Number of Xinjiang Students Receiving Mandarin-Focused "Bilingual" Education Increases

February 24, 2009

The number of ethnic minority students in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) receiving class instruction through Mandarin-focused "bilingual" education in 2008 increased by more than 125,000 students over the previous year, according to available data from the XUAR government and media, reflecting a continuing trend in XUAR schools to diminish the use of ethnic minority languages. As noted in the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) 2008 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 policies contravene provisions in Chinese law to protect ethnic minority languages and promote their use in XUAR schools.

According to a February 19 Xinjiang Daily report based on official statistics, over 600,000 ethnic minority students from preschool through high school received "bilingual" education as of October 2008, representing 25.4 percent of the ethnic minority student population. Combined with students studying in longstanding programs that track ethnic minority students directly into Mandarin Chinese schooling (minkaohan), the total is 36.5 percent of the ethnic minority student population, according to a December 11, 2008, Xinhua article. In contrast, by December 2007, 474,532 ethnic minority students in the XUAR had received "bilingual" education, representing 19.95 percent of the ethnic minority student population and 27.33 percent of the population when combined with students in Mandarin-tracked schools, according to statistics in a May 5, 2008, draft opinion on strengthening "bilingual" education (via the XUAR Education Department Web site). The Xinjiang Daily report underscored the Mandarin focus of "bilingual" education, noting that "'bilingual' classes in many areas have already developed from using Mandarin to teach math, physics, and chemistry to the new model of using Mandarin for all classes except for mother-tongue [language arts] classes." (For an example of the implementation of "bilingual" education in one XUAR district, including plans to transition from a multi-language model of "bilingual" education to predominantly and wholly Mandarin-focused models of "bilingual" education, see a November 11 notice from the Qumul (Hami) district government Web site.)

The data on student enrollment follows news on efforts to increase the number of "bilingual" teachers. In fall 2008, XUAR media reported on a government plan to recruit 15,600 "bilingual" elementary school teachers between 2008 and 2013 and bolster "bilingual" teacher training at the preschool level. In January and February 2009, media reported the number of "bilingual" elementary school teachers to be recruited within a six-year period as 16,000 people, based on information in a January 20, 2009, Tianshan Net report and February 2 Xinhua report. As reported by the CECC in a past analysis and in its 2007 and 2008 Annual Reports, the XUAR's "bilingual" education policies have negatively affected the career prospects of ethnic minority teachers, who face Mandarin language skill requirements if their primary teaching language is an ethnic minority language. Under the government's "bilingual" programs, monolingual Mandarin-speaking teachers are not required to learn ethnic minority languages.

The news from the XUAR on student enrollment and teacher training indicates that while the government has not yet fully expanded "bilingual" education throughout the XUAR, it has strengthened its commitment and capacity to implement the policy in recent years. As noted in the CECC 2008 Annual Report, official Chinese media reported that by 2006, the number of students receiving "bilingual" education in the XUAR had expanded 50-fold in six years. Implementation figures have varied by locality and level of schooling. A July 18, 2008, Tianshan Net article reported that 43 percent of ethnic minority students in the Bayingol Mongol Autonomous Prefecture were receiving "bilingual" education. The mid-year figure follows a December 2007 Tianshan Net article reporting that the prefecture planned for 2008 for all urban ethnic minority children of the appropriate age to receive two years of preschool "bilingual" education and that it planned to implement "bilingual" education in all first grade classes in urban elementary schools. The article also reported the plan was to reach over 90 percent and 80 percent, respectively, of rural preschool ethnic minority students and rural first-grade classes. In Poskam (Zepu) county, Kashgar district, almost 50 percent of all preschool students are in "bilingual" preschool classes, while the number of students total receiving wholly Mandarin-centered "bilingual" education is 15.6 percent of the ethnic minority student population, according to a November 20, 2008, report from the Poskam county politics and law committee, on the Xinjiang Peace Net. (For additional information on enrollment figures at the elementary school level, see a table of data available as a download within a March 10 notice on the Xinjiang Education Department Web site.)

The CECC 2008 Annual Report also noted that funding efforts from the XUAR track a growing commitment to "bilingual" education, based on available data. For example, in 2006, official media reported the government would invest 430 million yuan (US$59.76 million) over five years to support "bilingual" preschool programs in seven prefectures and would aim to reach a target rate of over 85 percent of rural ethnic minority children in all counties and municipalities able to enroll in two years of "bilingual" preschool education by 2010. In 2008, the government appeared to have pushed back its timeline for reaching target enrollment rates, while investing more money to achieve this goal, suggesting a more realistic and thus firmer commitment to promoting "bilingual" preschool education. The government pledged 3.75 billion yuan (US$549 million) in 2008 for "bilingual" preschool education and called for achieving a target rate of over 85 percent of ethnic minority children in rural areas receiving "bilingual" education by 2012. Since reporting this information on funding, as cited in the CECC 2008 Annual Report, XUAR media again reported the same figure in November 2008 (see a November 25 Xinhua Xinjiang report) and reported it as 3.8 billion yuan in January 2009 (see a January 3 Xinhua Xinjiang report).

For more information on government policies that have affected the use of ethnic minority languages, see the following CECC analyses:

See also the Addendum on "Bilingual" Education in Xinjiang in Section IV--Xinjiang, in the CECC 2008 Annual Report.