Since China began the process of economic liberalization in the 1980s, education in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region has made great achievements. The use of minority languages and preferential policies aids minority students at high school and college. This has increased the number of Uyghur students attending all levels of education. Starting in December 2017, with the support of central government, Xinjiang will offer 15 years of free education, and a total of 857,200 students will benefit.
Before 1949, the enrollment rate of primary school children in Xinjiang was below 20 percent, and the illiteracy rate was as high as 90 percent. At present, the percentage of overall illiteracy in Xinjiang is less than 2 percent. There are 605 primary schools and 896 high schools in Xinjiang as of 2013. Most people under age of 30 have received tertiary education in Xinjiang from one of 47 formal universities and colleges. Bilingual education has also been well promoted in the past few years.
While education in Xinjiang made significant progress in the past decades, deficiencies remain. A common perception of bilingual education is that many children cannot master either Uyghur or Chinese language. This affects learning outcomes and attitudes toward school in general. Due to the shrinking space of ethnic cultures and educational publications in Uyghur, a great number of experienced Uyghur teachers had to retire in advance or shift occupations.
Another issue with education in Xinjiang lies in the scarcity of investment in basic education. There was a large gap in budgeting basic education between north and south regions of Xinjiang. In middle schools, there is an inequality of educational resources allocated among different ethnicities. In addition, the enrollment rate of high schools was quite low in southern Xinjiang; there is only a single Uyghur senior high school in the highly populated Uyghur counties of Kuqa and Shache.
Hence, the average education level of Uyghur society in southern Xinjiang is lagging behind, which impacts on rural labor. The initial employment rate of Uyghur undergraduates was reported as low as 17 percent according to official statistics reported in 2013, though the actual rate could be 15 percent or lower.
Before the thirteenth five-year development plan came out, the Chinese government started to strengthen required facilities on education and address the imbalance of resource allocation among ethnics. Teachers from inland are transferred to Xinjiang in support of bilingual education every year. Publications on ethnic cultures and Uyghur reading materials are emphasized and encouraged. For advanced education, it is the policies and regulations that keep on giving priority to students with minors such as Uyghur studies for college enrollment.
Besides the promotion of 15-year free education in the near future, respecting religious beliefs is another important concern on healthy progress of education in Xinjiang. Gentle, open and compatible propagation of religious publications are expected to be imported and translated in both Uyghur and Han languages. The Chinese government also defers to local experts in Xinjiang on better solutions for education.
China is working to reflect harmony and equality in each aspect of education and social life in Xinjiang. It is the common duty to correct the side effects of bilingual education. Meanwhile, colleges and universities are expected to yield more freedom for the existence and development of culture for all.
– Xin Gao