Like other aspects of Tibet’s development, rural education gives conflicting impressions. China assures the world that great gains have been made in literacy and basic education, while the Western media is fueled by the image of nomads forced into schools that deprive them of their culture. Despite interventions of several international nongovernment organizations, there has been little effort to gather systematic data on rural education in Tibet. Descriptive literature and policy justifications can be found in several academic journals, some of which are more tightly coupled to the official state line than others.1 Books focus on a number of topics, including traditional Tibetan culture and values, monastery education, historical accounts of the development of state education, and modernization of education. While most are within the framework of the State’s views, there is by no means a consensus on all topics.2 Among the many contested educational topics, for example, is bilingual education. Political sensitivity makes it difficult to run bilingual education experiments with a high degree of objectivity because proponents risk being labeled as extremists. Though a viable system of bilingual education is indispensable to national development, one scholar points out that China’s minority languages, including Tibetan, are not easily engineered to promote the national developmental aims.3 Another researcher of Tibetan education argues that despite the Western rhetoric, Tibetan language textbooks contain a fair amount of materials relevant to Tibetan cultural life, though not as much as Tibetans crave, and that some “forceful lessons about Tibetan culture can be taught to students through lessons that derive from works that are culturally and historically distinct.”4 These points are in keep-
ing with Bass, who provides a comprehensive overview of educational reform in Tibet since 1950, noting that the basis of educational policy in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) are measures designed to improve school access for ethnic minorities in China.5 Case-study data and analysis of specific rural communities can further increase understanding of the situation.6 Are rural Tibetans attending school or dropping out, and why? How effective are Tibet’s educational policies? Does the situation differ a great deal from education in other rural areas of China?