Community-driven Mother Tongue Literacy Classes in Yajian County, Sichuan, China

Atsok, Yeshe
DuoGa, Gen
Zhaxi, Zerong
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In the remote and high-altitude western borderlands of Sichuan Province, China, minority languages are rapidly disappearing. Over the last few years, we have worked with our local communities of Yajiang County, Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan Province, to educate people about language shift. An ordained monk and lama who has received advanced degrees in the traditional monastic education system has begun a completely grassroots revitalization effort by supporting mother tongue education for three rural communities in Yajiang County: Chengzhang Village in Milong Township and Bade and Zhi villages in Malangcuo Township. This paper will introduce the communities and language situation and efforts undertaken by the community and the Lama to revitalize language use and mother tongue literacy in these areas. Within these three villages, middle aged and elderly residents at present continue to use Tibetan, but the majority is illiterate. Most children speak Tibetan, but only a handful of them were able to go to school. Education in Tibetan was a priority for the community. At first we used government materials for primary education in Tibetan along with language materials created by another ordained monk, Kenpo Tsultrim Lodrö. In addition, we have added locally appropriate lessons that include traditional play. In each village, the community created these schools during vacations and periods of rest in the agricultural and animal husbandry schedules (once in summer and once in winter) to hold languages classes. These classes are held in tent or outdoors, and taught by volunteer instructors. Any funds needed for the school are raised from the communities. The first tent class was held in 2010 and was attended by 19 children; this last summer about 200 children participated (including 50 who came for other areas), and classes for adult were also provided. We will discuss the nature of the classes and curriculum and their own materials, and the importance of literacy in Tibetan languages, and its role in revitalizing the languages. We will talk about the attitudes of the communities towards their mother tongue and its importance as some ways of life are changing. We will include the perspective of a young learner in the program. One of the young attendees will also talk about his experience and the meanings this education has for him. Finally, we will also introduce our plans to expand these programs in the future.
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