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Durham University

School of Education

Staff Profile

Publication details for Prof Steve Higgins

Xiao, Z. & Higgins, S. (2015). When English Meets Chinese in Tibetan Schools: Towards an Understanding of Multilingual Education in Tibet. In Trilingualism in Education in China: Models and Challenges. Feng, A. & Adamson, B. Dordrecht: Springer. 117-140.

Author(s) from Durham


By tracing the evolution of linguistic models for state education in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) of China, this chapter shows that bilingual education policies in the TAR oscillated between Chinese-led and Tibetan-led models since the 1950s. By presenting the rise and fall of specific linguistic models under a social and historical light, the study demonstrates that Tibetan students’ underperformance in subjects like English and Maths today is historically given and economically driven. In other words, the educational landscape as we see in Tibet today is socially constructed and represents competing interests of different groups. With English added to the mix, the complexity of language education policies in the TAR has increased. Upon interviewing students of diverse socioeconomic backgrounds from across the TAR and looking into their past and present schooling experiences, the authors argue that the dynamics between linguistic models and linguistic capital in the TAR articulate ethnic sentiments, leadership preferences, and the myriad ways in which Tibetans responded to the authority exercised by the leadership.