Number of Students Receiving Mandarin-Focused "Bilingual" Education in Xinjiang Continues To Rise

April 6, 2010

The number of students receiving "bilingual" education in the far western region of Xinjiang continued to rise in 2009. In Xinjiang, "bilingual" policies promote class instruction in Mandarin Chinese and have contributed to the phasing out of other languages in Xinjiang schools, in contravention of protections for these languages in Chinese law. As part of "bilingual" policies, the government has bolstered "bilingual" education programs at the preschool level. Recent government efforts also have promoted an increase in "bilingual" teacher training. In addition, authorities have adjusted college recruitment plans to admit more students educated in Mandarin.

The number of ethnic minority students receiving "bilingual" education in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) in 2009 increased by more than 150,000 over the previous year, according to a January 12 Xinjiang Daily report (via Xinhua). As noted in the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) 2009 Annual Report, educational policies described as "bilingual" by the XUAR government have placed primacy on Mandarin Chinese through methods including eliminating ethnic minority language instruction or relegating it solely to language arts classes. The steps to phase out instruction in languages other than Mandarin contravene provisions in Chinese law to protect ethnic minority languages and promote their use in XUAR schools. Authorities have strengthened implementation of "bilingual" programs in the region in recent years.

In 2009, 753,300 ethnic minority preschool, primary, and secondary students received bilingual education, an increase of over 25 percent from 2008, according to the Xinjiang Daily report. This number of students constitutes 31.79 percent of the ethnic minority student population in the XUAR. Minkaohan students, or students in longstanding programs that track ethnic minority students directly into Mandarin Chinese schooling, represent 240,900 students, an increase of over 22 percent from 2008. In total, the two groups of students receiving education in Mandarin—the minkaohan students and students in "bilingual" classes—made up almost 42 percent of the ethnic minority student population, according to figures cited in the article. Enrollment rates have varied in different localities within the XUAR. For example, within the XUAR capital of Urumqi, "bilingual" education coverage reaches 90 percent of primary schools, 70 percent of middle schools, and 30 percent of high schools, according to Hu Junhai, head of Urumqi's Department of Education, as cited in a January 8 Xinjiang Metropolitan Daily article (via China Xinjiang).

In addition, government initiatives have promoted "bilingual" education at the preschool level. The number of preschool students receiving "bilingual" education in 2009 total 263,900, an increase of 25.61 percent from 2008, according to the Xinjiang Daily report. According to a December 4, 2009, Xinhua Xinjiang article and December 17 China Daily report, the government plans to have "bilingual" kindergartens educate 349,100 ethnic minority children by 2012 and fund the establishment of 2,237 more kindergartens in designated areas of the XUAR. In Urumqi, the government plans to establish 86 more kindergartens within the next two years, with the goal of having at least 1 "bilingual" kindergarten per township, according to the January Xinjiang Metropolitan Daily report. In 2008, the central government pledged 3.75 billion yuan (US$549 million) for "bilingual" preschool education and made a target rate of over 85 percent of ethnic minority children in rural areas receiving "bilingual" education by 2012. The China Daily article notes that by 2012, central government investment in "bilingual" preschool education in designated areas in the XUAR will total 4.02 billion yuan (US$588 million). Investments from both the central and XUAR governments for developing the "bilingual" preschool education will amount to 5.07 billion yuan (US$743 million), according to the December 4 Xinhua Xinjiang report. Starting in 2013, the government will establish a long-term mechanism to guarantee funds for various expenses in "bilingual" preschool education, according to the report.

Media reports also describe plans to train and hire more teachers for "bilingual" programs, while college recruiting programs have been adjusted to take in more students educated in Mandarin Chinese. By 2012, the number of teachers in XUAR "bilingual" preschools will reach 16,291, according to the December 4 Xinhua Xinjiang report. XUAR government departments reportedly have estimated that by 2014, 69,500 more "bilingual" teachers will be needed for the XUAR's primary and junior high school education programs, as stated in a March 3 Tianshan Net article. In 2008, the government announced plans to recruit 15,600 "bilingual" elementary school teachers between 2008 and 2013. As part of an effort to increase the overall number of teachers, the XUAR government will recruit 6,000 students each year from 2010 to 2013 for free teacher training, with a focus on students who have received "bilingual" education or education in Mandarin, according to a March 3 Tianshan Net article. The program will include students training to teach in "bilingual" programs. Authorities also have adjusted college recruitment priorities. The XUAR Education Department said in March it would readjust recruitment plans for ethnic minority students educated in ethnic minority languages and increase the number of ethnic minority students educated in Mandarin-tracked schools and "bilingual" classes, in order to "adapt to the needs of speeding up the promotion of 'bilingual' education," according to a March 3 Xinjiang Metropolitan News report (via Xinjiang News Net).

The government's bilingual policy is tied to broader political objectives in the region. The CECC 2009 Annual Report noted that authorities have upheld "bilingual" education as a way of "raising the quality" of ethnic minority students and have tied knowledge of Mandarin to campaigns promoting patriotism, ethnic unity, and stability. XUAR government chairperson Nur Bekri was quoted in a June 2009 article as promoting teaching Mandarin because "[t]errorists from neighboring countries mainly target [Uyghurs who] are relatively isolated from mainstream society as they cannot speak Mandarin." Nur Bekri's statement highlights the state's failures to implement a regional ethnic autonomy system that supports Uyghurs and other non-Han groups as part of "mainstream society" in the very localities putatively created to protect their cultures and languages.

For more information on conditions in the XUAR, see Section IV-Xinjiang in the CECC 2009 Annual Report.