He Runquan listened attentively, taking notes as his Tibetan teacher Drolma explained the finer points of Tibetan grammar to fifth graders at the Tibetan High School in the Diqing Tibet autonomous prefecture, Yunnan province, on Wednesday.
"I didn't learn Tibetan until I was in fourth grade at the Tibetan High School, so I have to study hard to master the language.
"A good command of it means better prospects in the prefecture, where there are many Tibetans," said the 17-year-old boy, who is of Naxi ethnic group origin and lives in the village of Baidi, 40 kilometers from the school in Shangrila county.
He goes home once a week and it takes him between three and four hours each-way, because of the rugged mountain roads.
"Fortunately, each student receives a monthly subsidy of 260 yuan ($40) from the government which can cover the expense of three meals a day," he said.
To help students make ends meet, the school has kept its meal prices low.
"We have kept the price of a bowl of pork cooked with green pepper at 2.5 yuan, for example, despite the recent rises in food prices," said Dawa Tsering, the chief of the school's general office.
Located at the borders of Yunnan and Sichuan provinces, and the Tibet autonomous region, on the southeastern edge of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, Diqing, which means "auspicious place" in Tibetan, is the only Tibetan autonomous prefecture in Yunnan.
Tibetans account for 33 percent of its population of 401,000.
Diqing set up the Tibetan High School in 1994 and it's the only school in Yunnan which teaches in both Tibetan and Chinese.
"Half of the teachers are Tibetan and the rest are from the Han, Lisu and Naxi ethnic groups," Dawa Tsering said.
The school has trained 1,962 students to a good standard of both Tibetan and Chinese, the majority of them are Tibetans, he said.
A total of 124 graduates sat this year's national college entrance examination and 121 enrolled in other exams for institutions of higher learning.
"Some of the alumni are now teaching in their alma mater to contribute to the continued development of education in Diqing," Dawa Tsering said.
Drolma joined the Southwest University for Nationalities in neighboring Sichuan province in 2007, majoring in the Tibetan language, and since graduating in 2011 she has been teaching at her alma mater.
"Each day, I give two lectures on the Tibetan language," she said.
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