chapter  5
21 Pages

China’s minorities without written scripts: the case of education access among the Dongxiang

The Chinese state sees language policy as an essential determinant of ethnic

minority educational progress. The use of minority language as a medium of

instruction is viewed as a way to increase attendance rates and strengthen sociali-

zation into a national identity. However, the policies differ for those ethnic mino-

rities with or without a commonly used written script. Among the minorities

without a script are the 300,000-strong Dongxiang, an ethnic group with the low-

est level of literacy and school access in China. There has been little systematic

research on the role of language in school access for Chinese minority groups

without a written script. This and Zhou Yisu’s Chapter 4 about the Dongxiang

aim to provide insights into the schooling of script-less minorities. In fact, there

is a need for more research and analysis of the Dongxiang (and similar groups

without a written script), especially with reference to their learning styles and

school discontinuation. This research identifies the major difficulties in school-

based learning for Dongxiang speaking children. Specifically, it explores local

perspectives on how language and other factors are related to school enrollment

and achievement. In order to accomplish this, the research combined a variety of

data gathering methods, including survey questionnaire, open-ended and in-depth

interviews, field visits, observations, and case studies to analyze the difficulties

of language transition faced by Dongxiang ethnic minority children. The results

reveal that native language does not cause schoolchildren to discontinue their

studies. However, it does have an important indirect influence, especially on the

education of girls. The research results also show that Dongxiang ethnic minority

schoolchildren in the early years of schooling struggle to understand their teach-

ers when they teach through the medium of Chinese. This results in poor school

performance, a decline of interest in learning, a frustrated sense of achievement,

and a decline in self-respect. Many students drop out as part of a vicious cycle

that sees a reproduction of poor conditions for learning.