I’ve translated a short article published today on Radio Free Asia’s Uyghur service. Bilingual education is one of the most controversial policies of the Xinjiang regional government, and is frequently accused of being disproportionately conducted in Mandarin, of co-opting a freer system where Uyghurs had the individual choice to send their children to exclusively Uyghur or Mandarin schools, of creating new educator standards that drive Uyghur teachers with poor Mandarin skills into unemployment, and of putting the education of Uyghur kids into the hands of Han educators unsympathetic to Uyghur culture. While many of these criticisms are valid and documented, I also think that the bilingual education policy is also extremely difficult to criticize, particularly since the concern with providing Uyghurs with the linguistic skills to be competitive on the job market is indeed a valid one and can be seen all over the world, as in, for example, the United States where providing immigrant children with English-speaking skills is paramount. Education in Xinjiang is a rich topic that spotlights issues of indigenous rights, cultural involvement in education, the relationship between language and nationalism, and “domestic” globalization. Here’s a short article where RFA reporter Irade, a Uyghur, weighs in on the topic.
Chinese authorities in the Uyghur region are presently undertaking firm measures to expand “bilingual” education starting with children in kindergarten. According to information from today’s Xinjiang newspaper, Shule County [Hanzi: 疏勒县; Uyghur: Qeshqer Yéngisheher Nahiyisi] has set the target for children’s enrollment in “bilingual kindergartens” to 100%.
According to the article, Shule County has managed to build 105 bilingual kindergartens, which together have a total of 14,166 children. The first “bilingual kindergarten” in Shule County was built in March of 2006, and under a policy mandating the construction of a standard bilingual kindergarten, in just 4 years “bilingual kindergartens” have spread to every single village in the county, including the most remote and distant ones.
The central Chinese government has allocated dedicated funding for the expansion of bilingual education in the Uyghur region up until the year 2012 as part of the 11th 5 year plan. The policy was originally aimed at educational training at the kindergarten, elementary, and middle school level, and emphasized working to broaden the areas designated for construction projects.
The so-called “bilingual” education policy, based on forcing Uyghur children to speak Chinese, has aroused intense discontent among Uyghur intellectuals both within and outside the Uyghur homeland. Critics draw attention to the potential of “bilingual” education to threaten the normal development and healthy thinking of immature children and accuse bilingual education of being a planned and deliberate assimilation policy.
As usual, the original Uyghur will pop up on hovering over the text, written in ULY. While I think the article I’ve translated is definitely worth sharing, it doesn’t necessarily reflect accurately my own opinions on the subject.