pushing Mandarin in Xinjiang preschools

Mandarin (a.k.a. Putonghua) will be pushed even in nursery schools in rural Xinjiang, according to an article originally in the South China Morning Post. Money is being offered to those who participate in the program. It’s interesting, too, that this comes at a time when lots of education officials in China have been complaining that nursery schools in the Han parts of China have been offering too much language instruction, especially in terms of literacy.

Also, in primary and secondary schools Mandarin will be used for the teaching of math and science, while the local languages will be used for humanities courses. This is somewhat similar to the situation in Malaysia, where English is used for math and science but not necessarily for other subjects. The attitudes toward the native languages of these respective areas, however, are very different.

Note, too, that few teachers in the area are capable of teaching in Mandarin. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Starting this year, children from seven agricultural prefectures in Xinjiang will start learning Putonghua in nursery schools to strengthen the hold of the national language in the autonomous region.

The move is part of an ongoing effort to implement what the government calls a “bilingual” education system in primary and secondary schools. Putonghua is to be the medium of instruction for mathematics and science, while minority languages such as Uygur will continue to be used in humanities classes.

Xinhua quoted Deputy Secretary Nuer Baikeli as saying the only way to solve the problem and improve the quality of education was to start from the “golden period” -toddlers.

To entice pre-schoolers and teachers to join the programme, students will receive a subsidy of 1.5 yuan a day and teachers 400 yuan a month.

According to the PRC’s statistics, the per capita income of farmers and herdsmen in Xinjiang is about 2,300 yuan per year. Elementary school teachers in Xinjiang make about 1,200 yuan per month. So, relatively speaking, we’re talking about a lot of money as an incentive.

The subsidies will not be offered for bilingual education in primary and secondary schools.

The policy has raised questions about the survival of the native culture of Xinjiang, where the largest ethnic group are the Uygurs (45 per cent), followed by Han (41 per cent) and Kazakhs (7 per cent).

“This is a well-planned strategy by the Chinese government to permanently assimilate the Uygur people into the Chinese culture or dilute the Uygur culture,” said Nury Turkel, president of the Uyghur American Association, a non-profit organization based in Washington DC.

“The Uygur language is one of the most important compositions of the Uygur culture. Taking away that right would create another type of Uygur culture.”

About 70 per cent of schools in the region are ethnic minority schools, which -until recently -started teaching Putonghua as a second language in the third grade. The other 30 per cent teach all classes in Putonghua and introduce English as a second language in the third grade.

Ma Wenhua, deputy director of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region Education Department, said the goal was to implement bilingual teaching in all minority schools so students would speak fluent Putonghua when they finished secondary school.

“We plan to have all minority schools use bilingual teaching from the first grade in 10 to 20 years,” he told the South China Morning Post. “We think that if these children are not fluent in Putonghua, it could affect their job opportunities. It would also be difficult for them to continue their education.”

The only thing that was stopping the government from moving faster was a lack of qualified teachers, Mr Ma said. Most ethnic minority teachers do not know enough Putonghua to teach in that medium.

Mr Ma estimated that only 5 per cent of ethnic minority primary schools had started teaching in Putonghua. The level of participation varied depending on the number of qualified teachers.

One teacher from an ethnic minority school in Urumqi said her school planned to start teaching mathematics in Putonghua next year.

Most teachers did not know Putonghua and had started training in the language.

The teacher would not say whether she thought bilingual education was better.

“We’ll have to see how it goes,” she said.

China: Mandarin Introduced in Uygur Nursery Schools, South China Morning Post (via the BBC via another site), February 2, 2006

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