The International Campaign for Tibet has asked First Lady Michelle Obama to devote attention to bilingual education during her trip to China. Among their travels, the First Lady and her family will visit Chengdu, the capital of a province with a significant Tibetan population facing challenges of education in their native language.
“We thank you for your commitment to education,” wrote Matteo Mecacci, President of the International Campaign for Tibet, in a letter to Mrs. Obama. “In this light, we would urge you to devote attention during your visit to the challenges of bilingual education in the PRC, primarily in the elementary and secondary school levels. Specifically, we would urge that you inquire about the state of bilingual education as it pertains to Tibetans in Sichuan Province and the steps that are being taken to encourage Tibetan stakeholder involvement.”
According to the White House, Michelle Obama’s trip will focus on education. Accompanied by her daughters and mother, she will meet with her counterpart Peng Liyuan, spouse of President Xi Jinping, and visit schools, historical and cultural sites. She will be in Beijing from March 20-23, Xi’an on March 24, and Chengdu from March 25-26.
ICT’s letter to the First Lady notes the challenges with bilingual education in Sichuan Province. In theory, Chinese law provides that “minority nationalities” such as Tibetans can “use textbooks in their own languages and use their languages as a medium of instruction.” In practice, however, “[f]ew elementary schools in Tibetan areas used Tibetan as the primary language of instruction and some did not offer any instruction in Tibetan,” according to the State Department.
Chengdu is the capital of Sichuan Province. The northwestern half of Sichuan’s territory is on the Tibetan plateau, part of traditional Tibet, and administered under two prefectures designated as autonomous for Tibetans. Chinese state-run media reported that they will dine at a Tibetan restaurant in Chengdu on March 25.