Monday, October 02, 2006

Mongolian Education

Like almost everything in Mongolia, the education system is in flux. Even though the Soviet system ended 17 years ago now, education here still hasn't fully come into its own. Under the Soviet system, schools were funded by the state, books were funded by the state, supplies were funded by the state. Literacy was at an all time high (while it still hovers about 90%, under the Soviets, it was essentially 100%).

In the past 17 years, some schools have been privatized, and others have been closed, as the state has been unwilling or unable to sustain heating and teachers' salaries in the small local schools that dot the countryside.

This year, for the first time, the education system is being expanded. Previously, children started going to school at age seven. This year, school starts formally at age six, and next year, at age five. Currently, wealthier families, as in other countries, send their children to nursery schools, but many do not.

Up until 2003, education funds were determined at the local level, which meant that if a soum (province) governor didn't care for education, or had his own pet project, education in that area was underfunded. In 2003, the education system was centralized under the Minister of Education in UB. Unfortunately, however, funding is still based on an "average coefficient," on the aimag level, so a school of 200 in an aimag with a lot of larger schools gets more funding than a school of 200 in an aimag with a lot of smaller schools.

Interestingly, UB does not participate in the centralized education system. UB, which hosts 30 percent of all school-aged children, follows its own rules.

Teachers' salaries are a decent amount higher in UB than they are elsewhere in the country, but considering the higher cost of living and the greater number of hours teachers in UB work, (due to staggered school hours to allow more students to go to each school) the difference is hardly commesurate. What's more, many teachers outside of UB are giving housing and/or food and firewood as compensation for their work, along with their salaries. Like a lot of people in UB, this causes teachers to often look for side jobs to increase their incomes.

One of my friends teaches at the University of Humanities, which, until recently, was considered one of the best universities in Mongolia. In the past few years, however, it has been privatized and so its administration now views the school merely as a money-making venture. What's happened is that teachers are now told not to fail anyone. The school wants as many students paying as possible, even if they're not keeping up. One of the Peace Corps workers is placed there, and because she is paid monthly by the Peace Corps no matter how many hours she works, the administration is always trying to have her work long hours and to teach the night classes, which cost more to go to, and for which normal workers are paid extra. Needless to say, the reputation of the school has declined.

As in almost every area of the Mongolian government, various foreign NGOs and governments cover some of the costs. The Japanese government is a huge donor and, thus, participant, in the Mongolian education system, as are the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. I can't imagine the US or any other "developed" country allowing foreign governments to pay for and participate in the country's education reform.

Currently, the World Bank is funding the delivery of books to every child in every soum in Mongolia. Many schools and school libraries have not received new books since the Soviet era. I, through a side organization, am in charge of finding books in the Kazakh language for children in Bayan-Ogii, the Westernmost province in Mongolia. I'm searching for publishers in Kazakhstan that print non-religious or non-indoctrinating books that are willing to sell their copyrights to Mongolia, and that will give us a discount if we buy 200 copies of each book we buy. So far, it's proving difficult.


At 12:13 PM, Blogger CD said...

That was an interesting article. I just some how stumbled on your blogs while reading up on Mongolia. What work are you doing in Mongolia?
Mongolian educational system is collapsing. I am so frustrated with the government and people who are supposedly "leading" the country. It's a long rant, so I'll just leave it at that.
Please continue your blogs. It is interesting to experience Mongolia as it is right now through someone else's perspective.

At 12:12 AM, Blogger Ronan Jimson said...

Hi alexa, I want to introduce you to

At 6:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hello, I too have stumbled across this site and have enjoyed reading your article. As it happens, i'm trying to put together a scheme of work for my children (primary school uk) so that we can learn about Mongolia and perhaps find ways to raise awareness of the education problems.

I must say i'm finding it a little bit difficult to get started so any advice you can give me would be appreciated. If you can suggest anything, please contact me at

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At 7:38 PM, Blogger samraat said...

At 12:36 PM, Blogger juandi said...

hey alexa im soo interested in mongolia! studying economic development: doing research in education, biotechnology, economic history ... will definitely learn mongolian and go work there

but how bad is the winter? im not afraid of the cold (montreal, canada) but here the seasonal change really messes me up!! is there a lot of sun and/or consistent sunlight for long period of time and no on/off sunny and terrible days

At 12:37 PM, Blogger juandi said...

hey email is


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