The high level of illiteracy in Tibet came under the spotlight at the UNCHR again today with a special briefing on “Education in China and Tibet” being hosted by the International Fellowship for Reconciliation.

Speakers included Professor Katarina Tomasevski, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education, Mr. Nicolas Becquelin, Research Director, Human Rights in China, and Ms. Tsewang Lhadon, Executive Director, Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy. The session was moderated by Mr. Ravi Nair, Director, South Asian Human Rights Documentation Centre.

Professor Tomasevski relayed the findings of her recent mission to China – both those that are and are not contained in her official report to the UN. She stressed the need for education to have “4As”: it should be Available, Accessible, Acceptable (to parents and children) and Adaptable (to all other human rights principles).

Professor Tomasevski said that while China’s own statistics attribute 3.4 per cent of its GDP to education expenditure, this is barely a half of the internationally recognised minimum.

She spoke of being “frightened” and having “goose flesh” during her visit when hearing the highest Chinese government officials on education make remarks characterized by a “complete disregard for human rights.”

Ms. Lhadon spoke on the “Lack of Mother Tongue: How China’s Policy Affects Tibetan Language”. She discussed how Tibetans in Tibet are being educated in a system that seeks to sever them from their past, promote assimilation, and eradicate nationalist sentiment by denying them the right to education in their own language.

“Tibetan language has essentially lost any practical value in Tibet, with the exception of having to operate in small rural towns or among nomadic groups… It is clear that there is a systematic effort in Tibet to wipe out Tibetan cultural and national identity through the education system in the name of progress. Tibetans are being assimilated into an uninvited foreign culture,” Ms. Lhadon said.

Mr. Becquelin addressed the “The Education System for Minorities in China” and focused on civil society. He pointed out that while China has had large economic growth for the past 20 years, education and health standards have decreased.