5. Popularizing Basic Education in Tibet’s Nomadic Regions
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China has joined a number of other nations including Kenya, Nigeria, Iran, Eritrea, Saudi Arabia, and Mongolia, where nomadic groups have traditionally been marginalized in education. This is especially true for nomadic groups that possess a cultural heritage, including language and religion, which deviates from the national mainstream and challenges state efforts to institutionalize basic education (Bangsbo 2008). As education becomes a strategy in national integration and development, non-indigenous education wins out over that which is traditionally passed down through nomadic households and communities. In short, state schooling can affect nomadic lifestyles in fundamental ways. The challenge of providing education to nomadic groups is complex and often marred by a lack of understanding between the government provider of basic education and the prospective nomadic user community (Kratli 2000). Nomadic communities do not always share the state’s viewpoint on schooling. The quest for fresh pastures for livestock is often misaligned with the rational administration of government. From the nomadic point of view, the state’s agenda for education may represent an attempt to change their way of life. This can affect their participation in educational programs. Furthermore, state agents often consider nomads to be backward and uncivilized (Postiglione 2008). China has accelerated the initiatives to draw Tibetan nomads into educational programs. However, these efforts and the view of the state about the delivery of educational services can run counter to nomadic values. This may manifest itself in a lack of harmonization between state intentions and the household perspectives . In fact, this chapter demonstrates that despite the efforts to develop more effective policies, and despite increases in enrollments, which these policies have 5 PopularizingBasicEducationinTibet’s Nomadic Regions Gerard Postiglione, Ben Jiao, Li Xiaoliang, and Tsamla 108 Gerard Postiglione, Ben Jiao, Li Xiaoliang, and Tsamla brought, there is still a significant degree of mismatch between what the government provides and what Tibetan nomads perceive as useful. Education and Development for Nomads The school, as an instrument of sedentarization, keeps nomads near settlements if they want their children to be educated. Boarding schools introduce children to the sedentary lifestyle with the expectation that the advantages will be clear. Yet, boarding schools can also antagonize nomadic culture. For Tibetan nomads to play a more diversified role in the economic development of their region, basic education not only needs to socialize them into attitudes and beliefs prescribed for citizens of the nation-state, but more specifically to provide relevant knowledge and practices that resonate with their cultural traditions as well as make them successful and innovative livestock producers.Thus, it is important for schooling to become culturally sensitive, regionally relevant, and responsive to the realities of the nomadic community. Nomadic communities in China, including in three of its ethnic autonomous regions—Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region (IMAR), Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), and Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR)—demonstrate some of the same challenges faced by nomadic communities in other parts of the world. However, Tibet is special in that its nomadic regions are far more remote than those in other parts of China and its nomads usually live at altitudes ranging from four to six thousand meters. While progress has been made in rural areas, basic education in nomadic areas of Tibet still lags behind. This chapter examines how national development plans for education in remote, mountainous, nomadic communities become confounded due to their disharmony with nomadic lifestyles and perspectives. It is argued that while significant resources are invested in educational facilities, including the importation of qualified teachers and the elimination of school fees, nomadic communities continue to question the benefits of state schooling due to a perceived lack of both relevance and useful skill transmission. A detailed outline of nomadic education in Tibet is followed by data from fieldwork interviews and observations of two nomadic prefectures and one nomadic county. Finally, the chapter returns to a fundamental problem of nomadic education. Popularizing Basic Education in Tibet’s Nomadic Regions 109 School Access in Tibet Education in Tibet has followed a pattern of zigzag development, with obvious improvements in recent years due to a heavy injection of capital funds. Despite being behind the rest of the country and constrained by a tight political environment , school access rates have steadily inched upward over the last twenty years. Roughly half of Tibet’s school-age children were enrolled in 1989 (Tsaidan 1991). The enrollment rates increased to 85 percent in 2000 and further to 98.5 percent in 2008 (China Tibet News 2009). Albeit, there is a...