Education has changed not only my own life: Kelsang Dekyi

Kelsang Dekyi, a deputy to the 13th National People's Congress from southwest China's Tibet, was born in 1978, the beginning of an era in which she could rely on knowledge to change her destiny.

Kelsang Dekyi grew up in Gendang Village, Bangxin Township, Medog County, which was once a remote, poverty-stricken, and information-poor area.

She comes from a family with five members, including her father, mother, and two younger brothers. When she was seven years old, she began attending a private primary school. At that time, the school curriculum consisted of only Chinese, Tibetan language, and mathematics. Because the teaching materials were incomplete and teachers were scarce, the dozen children used the first and second grade textbooks over and over.

"Our school building was very poor; teachers and students had to pick grass to cover the roof. The grass was taller than we were, so when we were walking back we'd often trip, and we often had our hands cut. However, if we didn't pick the grass, we couldn't cover the roof, and rainwater would leak into the classroom," Kelsang Dekyi recalled.

Since 1984, the central government began opening ethnic schools and Tibet classes (classes made up of Tibetan students) in places like Beijing and Shanghai in order to strengthen the cultivation of educational talent from Tibet. The state also increased funding for education in Tibet.

In 1989, Kelsang Dekyi began to enjoy free education. With a stable learning environment, she studied particularly hard. In 2001, after graduating from an ethnic college, she was offered the opportunity to work in Lhasa, capital city of Tibet, but she turned it down to return to her hometown as a village teacher.

Kelsang Dekyi said, "My childhood, my memories, my faith, and my dreams were all in my hometown."

The Bangxin Township Primary School was no longer the same as it had been when she was a student.

It was located on a new school site and had new classrooms and dormitories, and there were nearly 100 students in four classes. The curriculum consisted of not only Chinese, mathematics, and Tibetan language, but also music, physical education, and art.

However, because local villagers' educational awareness was still weak, children were often absent from class or dropped out of school. For a long time, Kelsang Dekyi's main task was to go to the villages and persuade students to come back to school.

Around 2003, a 13-year-old student who was due to graduate soon, and one of the best students in the class, stopped coming to school. Kelsang Dekyi found the girl's mother, but only to be told, "My daughter is going to be married soon, so our family is preparing for her wedding." The family could not be made to understand, and the student didn't come out to see her teacher. This was the first time that Kelsang Dekyi, a champion for education, came back empty handed.

But she refused to give up and returned the following day. The girl's family finally revealed their difficulties: "If a child goes to school, it is not easy for the parents to provide for him or her. We can't do that, we don't have the money to send our child to school."

Kelsang Dekyi felt relieved, and she said to the girl's parents, "The state, the government, everyone can help with school fees. I can also help with school fees. This girl is very smart and will be able to go far." In the end, Kelsang Dekyi brought the girl back to school. Today, that girl has not only graduated from university, she now also devotes herself to local education just like Kelsang Dekyi.

In 2013, with the opening of the Medog Highway, education in Medog underwent great changes.

There are currently 15 schools in Medog County with 2,096 students and 271 full-time teachers. The primary school has an enrollment rate of 99 percent. Each student can receive 800 yuan (127 US dollars) per year in nutrition subsidies and is exempt from tuitions and charges in meals and accommodation, as the government provides another 3,580 yuan (566 US dollars) per year as subsidies for each of them.

"Education not only changed my life, but it has also changed the lives of the children who have grown up in the countryside like me. I feel especially fortunate to be able to do my part for the children's growth."

In 2018, Kelsang Dekyi was elected as a representative for the Tibet Autonomous Region People's Congress and National People's Congress. Before coming to Beijing, she went to villagers' homes to conduct research. When it comes to education, many villagers' mindsets have also undergone tremendous changes, because the children who have gone to school have helped them see that education is the path for the people of Medog to reach the rest of the world.