Uuriintsolmon, 6, lives in Ulziit Soum (district), Arkhangai Aimag (province). Her parents are nomadic herders so their family moves about three or four times a year in search of good grazing lands for the sheep, goats, horses and cows that are their livelihood. Because of this, Uuriintsolmon was not able to go to kindergarten. Her parents worried that she might lag behind her peers when she starts primary school. That was until help came their way.
Children’s First Teacher
In November 2013, Uuriintsolmon’s parents enrolled her in a home-based school preparation program that was offered at their soum. Through the program, a child takes home one “mobile” kit of books and toys from the school library at a time. The parents are trained on how to use the kit to assist their child with learning, effectively becoming the teachers at home. After the child finishes one kit, the family returns to the library to get a new kit. Each child has 10 kits to learn.
Uuriintsolmon pulls out a book from the kit. “The big book is for me. I learn a lot from the books.” A different book in the kit is for the parents to use to assist their children with learning. “I have learned a lot, too,” said Uuriintsolmon’s mother. “Her little sister will reach school age in four years. With this great experience, I am confident to teach her.” P. Ankhbold, Uuriintsolmon’s father, also saw great value in this learning and teaching experience. “When you work with your child this way, you learn to communicate with her. The family bond deepens,” he said.
The home-based school preparation program is part of a larger project that aims to improve education for nomadic children aged 6-10 in the most disadvantaged rural communities in Mongolia. The project, funded by the Japan Social Development Fund and managed by the World Bank, targets 30 soums in 4 aimags. Save the Children Japan is implementing the project by promoting and piloting various community-based, culturally appropriate and innovative initiatives to improve education services and facilities at the local level, and to mobilize parents and community members.
Children’s Second Home
Other innovations that are being piloted include the Child Development Center at school dormitories for herders’ children. When herders’ children reach school age, they go to the soum center to attend school, which could be miles away from home. So, most of them stay in school dormitories or with relatives who live in the soum center. But after school, these children usually play outside or fool around in the dorm rooms. Some children couldn’t adapt to the dormitory life and had trouble keeping up with their studies.
That is where the “Child Development Center” comes in. In the center, they do homework under teachers’ guidance and join various kinds of activities that enrich their after-school life. For Sainzaya. B, a 2nd grader at the School of Choibalsan Soum, Dornod Aimag, attending an extracurricular program is a dream that has come true. “I’m really happy that I’m participating in the program. It’s really fun because I can teach dancing to my friends and other kids,” she said.
The center made parents happy too. Sukhbaatar. M visited his grandson who is in the second grade and saw him playing chess with other children. “The child development center has helped children to productively spend their free time. Thanks to the Child Development Center, we don’t need to worry about our children,” he said.
Meeting the Educational Needs of Herding Communities
In September 2014, Uuriintsolmon started school. Ninety percent of her classmates were enrolled in the same home-based school preparation program. Her teacher L. Tsetsegdemberel found that the general skill level of these children was higher than the first graders she taught before who neither went to kindergarten nor were home schooled. “There are relatively few children from herding communities who have enrolled in formal early childhood education,” said L. Tsetsegdemberel. “With the program, children can study at home what they should have studied in kindergarten.”
“In my opinion, this is very productive and effective for the children, parents and teachers,” she said. P. Batchuluun is the Head of Community Education Council of Ulziit Soum, Arkhangai Aimag. A Community Education Council was established in each of the 30 soums under the project, as a driving force to bring educational changes to the local communities. “It is a good idea to introduce this program as an educational policy nationwide,” he said. “If we can continue to implement this program, we can provide herders’ children with quality education.”
So far, 7,500 children have enrolled in and graduated from the school preparation program, while the Child Development Centers has helped 4,600. “These initiatives are well suited to the needs of herding communities. They improved children’s access to education and also helped reduce the number of school drop-outs and out-of-school children in the four aimags,” said Tungalag Chuluun, a specialist at the World Bank.