A senior Chinese lawmaker has suggested legally compelling bilingual education for ethnic minority children in order to help save the country's dwindling minority languages.
"Minority children today are reluctant to learn their own ethnic languages, and if the trend continues, these languages will disappear," said Zhang Meilan, a member of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, or the top legislature.
Zhang, one of the 960,000 Hani minority, made the comments on Sunday in an address to NPC lawmakers on the draft amendment to the Compulsory Education Law, which is in its final hearing.
Zhang said she had made the suggestion before the amendment was submitted to the legislature, but it apparently failed to attract the attention of the majority of NPC lawmakers as it was omitted from the draft.
On Sunday, Zhang urged the legislature again to include an article in the amendment to make bilingual education compulsory for minority children in the nine-year free education from elementary school to junior high.
The legislature is expected to vote on the draft amendment on Thursday.
In China, the majority Han people live with 55 ethnic minorities, 70 percent of whom had their own written languages, Zhang said, and these minority languages should be passed on to future generations.
An official survey released in April last year showed that nearly 40 minority languages in China are on the verge of extinction. The country is taking measures to save them such as publishing books and dictionaries and setting up audio data-bases.
Zhang said that if her suggestion was accepted, the Ministry of Education and the Ethnic Affairs Committee should invest in bilingual education, providing a fund for minority language preservation.