Tibet Foundation

Aid to Tibet News from Newsletter 38

Jun 3, 2003

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Aid to Tibet News from Newsletter 38

Education is the great engine of personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that the son of a mineworker can become the head of the mine, that the child of farmworkers can become the president of a great nation. It is what we make out of what we have, not what we are given that separates one person from another. Nelson Mandela. Such sentiments could now be written of Tibet. Though the society is not – and could never have been said to be – a fluid meritocracy, young Tibetans in Tibet are today finally able to forge their own destiny. This however is not a case of opportunities universally taken and rewards justly reaped. Though the Beijing government has legislated that all children should receive 9 years of “Basic Education”, a large proportion of Tibetans fail even to enrol in school. The reasons for this are abundant (and were dealt with in greater depth in Newsletter 32, copies of which are available through our website or the Foundation office). The two key reasons why children are not sent to school by their families are the costs of educating a child in a world where children are considered able workers, and the lack of awareness among parents in rural areas of the importance that an education will assume in their children’s future. PRIMARY SCHOOLING Education has been Aid to Tibet’s key interest since its inception early in the 1990s. Initially Aid to Tibet focused its effort on Gyalten School, a privately run school in Kandze County. As a result of your help, and the hard work of staff and Education in Tibet students, Gyalten is now regarded as a centre of excellence by local people and authorities. Since 2000, we have been trying to diversify our support to help larger numbers of primary students in other schools. To attain the greatest impact from limited resources, we have focused on the existing network of state run schools. State schools in western China have suffered from serious underfunding. However since the “Develop the West” campaign was launched in 2001, a large increase in educational funding has become available. The new funding going to schools is for specific purposes. At a primary school level, investment in buildings, books and teacher salaries have increased dramatically. However no provision has been made for what is perhaps the greatest need of rural Tibetan students: the difficulties faced by students living far from the school. Most rural schools in Tibet are situated in a small township, and draw a little over half of their students from the immediate area. Of the remaining students, some will be travelling over 15 miles to their nearest school. Some of these students are able to live with relatives or family in the township, but for the remainder, the only option is to stay in the school. For these students, board and lodging forms as fundamental a part of schooling as do teachers and books. Aid to Tibet’s recent focus in primary education has been to supplement government funds, and provide food and lodging to students who live too far from school to commute. Already, our money is reaching 6 primary schools across Kham and one in Amdo. The schools are listed in Table 1: The boarding costs for a primary school student in rural areas are tiny – around £7 per student per month. Though we lack detailed studies to corroborate this, in every instance staff at the schools assert that when they are able to provide food to students, their attendance and concentration improves markedly. SECONDARY SCHOOLING Though the costs of secondary and tertiary education are significantly higher, our priority is now to extend student’s education beyond primary level! We are already supporting students in four higher education institutions in Kham. These are the Kandze Normal College (teacher training), Kandze Tibetan College, the Sertha Middle School, and the Sershul County Tibetan Astrological and Medical College (as part of the Sershul County Health Initiative). All these students are likely to return to their native areas on graduation, trained as doctors, teachers, or in Tibetan cultural studies. Continuing education is a vital part of Aid to Tibet’s work, and it is one we want to extend over the coming years. FUTURE PLANS China is changing fast, and the greatest potential for change is in the western regions. Enormous economic opportunities will soon present themselves to Tibetan and Han settlers alike. To meet these opportunities and challenges, we are planning to create a series of scholarships for the most committed and capable graduates of our schools, and train these students in technical, administrative and other desperately needed skills, before returning these young men and women to their home areas. We want to ensure these students receive the best education available, and take their skills back to benefit as many Tibetans as possible. Our initial target is to offer one scholarship to each of the 10 schools we are working with. Primary school students would progress to secondary school. Secondary school students will progress to universities. This will not be cheap. University education will cost around £100 a month in the big cities, and around £50 a month for vocational or college courses. We believe this is a small price for something that ultimately will benefit an entire generation. If you are able to help Aid to Tibet to educate a future generation of Tibetans, please contact Jon Aldridge in the Tibet Foundation office. If enough people can help by making a monthly donation, however small, we will be able to make a difference to these children’s future. Taken from Tibet Foundation Newsletter 38.