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Results Briefs July 28, 2017

Mongolia: A Good Start in Life Begins with Quality Primary Education

Mongolia’s far-flung and low-density communities demand different solutions for reaching children with quality primary education. A World Bank project introduced several innovations well suited to the unique needs of herder communities. Effectiveness of the programs is evidenced by reduced school drop-outs, better learning results of children, and increased support of parents and the community.


Mongolia offers free compulsory primary education to all children starting from age six. Yet, a significant part of the population faces challenges in actually accessing quality primary education.

Nomadic herder families represent nearly 30 percent of the country’s total population of 3 million. These families move several times a year in search of better pasture for their livestock. They are faced with a hard decision when it comes to sending their children to school – splitting up the family or delaying education for their children.

Young children in rural areas would need to go to a boarding school or stay with their relatives living in soum (village) center, but for a child, being separated from family at such a young age presents significant socio-emotional distress. Or a mother could migrate to a soum center with her child, leaving the father behind to herd animals. Or the family may choose to delay school enrolment.

Most rural children enroll in school without adequate preschool preparation, which often means they encounter learning difficulties in school. Recreational and development activities at dormitories were scarce. In addition, non-formal education programs for children start from age 10, leaving the educational needs of lower-primary grade children unmet. Eighty percent of school dropout cases of children aged 6 -14 occurred in rural areas, with the majority of those in primary grades.


Recognizing the crucial role of quality early education and the smooth adjustment to school/dormitory life in the children’s overall development, a unique project was developed to support the education needs of the children in remote rural communities. The project, financed by the Japan Social Development Fund, was developed in close consultation with local herders, parents, teachers, and education authorities, and introduced several innovative programs to improve education services at the local level, and to mobilize parents and community members.


Getting ready for school

The home-based school preparation program helps 5-year-old children living in the most remote rural areas with limited or no access to early childhood education get ready for school. Children learn by using a specially designed home-based school preparation learning program and selected educational toys and materials at home. Parents are the primary teachers here, engaging with their children every day through reading, singing, and playing together. They are trained by local teachers and also have their own guide books.

Parents borrow the learning materials from the mobile toy and book library established in 30 soums as part of the program. There are 30+ educational kits in the library, with different sets of educational and story books, toys, digital tools and listening resources. Parents and children use each educational kit for about 2-3 weeks and then get another one.   

So far, the program has helped 3,900 children in target soums prepare for school. The 2,100 children who completed the program have successfully enrolled into primary school in the 2013-2016 academic years and another 1,800 will enroll this fall.  

A recent study on early childhood education in Mongolia found that cognitive and non-cognitive skills of the children enrolled in the program were significantly higher compared to those enrolled in existing alternative education programs, underlining the potential for a home-based model to improve school readiness among hard-to-reach populations.

After-school time full of fun and learning

To help children adapt to dormitory environment and spend time productively after school, child development centers were established in 30 school dormitories offering a variety of extra-curricular activities for rural children.

The after-school program includes a total of 100 different teaching methodologies combining academic, recreational, cultural and development activities to enrich children’s school life.

As of June 2017, the program reached around 4,400 6- to 10-year-olds.

Compensatory Education Program

Lower-primary grade children in rural areas who dropped out or never attended school before now have a chance to get back on track and continue their education along with their peers.

Many of those who dropped out happen to be disabled, homebound, and or not eligible to enroll in non-formal classes due to their young age.

Six types of compensatory education programs were developed to help these children catch up with grade 1, 2 and 3 learning.

The program enables the children to study at home with their parents’ support and with some remote guidance from the local life-long learning centers.

Around 200 children, including 80 children under age 10 have benefitted, and many of them have been able to successfully enroll in corresponding grades.

In addition to rural children, the programs are accessible online for Mongolian children living abroad, who need to learn their native language.  

Community Education Council

Community Education Councils were established in each of the 30 soums with voluntary participation of parents, teachers and local government officials to help organize and mobilize the community around children’s education and development.  

The councils have evolved to become one of the most active community units in rural areas, supporting families and children, and strengthening collaboration among parents, schools and local government in their communities.  

The project also provided some of these community initiatives with small-scale, results-based grants to encourage innovation and creativity.

So far, 138 community projects were successfully implemented with small-grant funding and further support from the soum government budget or other resources, reaching around 8,600 children.


The project directly benefited more than 8,500 of the most remote rural children aged 5-10 in four of the most educationally under-performing and under-served provinces (Arkhangai, Dornod, Sukhbaatar, and Uvurkhangai).


Save the Children Japan, in close cooperation with the Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sports, implemented the project by promoting and piloting various community-based, culturally appropriate and innovative initiatives to improve education services at the local level and to mobilize parents and community members.

Moving forward

The importance and effectiveness of the innovative education initiatives are getting recognized by the government and local communities. The Ministry of Education, Culture, Science and Sports is looking to scale-up project initiatives nationwide.

Local universities, such as Dornod university and Arkhangai province Teachers college, are looking to include program methodologies in their curriculum for preparing future teachers and education specialists. They have already started providing learning sessions about the programs to their staff and students.

Scaling-up the tested education programs is also starting from the bottom-up. Khutag-Undur soum of Bulgan province learned about the programs from the neighboring Arkhangai province, and started preparing hard-to-reach 5-year-old children for school using the program methodology and learning kits. The first batch of Khutag-Undur soum children prepared under this program have successfully finished first grade in 2017.

Bank Group contributions

The project is funded with $2.5 million grant financing from the World Bank’s Japan Social Development Fund.  The World Bank task team worked closely with Save the Children, the implementing agency, from the project inception to completion, providing necessary support and supervising the implementation process. The project experiences were widely shared through the Bank channels. Upon the task team’s initiative, the beneficiaries of the home-based school preparation program were included in the World Bank study on early childhood education in Mongolia, providing valuable insights for policy analysis and recommendations.     


The project directly benefited more than 8,500 of the most remote rural children aged 5-10 in four of the most educationally under-performing and under-served provinces (Arkhangai, Dornod, Sukhbaatar, and Uvurkhangai). The project also reached 16,000 parents and caretakers, 3,000 teachers, as well as staff of the local soum administration.

 “As a parent, I learnt a lot about kid’s education and development. We didn’t know anything about educational toys before and only used to buy some toy guns or toy cars to my boys. Also, I never thought our kids would need pencils and notebooks before they entered school so never bought it for them. I now read books and play games with my son, and ask him to retell the stories. My understanding that only teachers are responsible to teach kids has changed dramatically." – parent, P. Altantsetseg, Khutag-Undur soum, Bulgan aimag.

Some herder families live more than 50 kilometers away from the soum center, so it’s difficult for families to enroll their children in the kindergarten. This home based school preparation program fits well with the nomadic lifestyle of soum residents. We are working to continue its implementation in our soum,” – Khotont soum Governor Batbaatar.

Engaging in extracurricular activities, our students learned much more than a particular skill or field. We see great improvements in their curiosity, punctuality, willingness to develop themselves further, and communication skills.” – L. Tsedevsuren, primary school teacher, Jargalant soum, Arkhangai province

Due to his hearing disability, my son stayed at home and has never been enrolled in school or kindergarten. Since he started learning through the compensatory education program, he learnt a lot, and is studying through sign language books. His drawing talent has emerged. He was enrolled in soum school in 2014. In 2016, we visited a special school for children with hearing disabilities located in Ulaanbaatar city with the head of our community education council to get guidance from the specialized school staff. My son liked the school and said he wanted to attend this school. I hesitated at first, but respected my son’s decision and now he is studying there well. I talk to his teachers every week. Recently, my son participated in the drawing competition among city schools, and won a special prize.”B. Ganzorig, Undur-Ulaan soum, Arkhangai aimag.

 “Playing is an important way of children’s learning. In our new toy and book library, we learn different methodologies of engaging and teaching children through play with educational toys.” – B. Nandintsetseg, student at Mongolian State University of Education. 

“Our daughter has been visually impaired since birth. We didn’t know before that there was a school for visually impaired children. Thanks to this compensatory program, our daughter learnt letters and can count more than 100. Now she says she wants to complete the entire 12 year schooling.  So I think there will be many more positive changes in her life. “ B. Dorjderem, Herder of Bayan bagh, Ulziibayan soum, Sukhbaatar aimag

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