Nov. 2, 2016 -- Hidden in the depths of Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture lies Gala township. Its local elementary school was opened alongside a kindergarten last year, after securing government investment of 290 million RMB (about U.S.$43 million). Aside from brand new classrooms decked out with state-of-the-art technology, this school differs from most others in China by offering a bilingual education.
At this bilingual school in Gala while most classes—such as maths—are held in Mandarin, Tibetan language and literature classes are meant to preserve students’ cultural roots.
The choice of language of instruction is crucial in this area with a majority of ethnic Tibetans, since it will have an impact on a student’s future identity and career development. An exclusively Tibetan-language school leaves a student unable to access a large part of Chinese society, including job opportunities, while choosing a solely Mandarin-language track can bring with it fears of losing touch with one’s heritage. At the school in Gala, a focus is put on combining the two cultures.
"Tibetan is important to us. After learning Mandarin and being successful, it is then our responsibility to focus our attention on our local laguange. So, by teaching it to children when they are young, this helps maintain our culture and develop Tibetan areas," said Silong Lamu, Gala School teacher.
A Tibetan Hada scarf intertwined with a Chinese knot as school monument and alternating school uniforms are meant to showcase the multicultural environment. While half of the staff are indeed Han people, 99.9 percent of students are ethnic Tibetan. Most local Han people prefer to attend school in the nearby township of Yajiang. But none of the students in this part of the country are exempt from Tibetan-language classes, of which there are seven per week at Gala School.
"Han students can’t read Tibetan and so I teach them the basics to begin with, for example in English you have a, o, e; in Tibetan we have letters such as ga and ka," said teacher Silang Deji.
Aside from a strong regional focus, the school offers English classes to enable students to communicate not just at a local or national, but an international level as well. And within the next year, a high school is set to open up across the road.