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
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.