Elderly Tibetans go back to school to learn to read and write
December 21, 2018

Radio Free Asia, December 18, 2018- In a move aimed at improving their command of the Tibetan language, elderly residents of a Tibetan-populated county in Qinghai have launched a series of classes to learn basic skills, a source living in the area says.

The Tibetans, ranging in age from 50 to 80 years old, gather each week in Gatoe town in the Yulshul Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture’s Tridu (in Chinese, Chenduo) county for classes where they are taught writing and reading.

“There, they start by learning the Tibetan alphabet, beginning their education even at such an advanced age,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“Though they all grew up speaking Tibetan, and are strongly familiar with their culture, they had been deprived of a basic education in the language since there were no schools, either state-run or private, in that area to cater to their needs in childhood,” the source said.

That so many residents are taking an interest in mastering the Tibetan language even in their older years is much appreciated by the Tibetan community, the source said.

Tridu county’s Zilkar monastery has now taken the lead in providing resources to support the classes, with senior monks showing “particular interest in promoting Tibetan literacy among the elderly Tibetans,” RFA’s source said.

“The promotion and preservation of Tibetan language and culture is being emphasized in all Tibetan communities, but in reality Tibetans now depend on [Chinese] culture and language for their own survival,” he said.

Writers, singers, and educators promoting Tibetan national identity and culture have frequently been detained by Chinese authorities, with many handed long jail terms, following region-wide protests against Chinese rule that swept Tibetan areas of China in 2008.

Language rights have become a particular focus for Tibetan efforts to assert national identity in recent years, with informally organized language courses often deemed “illegal associations” and teachers subject to detention and arrest, sources say.

On May 22, 2018, a Qinghai court sentenced Tibetan shopkeeper and language activist Tashi Wangchuk, 33, to a five-year prison term for promoting “separatism” following his efforts to preserve and promote the use of his native language in Tibetan-populated regions of China.