LHASA, Nov. 17, 2023 -- During the weekend, Jampa Yonten took his daughter Langkang Lhamo to a music festival in Lhundrup, a county about 60 km from Lhasa, capital of southwest China's Xizang Autonomous Region. He knew his daughter was a fan of a band performing that night and wanted to spend some quality time with her.
Interview: Why a Tibetan father sends his daughter to boarding school
Nov. 17, 2023
Jampa Yonten is a Tibetan language teacher at a boarding middle school in Lhundrup. His wife is an accountant working for the county government. They were happy that their daughter performed well in the primary school graduate test and was admitted to a boarding school in Lhasa.
"Parents here want their children to go to boarding schools because the boarding schools are the best choice," Jampa Yonten said.
In a vast region with a sparse population, how to ensure every child receives quality education is a question that faces the local as well as the central education authorities. Boarding schools have emerged as an optimal solution.
Starting in the mid-1980s, China initiated a comprehensive reform on its rural education by consolidating a considerable number of rural primary and middle schools, aiming to bring together teachers and establish a more stable and better educational environment for children from remote rural areas.
In 1985, Xizang began implementing the boarding system for primary and secondary schools in its agricultural and pastoral regions. Rural classrooms with poor conditions, scarce students and a shortage of teachers have since been phased out.
Although Lhundrup has a middle school, Jampa Yonten chose the boarding school in Lhasa for her daughter. One reason is that boarding schools have better discipline. He has seen some children start smoking and drinking at an early age because their parents are too busy with work to correct their misbehaviors.
"Middle school is a very important stage for children to know the world, and I don't want my child to go astray," Jampa Yonten said.
In Xizang, boarding is voluntary, and the option is open to students who live far away from schools. Still, many parents, even if they live nearby, are willing to send their children to board for various reasons.
"My daughter studies and lives on campus from Monday to Friday, while her mother and I focus on our work, and we spend the weekend together," Jampa Yonten said.
The boarding schools in Xizang are all semi-boarding ones -- in other words, students are in school from Monday to Friday and go home to their families on weekends. Students from faraway pastoral and rural families usually return once a month or a semester. Parents can visit their children during non-class hours, and meetings between schools and parents are held regularly.
On the weekend, Jampa Yonten usually sends his daughter to English and dance classes out of school because "she loves speaking English and dancing."
At school, students are provided with quality Tibetan-Mandarin bilingual teaching and Tibetan traditional culture education. About half, if not more, of the teachers there are Tibetans, and many of the extracurricular classes are designed based on Tibetan culture, such as local musical instruments and dance and Tibetan calligraphy.
Having majored in Tibetan dancing and Dramyen, a traditional plucked stringed instrument in Xizang, Jampa Yonten also teaches them to his students from time to time. Speaking fine Tibetan language, he is often invited to host activities alongside a Mandarin host in and around Lhundrup.
"I'm well aware of the importance of speaking Mandarin, and at the same time, one must be able to speak Tibetan. I'm very glad that my daughter has mastered both languages well," he said.
The facilities of schools in Lhasa are generally better than those of schools below the county level. In addition, better teachers, diversified curriculum choices, and rich cultural activities are also the reasons why he chose to let his daughter study in the boarding school in the regional capital.
The government carries the cost of meals, accommodation, and study for students in boarding schools. Since 2012, Xizang has provided 15-year free education from kindergarten to high school for children of farmers and herders. So far, the average subsidy standard for each student has reached 4,530 yuan (about 625 U.S. dollars) per year.
As boarding schools provide nutritious meals with a more balanced diet structure, Tibetan students' health conditions have improved, too.
"As we don't have to spend money on her school education, we have more financial space to improve her life and develop her interests," Jampa Yonten said. "We don't even have to worry too much about her growth."
Tibetan parents, like those in other regions, want the best for their children. Boarding schools, they said, have helped reduce the risk of transportation to and from school, and increase opportunities for interaction to improve the interpersonal skills of their children.
"No matter the circumstances, children's right to life and development is paramount, and a generation with good health, abundant knowledge, and strong capabilities can protect and advance their language and culture," Jampa Yonten said.