With the discovery of vast mineral resources, Mongolia has experienced unprecedented growth – and rural education is trying to catch up, to make sure children have the reading skills they need to tackle new challenges.
In the two decades after the country’s transition to a free market economy in the early 1990s, enrollment in rural schools dropped rapidly and access to high quality learning materials diminished.
The Government of Mongolia has introduced a number of programs to improve the country’s education system, including the World Bank-supported Rural Education and Development (READ) Project (2006-2013), funded by a $5 million grant from IDA to improve the quality of Mongolia’s primary education system.
Reaching all rural schools
Before 2006, rural primary schools in Mongolia had almost no books.
To fill the gap, READ helped set up classroom libraries in all primary schools in rural Mongolia.
In the Murun county primary school, N. Enkhpurev, a teacher, talks about how books have fostered a love for reading among her students.
"Students who never liked to read now sit in the library all day,” she says. “They have now developed a habit of reading books!”
After spending time in the library, students are encouraged to retell the stories they read to teachers, classmates and parents. To make this easier, they create “small books” of their own.
When Baatardorj, a 4th grader, goes home to the family ger (the Mongolian term for nomadic tent) after school, he pulls out a small book he just created and reads it to his father.
Gradually, students like Baatardorj have become “authors”, also telling the stories of their lives.
"This is me going after the sheep. This is a house I made of stones,” Baatardorj reads.
Inside these library books, references to local culture abound, helping educate children about Mongolia’s cultural heritage.
To stimulate story-telling beyond the classroom, READ also introduced the method of “book bags”, which enables students to take books home and share stories with their families. After they finish reading one bag of books, they return it to school to exchange for another bag.
Thanks to the project, families are buying more books.
"Mongolia, which is almost half of the size of India, is the least densely populated country in the world,” says Prateek Tandon, who leads the World Bank’s support to the project. “So the project helped build a voucher system to allow communities to buy additional books through the mail.”
This delivery program became popular immediately, filling a hunger for reading materials that rural Mongolians had been suffering from for two decades.