Mongolia's Education System
Prior to the introduction of socialism in Mongolia, a formal education (learning how to read and write) was something that only took place in monasteries and amongst government officials. Informal practical skills were learnt at home and passed on in the family environment. Stratified sections of society were then chosen to be formally educated in order to either communicate with neighbouring countries or to be able to recite Buddhist texts. A formal education was exclusive, selective and available only to men.

By the beginning of the 1930s however, schools as formal places of learning for the wider population were first introduced in administrative centres across the country. Boarding houses were established in order to house children from nomadic families, with food, clothing and schooling all provided by the state. Education became uniform, centralised and available to all.

By the 1950s and 1960s literacy levels throughout Mongolia increased dramatically and with the change from traditional Mongolian script to Cyrillic, teachers were sent out into the countryside to ensure that all the population could read and write. For children growing up in this era, education (mainly based on Russian pedagogical teaching methods) was something that did not just take place at school.

Pioneer activities, allowed for moral and practical teachings outside the formal school environment. In countryside districts cooperatives, eager to produce maximum productivity ensured that all aspects of a child’s education was look after by the state thus leaving parents able to work.

Transition to an open market economy in the beginning of the 1990s hit Mongolia’s centralised education system sharply. Many teachers decided to abandon their jobs due to the lack of income and help with their family’s herds. Others turned to new innovative small trade and businesses. With the collapse of local cooperatives parents returned to herding with the few animals they managed to reclaim and their children were often forced to help at home with herding.

Many local schools and boarding houses were forced to close down due to lack of government funding and “drop out” rates, which had hardly been heard of before, increased dramatically. Family necessity forced children back into the home environment at the cost of receiving a formal education. However, the problem lay also in the actual schools themselves, which desperately needed new textbooks, teaching methods and a different administrative approach.

Since the late 1990s the situation for children and Mongolia’s education system have begun to improve. Choice has started to become an option, with many private schools and specialised places of learning emerging in the capital catering for children of Mongolia’s increasing middle and upper classes.

Rural schools however, are still suffering. With wealthier families choosing to send their children to schools in the cities (in order to obtain certain valued types of knowledge, and able to hire local help to assist with their herds), those without money and extended family networks often loose out. Kindergartens, once free to all workers, have become a novel luxury for those who can afford to send their three to seven year olds giving them a head start when it comes to attending school.

For most children in the countryside their childhoods until the age of seven or eight years old are spent at home with their parents herding livestock. Informal education in the home is something that is increasingly being drawn upon where formal schooling is in decline. Moral education, once the role of the pioneer group has found itself back in the family environment.

Current “drop out “ rates are not as high as at the beginning of the 1990s but significant enough to warrant concern from local educationalists and parents alike. Indeed, for most countryside children a full eleven-year education is a luxury only assured to those with money and resources to assist with their herds.

However, things are starting to change in local schools. During summer and winter breaks, many rural schools hold informal classes for children unable to attend school and the need for change from a teacher orientated approach to a more student orientated methodology is beginning to be recognised.

It is difficult to summarise the situation in Mongolia in terms of education and schooling as local and administrative centres vary. What seems obvious though, is that those with money and extended networks in the cities are increasingly able to “buy” certain types of valued knowledge and education for their children thus, allowing for a stratified section of society to emerge with a specific type of education, where as those without these resources and wealth cannot hope for the same.

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  Information provided by the Ministry of Tourism. Government of Mongolia.


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