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Human Rights Quarterly 24.4 (2002) 1066-1072

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Book Review

Education In Tibet:
Familiar Problems In An Unfamiliar Context

Education in Tibet, Policy and Practice Since 1950, by Catriona Bass (Tibet Information Network and Zed Books, 1998).

While the political and religious tensions between Tibet and the central Chinese government are familiar to many, Catriona Bass' Education in Tibet, Policy and Practice Since 1950, provides a rare English language examination of the educational system in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), 1 and how such education reflects the relationship between Tibet and the central Chinese government. In the words of the author, this book "is the first full-length account of education in the TAR published outside China." Catriona Bass is a Tibet specialist,now based in Oxford, England, who has taught at the university level in China as well as in the TAR. She has also worked for both the TAR Academy of Social Sciences and the Lhasa City Government Education Department. 2

The book does much more than provide information about the education system in Tibet. It uses the lens of education to provide the reader with an understanding of Tibetan culture, problems in economic development, and the nature of the region's relationship not only with the central Chinese government, but with the Han Chinese people generally. This book is clearly valuable to those interested [End Page 1066] in education generally or specifically in education in Tibet. It is also of interest to those who wish to examine education as a vehicle for analyzing the relationship between the central Chinese government and its minority nationalities, specifically the ongoing tension between Chinese sovereignty and Tibetan nationalism.

The book covers the last half of the twentieth century, with an emphasis on approximately the last fifteen years of that period. The author focuses on certain critical topics that are often interrelated. They also have a familiarity beyond the TAR. These topics can be divided into three categories: general education needs; discrimination concerns regarding educational opportunities; and political policy. The general educational topics include the sources and adequacy of educational funding, the shortage and low economic status of teachers, curriculum content, the value and use of academic testing, and the impact of such testing on curriculum. The topics involving educational opportunity include the efficacy, fairness, and accuracy of student academic streaming or tracking,the provision of education in a minority student's native tongue, affirmative action to compensate certain disadvantaged students, and the disparity between rural and urban educational needs. The author also includes brief separate sections on the effect of gender on educational opportunity, and the availability of education for children with special needs. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the book examines the impact of national Chinese political philosophy on educational policy in the TAR.

According to the author, the primary research for the book is based on her own personal observations and experiences working in Tibet, her interviews over a twelve year period with Tibetans, Han Chinese, and westerners who have worked in Tibet, and an analysis of government policies, documents, data, and both Tibetan and Chinese scholarly literature. Bass explains that she has included excerpts from the research of Tibetan and Chinese scholars because not much of this scholarship is otherwise published outside of China and because this scholarship illustrates the extent of the debate over education occurring in the TAR and China.

The author acknowledges a few limitations with regard to her sources. First, the title of a research paper or document or the title of an interview may not be cited in order to protect the security of author or person interviewed. For the same reason, the author may not be cited, even when material is available in China, because publicity in the West may be detrimental to the author's position in China. Second, some research materials available to foreigners studying the education system in other parts of China may be classified in the TAR and therefore not available. Critical discussion of education is more "politically sensitive in the TAR" than in other parts of...


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