At the Taizhou Boarding High School in the southeast China city of Taizhou in Zhejiang province, students sit in a classroom for an evening self-study session. Among them is 17-year-old Medine Tursun, a student from the city of Kashgar in Xingjiang Uyghur's autonomous region. Tursun is one of 90,000 students who have completed examinations for acceptance to the school's Xingjiang program, a program designed for students from this autonomous region of China, situated along the old Silk Road route and home to the Uyghurs, a Turkic ethnic group that lives in the region. The program, launched 17 years ago, allows young high school students from Xingjiang the opportunity to study in China's economically developed region of Zhejiang. According to the young student, "Educational opportunities in Zhejiang are much better than those in our home town [of Kashgar], and we enjoy receiving a better education here." She went on to say that "The food and the climate here are quite different and it has taken time to adjust to the changes, but I am used to it now. Our teachers are also extremely helpful and this makes it easier."
Among the thousands who have studied in Taizhou, more than 21,000 have returned to their native Xingjiang upon graduating from universities in China's economically developed regions. Among them, 16-year-old Mehmet from the city of Hotan says he also plans to return to his hometown after completing his educational studies. "The environment in Taizhou is more conducive with studying and, there, we have better chances of being accepted to good universities," he said, adding: "My parents are also quite content with my choice to study in Taizhou as I have better opportunities there."
Taizhou Boarding High School Principal Xu Tianlong said the main aim of the Xinjiang course program is to provide better education facilities for the school's most promising students. "At our school, we began offering Xinjiang classes in 2012 and 118 of our students have graduated from the program so far. On the other hand, I am proud to say that 109 of our graduates have gone on to enroll at some of China's leading universities," he said. The high school is among the 93 high schools across China that offer Xinjiang classes, as part of a national training program for gifted and talented students in Xinjiang.
Principal Xu said they currently have 628 students from 12 different ethnic minorities across Xinjiang enrolled in the program. In fact, this autonomous region of China is one of the country's least developed regions, and Principal Xu claims that offering Xinjiang classes will provide Uyghurs with the same opportunities as their peers, noting: "This program definitely helps students to gain equal opportunities in education. In the beginning there were some educational gaps between Uyghur students and others. However, this gap has closed very quickly," he said. "For instance, last year, the top three students at our high school were Uyghur," Principal Xu said, asserting that there is no division among the school's Uyghur Turkic population and Chinese students.
"Xinjiang classes have provided students from remote parts of China the opportunity to study at high-quality schools," he added.
The Taizhou Boarding High School also provides dormitory accommodation and food for students enrolled in the program. Moreover, the school is required to provide Muslim students with halal menu options at the cafeteria and hires local Hui (Chinese Muslim) or Uyghur chefs. Students have expressed that they are happy with the program, saying: "It's good to have halal food offered at school. We appreciate being able to enjoy our local food at the school cafeteria while we are away from home [at boarding school]," Mehmet said.
In 2017, more than 13,000 students are expected to enroll in Xinjiang courses. This year, about 77 percent of the students accepted to the program came from the provinces of Aksu, Hotan, Kashgar and Kizilsu Kirgiz in southern Xinjiang.