ULAANBAATAR, July 29, 2010 - Ms. Sainbayar has been working as a primary school teacher for the past 20 years in rural Mongolia. The school where she works is in a small town called Bogd. The majority of families who send their children to Ms. Sainbayar’s school are very poor; many are herders, making a living off the land and from their livestock.
In the mornings, groups of children walk quickly towards the front steps of the school, desperate to feel the warmth of the classrooms. As they run up the front stairs, girls are arm in arm chatting loudly and the boys walk with their hands placed deeply inside their warm pockets. Vapor emanates from their mouths with every exhaled breath or spoken word as they walked in some of the coldest conditions experienced in the world.
Some of the students walk long distances to school and through freezing temperatures during the winter months. As it gets colder, children are clad in colorful down jackets reaching the knee. They wear boots lined with fur or wool and long scarves, sheep’s wool gloves and beanies to keep them warm; faces barely visible behind fur-lined jacket hoods.
Inside basic classrooms, children sit on wooden chairs behind light green wooden desks. Ms. Sainbayar gently paces in front of her students reading from a large book and the colorful posters and counting charts adorning the walls create an inviting learning space.
Following the introduction of government-run projects aimed at improving the county’s education system, Ms. Sainbayar has been able to offer a better quality education to all of her students. She is very pleased with the improvements at her school, especially considering the long distances some of her students travel for an education.
During the Soviet period, from 1924 until 1990, Mongolia achieved a 100 per cent literacy rate. However, the transition from a communist country to a market economy in the early 1990s had a drastic impact of the country’s literacy rate. Enrollments declined rapidly. Over the last 20 years, there have been many children especially in the countryside who have not attended primary or secondary school at all.
To combat this growing problem, the Government of Mongolia introduced a number of strategies to improve the country’s education system. These strategies include the World Bank funded Rural Education and Development (READ) Project and the “Education for all” Fast Track Initiative. Rural areas are a key target group for both strategies.
Through the READ project, Ms. Sainbayar has been provided with a range of facilities to assist in the improved education of students, namely a new classroom library. According to Ms. Sainbayar, the new library is helping students improve their reading skills both at school and at home, as children are able to take books home with them.
“When the library was established my fellow teachers and I were trained on how to successfully incorporate the library into our teaching methods. It was really very helpful".
“The library has helped the students improve their reading skills. Also when the students use the library they are able to grade their own big book and this promotes oral and written skills. I’m very pleased that the participation of parents has also improved,” said Ms. Sainbayar.
The READ project was first implemented in Mongolia in August 2006. The project aims to support rural schools by increasing the amount and improving the quality of learning materials in schools. Teacher training is also available alongside the introduction of new materials.
Within READ’s first year, libraries were established in all rural schools in 11 aimags and hundreds of teachers received training. The books included in the classroom libraries were chosen through a competitive process, one that reviewed over 900 manuscripts.
Mongolia’s primary schools are receiving further improvements through the “Education for All” Fast Track Initiative. Mongolia was accepted into the Fast Track Initiative in September 2006. This initiative has resulted in the investment of $29.4 million into Mongolia’s education system, with the aim to improve the access and quality of basic education for all children in Mongolia.
According to Oyunerdene, the General Manager of Bogd Soum School, the fast track initiative has provided schools in the soum with laptops and monitors. This has in turn increased the computer skills and knowledge of students and teachers. Funds have also gone toward renovating school ceilings, doors, windows and heating systems.
“Before the renovations, the school roof was old and we had water inside the school when it snowed. It was very, very uncomfortable,” said Oyunerdene.