The Chinese Ministry of Education is making Mandarin the medium of instruction for preschoolers in areas where minority languages like Mongolian, Tibetan, and Uyghur, as well as regional Chinese languages like Sichuanese or Cantonese, had been used.
“In order to… implement General Secretary Xi Jinping’s instructions on nationwide Mandarin-medium education (‘start them when they’re babies’), we will further promote the use of Mandarin across the country,” an August directive from the Ministry of Education reads. Starting from the fall semester of 2021, kindergartens in ethnic-minority and rural areas that aren’t already using Mandarin for childcare activities must begin to do so, the directive said.
“We will focus on strengthening Mandarin language learning among preschoolers, during the critical period for language acquisition,” says the directive, published on an official government website. The move was aimed at “enabling preschool children in ethnic-minority and rural areas to gradually acquire the ability to communicate at a basic level in Mandarin, and to lay the foundations for the compulsory education phase.”
The government is launching a nationwide group training scheme for kindergarten teachers to ensure a sufficient supply of qualified staff to meet the new demand. To help kindergartens implement the directive, teachers from other parts of China will be “paired” with teachers and kindergartens “sistered” with kindergartens in ethnic-minority and rural areas, the directive said.
These mentors should “guide grassroots teachers to change their ideas about education, and to follow the rules of language learning for preschool children.” Kindergartens in the target areas should “organize a variety of activities to get children to hear more Mandarin, speak more Mandarin, as well as wanting and daring to speak, and to give them the opportunity to speak Mandarin,” it said.
The government has also introduced similar changes to the national curriculum that will phase out Korean-language teaching from schools in northeast China, which is home to a population of roughly 2.3 million Koreans, the largest population outside of the Korean Peninsula, of whom just under two million are Chinese nationals of Korean ethnicity. Meanwhile, authorities in northwestern China’s Qinghai province have detained two Tibetan students accused of opposing the use of the Chinese language as the only medium of instruction in Tibetan schools, Tibetan sources say.
Identified as Gyuldrak and Yangrik, the two 19-year-old residents of Darlag County in Qinghai’s Golog (in Chinese, Guoluo) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture were taken into custody by Chinese police, according to a report by Radio Free Asia (RFA).
Sources say the students used the WeChat social media platform to criticize a Chinese policy mandating that all classes in local schools be taught only in Chinese from September.