Teaching Mandarin to students in the remote Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region is helping the fight against terrorism, chariman of the autonomous region Nur Bekri said.
"Terrorists from neighboring countries mainly target Uygurs that are relatively isolated from mainstream society as they cannot speak Mandarin. They are then tricked into terrorist activities," Bekri said.
Bilingual education has been gradually rolled out in the northwestern prefecture since 2002. Mandarin is now widely taught in pre-schools and kindergartens to prepare children for school life in a second language environment.
But foreign media have criticized the policy, in which Mandarin is used as the language of instruction and minority languages are taught as a subject.
Bekri said there had been demand for Mandarin lessons from ethnic minority students who wanted to communicate with other Chinese.
He made it clear these students had not been compelled to learn the language, but that they saw it as a desirable skill.
"The students have benefited from mastering Mandarin. We are making our best effort to create opportunities and an environment for them to learn the language," Bekri said.
The autonomous region has a population of just over 20 million, with 60 percent being ethnic minority groups, mostly Uygur and Kazak, whose mother tongue is not Mandarin.
Bekri said the policy was primarily designed to improve the standard of Mandarin among ethnic minority graduates, so that they would be more competitive in the workplace.
Han students were also encouraged to learn minority languages, such as Uygur.
"I cannot speak Mandarin, something I always regret," said Enimar, as he dropped his 9-year-old daughter Qimaiduo off at a village bilingual elementary school in Aksu region, western Xinjiang.
Enimar said he was not concerned that the focus on Mandarin would lead to limited use of his mother tongue, or the loss of local heritage. "Instead, mastering Mandarin can help us to promote our culture."
To speed up its implementation, the central government began upgrading the Mandarin level of established elementary and high school teachers through learning programs, and sending teachers to rural schools.
(China Daily June 5, 2009)