery, and Tibetan script and replace them with photos of Chairman Mao and Deng Xiaoping, famous Chinese phrases, and so forth,” he said noting that after the administration did not comply right away, they were warned again and had to eventually take down all visual displays from classes.