Xinjiang Authorities Accelerate Promotion of Mandarin-Focused Bilingual Education

May 10, 2011

The Xinjiang government has accelerated steps to promote "bilingual education," a program that stresses class instruction using Mandarin Chinese, while diminishing or eliminating instruction using "minority" languages, spoken by groups the Chinese government designates as ethnic minorities. At the same time, the government has publicized measures that preserve a degree of instruction using minority languages in the process of implementing "bilingual education." The future role of ethnic minority languages in Xinjiang schools remains uncertain, however, amid a government target to implement Mandarin-focused "bilingual education" in 75 percent of Xinjiang schools by 2015 and achieve a student body proficient in Mandarin by 2020. China's law on regional ethnic autonomy stipulates that "[s]chools (classes) and other educational organizations recruiting mostly ethnic minority students should, whenever possible, use textbooks in their own languages and use these languages as the media of instruction."

 The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) government accelerated steps to promote Mandarin-centered "bilingual education" in the past year, in accordance with targets set in mid-2010 to universalize "bilingual education" in the region's schools. Following a central government and Communist Party-led Work Forum on Xinjiang in May 2010, which set state objectives for the region's economic and political development, XUAR officials announced that they would "basically universalize" "bilingual education" in XUAR schools by 2015 with the goal that ethnic minority students "basically have a skilled grasp and use" of spoken and written Mandarin by 2020, according to May 28 reports from China News Service (via China Xinjiang) and China Daily. The region's 2010-2020 Education Reform and Development Plan (issued on January 21, 2011, according to a January 22 Tianshan Net report) specifies that the region would "basically universalize" elementary and secondary school "bilingual education" among ethnic minorities to reach a coverage rate of 75 percent by 2015 and over 90 percent by 2020, with a goal that all ethnic minority high school graduates "basically have a skilled grasp and use" of spoken and written Mandarin (Point 14). The plan describes the promotion of "bilingual education" as being of "strategic significance" for goals including "building a new model of socialist ethnic relations" and "promoting cohesion and centripetal force toward the Chinese nation (zhonghua minzu)" (Point 8). According to the plan, the region also will "basically universalize two years of ethnic minority preschool bilingual education by 2012," to cover at least 85 percent of ethnic minority children by that date (Point 14), a target authorities appear to have articulated since 2008 (see the Congressional-Executive Commission on China 2008 Annual Report, pp. 178-179, for more information). By the end of 2009, almost 42 percent of ethnic minority students in the XUAR studied in bilingual classes or studied in longstanding programs that track ethnic minority students directly into Mandarin Chinese schooling, where they have class instruction and tests in Mandarin (minkaohan students).

As noted in previous CECC analyses (1, 2, 3), XUAR authorities have stressed a form of "bilingual education" that centers on instruction using Mandarin, while diminishing the use of minority languages, in some cases eliminating instruction using such languages except in classes devoted specifically to minority-language study. The education plan's focus on achieving Mandarin proficiency for ethnic minority students continues this trend, although the plan also states support for ethnic minority languages as a component of "bilingual education" and support for the right to education using minority languages. (Article 4 of the Chinese Constitution and Article 10 of the Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law (REAL) guarantee that ethnic minorities have the freedom to use and develop their own languages. Article 37 of the REAL stipulates that "[s]chools (classes) and other educational organizations recruiting mostly ethnic minority students should, whenever possible, use textbooks in their own languages and use these languages as the media of instruction.") The plan stipulates that class instruction mainly using ethnic minority languages "may be preserved" during the process of universalizing "bilingual education"―at the same time that schools add classes in Mandarin―and that parents and students may choose which classes to take. The plan also calls for establishing language arts classes in minority languages for ethnic minority students already studying in Mandarin schools and for encouraging native Mandarin speakers to study ethnic minority languages (Point 15). An action plan for promoting bilingual education (estimated date April 2011) specifies preserving class instruction using minority languages as the main medium, "according to needs," while also calling for making Mandarin the language for major basic courses and adding class hours in Mandarin. It also calls for making language arts courses in minority languages required classes in high schools (Point 3(2)). Earlier directives also have made reference to forms of "bilingual education" that keep some instruction in minority languages (see, e.g., information on official promotion of different models of bilingual education as cited in a 2008 XUAR Education Department draft opinion), while stressing "bilingual education" as a means of promoting instruction using Mandarin.

XUAR authorities also have accelerated steps to staff "bilingual" classes and address a shortage of "bilingual" teachers. In late December, the Ministry of Education issued a pilot plan for providing free education to students in teachers colleges in the XUAR, in order to relieve a stated shortage of "bilingual," teachers, according to a description of the program in a December 22, 2010, China News Service article (via Xinjiang News Net). (For additional information about the plan, as earlier reported in a March 3, 2010, Tianshan Net article, see a previous CECC analysis.) XUAR authorities also have increased recruitment of current teachers. The region enlarged the scope of its "specially appointed" teacher recruiting plan in 2010, advertising 5,109 positions and targeting teachers from the XUAR or those from elsewhere in China who have graduated from XUAR schools, according to an October 10, 2010, Tianshan Net report, and a copy of the recruiting announcement posted September 9, 2010, on Tianshan Net. The XUAR had announced plans in 2008 to recruit 15,600 "bilingual" elementary school teachers between 2008 and 2013, and between 2006 and 2010, the region had recruited 22,323 "specially appointed" "bilingual" teachers and preschool "bilingual" teachers, according to a February 22, 2011, People's Daily article. It is unclear if the 2010 recruitment numbers are part of the earlier announced recruitment plan or represent a renewed effort to recruit more teachers.

Based on CECC analysis of the available jobs advertised as part of the region's 2010 "bilingual" teacher recruitment (roster of positions available via download from the announcement), 2,916 positions were advertised simply as "bilingual," 1,884 positions were advertised for classes taught in Mandarin, 236 for classes taught in Uyghur, 65 for classes described as "Uyghur bilingual," and 8 for Kazakh. The recruitment also specifies posts by ethnicity, designating some posts for Han Chinese and others for "ethnic minorities" or members of specified minority groups. (See a related CECC analysis for more information on job recruitment programs in the XUAR that reserve positions for members of specified ethnic groups.) The announcement specifies 2,183 posts for Uyghurs, 1,407 for Han, 1,096 for "ethnic minorities," 173 for Kazakhs, 17 for Kyrgyz, 13 for Han or Hui, 9 for Hui, and 2 for Mongols, while 209 positions are unrestricted by ethnicity.

All positions for the 2010 recruiting are advertised for people under 30 years old. Prior "bilingual" teacher training and recruitment also have focused on using younger teachers, a policy that has impacted career advancement especially for older teachers who lack Mandarin skills. Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported in an April 4, 2011, article on two teachers in Yecheng (Qaghiliq) county, Kashgar district, who lost their jobs in 2004 because they did not speak Mandarin. Authorities reportedly detained the teachers twice, for a total of 35 days, in connection to their petitioning over their job loss, according to the report. Teachers in Toqsun county, Turpan district, reported in November 2010 that education officials planned to test the Mandarin skills of current teaching staff and transfer to non-teaching posts those teachers who do not pass the exam, according to a November 16, 2010, RFA report. RFA reported on December 9 that authorities temporarily set aside the plans after teachers expressed their dissatisfaction and international media covered the story, but they reportedly warned teachers not to convey to the media further information about the plans.

Local governments in the XUAR also have taken other steps to increase the number of "bilingual" teachers in the region. In Tianjin municipality, which has been paired with counties in Hoten district to provide assistance to the area, education authorities recruited students from six universities in the municipality―with a focus on Uyghur students who speak both Uyghur and Mandarin―to take up one-year teaching posts in Hoten following a 1½-month training period in Tianjin, according to an October 8, 2010, report from Xinjiang News Net. The steps allowed Hoten to "realize 'bilingual' instruction" one year earlier than planned, according to the report. Zhejiang province authorities plan to arrange "bilingual" teaching training for 5,000 ethnic minority teachers under 35 years old in Aksu district within the next five years, according to a November 16, 2010, Tianshan Net report. Universities in Beijing, Tianjian, Shanghai, and Nanjing have taken up primary responsibility for training "mainstay" minority "bilingual" teachers, as reported in a December 9, 2010, article on the Xinjiang Education Department Web site. The XUAR also has taken steps to increase the number of "bilingual" preschool teachers in the region. The region plans to recruit over 14,000 "bilingual" teachers between 2010 and 2012, according to a February 14, 2011, Tianshan Net report.

As the number of "bilingual" classes increases, in at least a few reported cases from the XUAR, affected communities voiced opposition and succeeded in maintaining Uyghur-language class instruction. According to a source cited in a December 1, 2010, RFA report, after authorities in Dadamtu township, Yining (Ghulja) county, Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture, ordered the township high school to be turned into a bilingual school in 2007, residents expressed their dissatisfaction with the change, and authorities returned to instruction using Uyghur. Elsewhere in Ili, some middle schools in Ghulja municipality reinstated Uyghur grammar classes in 2010, after ending the classes two years earlier. Students, teachers, and parents reportedly opposed the cancellation of the grammar classes, and the issue was raised at the 2009 Ili People's Congress, according to the report.

Authorities also have reported taking some steps to promote ethnic minority language arts classes within Mandarin-focused schools or to train Mandarin-speaking teachers in minority languages, in line with some of the objectives in the 2010-2020 education plan. A pilot project in two prefecture-level areas, described in an August 30, 2010, circular, calls for implementing language arts classes in minority languages for ethnic minority students in longstanding programs to track them directly into Mandarin-language schooling (minkaohan students). On January 31, 2011, the XUAR Education Department issued an opinion and accompanying plan (available via download from the opinion) for providing 320 class hours of instruction in basic "ethnic minority languages" for teachers at "bilingual" preschools who are native Mandarin speakers. Authorities in Hami (Qumul) district reported carrying out "ethnic minority language training" for native Mandarin speakers, along with instruction in "bilingual" teaching, political ideology, and professional ethics, according to a March 31, 2011, report from the XUAR Education Department.

For more information about "bilingual education" and conditions in the XUAR, see Section IV―Xinjiang in the CECC 2010 Annual Report.