Building Mongolia’s Future with Books

September 19, 2013

  • A World Bank-supported project helped set up classroom libraries in all 383 primary schools in rural Mongolia.
  • Integrating reading into the curriculum has helped improve overall primary education quality.
  • Investing in improving education will help youth acquire skills and diversify the economy, needed for sustainable and inclusive growth

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.

" Students who never liked to read now sit in the library all day. They have now developed a habit of reading books! "

N. Enkhpurev

a teacher in the Murun county primary school

Changing the way reading is taught

In addition to making books available, READ provided training for teachers on how to use these books and integrate reading into the curriculum.

Now, desks are arranged facing one another and teachers go around the classroom, emphasizing role-play and drama instead of instructing in the traditional style, with the teacher standing at the front. These techniques cultivated more sharing of ideas and individual expression in the classroom.

"Before we couldn't get up and move around the class. Class wasn't so fun,” says Jalamjav, a 3rd grader at the Dadal County primary school. “Now we move freely and discuss back and forth. We work together on assignments. I like it this way.”

To further improve students’ reading skills, the method of “big books” was introduced. These “big books” are written by teachers and students together in class, based on the stories found in the library books and left open-ended with a big question mark on the last page to engage students.

"After making big books, my students always come to me and eagerly say ‘teacher, I’ve come up with another ending to that story’," says D. Purevjargal, a teacher at the Murun county primary school.

The integration of student reading into the curriculum has helped improve overall primary education quality.

"Teachers report an increase in general aptitude. Students are making less spelling mistakes. They show greater ease in self-expression,” says D. Khishigbuyan, coordinator for the READ project in Mongolia.

These methods became so popular that the government’s teachers training colleges have incorporated them to make sure that all would-be teachers in Mongolia would master the READ pedagogical methods before they start working.

Expanding to urban schools

Children hold the key to the future of Mongolia, which has become one of the world’s fastest-growing economies.

More efforts are underway to improve the country’s education system for a sustainable future.

"Success in rural schools was so remarkable that the government has decided to replicate it in urban schools, using the same library and teaching methods,” says L.Gantumur, Minister of Education, Mongolia.

By 2013, with the READ project:

  • 3,560 classrooms  in 383 schools in all 21 provinces of Mongolia received 160 books each
  • 4,549 teachers have been trained in READ methods
  • 130,000 children have used these classroom libraries
  • 200,000 small books were made by teachers and students
  • 10,000 big books were made and used in classrooms