SEATTLE — Mongolia is experiencing economic struggles that are exacerbating its deficiencies in infrastructure development, GDP growth and investment in education, according to Ken Koyanagi, editor of the Nikkei Asian Review. He states Mongolia’s incredibly undiversified economy is rendering it susceptible to fluctuations in commodity prices that are keeping it in a recession that started in 2008. As its neighbors recovered from the global financial crisis, Mongolia has been unable to get over the hump. Because of this, education in Mongolia has suffered, and requires international intervention.
Save the Children has sent resources to urban and rural areas of Mongolia to identify what aid is needed. It plans on implementing a two-phase program starting in February 2017 to address shortcomings in food security, health, nutrition and education.
Furthermore, Mongolia has experienced a harsher-than-expected winter which has exposed some of the infrastructure challenges in its rural schools. Windows are in desperate need of replacement to contain whatever heat the schools are capable of generating. The average temperature in most schools and dormitories ranges from 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
Phase one of Save the Children’s plan includes the provision of coal and alternative heat sources to all schools that have inhospitable temperatures. The classroom conditions have led to an outbreak of the flu and, with limited access to basic medical supplies, school officials are unable to treat the infected students. Save the Children has immediate plans to supply all affected schools with essential medications and equipment to treat sick students and stop the spread of illness.
Thus far, enrollment for students is down across the board, from around 90 percent in 2016 to between 45 and 72 percent at the start of the 2017 term. Save the Children believes this is partly due to the harsh winter, which has made the long distances to and from the schools treacherous. Phase one of the plan aims to provide a rented vehicle or a cash subsidy for parents to find a safe option to send their children to school.
Once a secure and safe learning environment is restored, stage two of the Save the Children plan aims to improve the quality of education in Mongolia. Additional classes will be provided for students who missed classes earlier in the year. There will also be a cash disbursement for educational items such as books and supplies.
In urban Mongolia, conditions are also challenging, and 20 percent of the population has no access to plumbing, sewage, paved streets, or schools. Government corruption has been rampant, compromising Mongolia’s ability to utilize its economic gains in the early 2000s to invest in infrastructure and education in Mongolia.
Koyanagi places blame on a land policy in the 1990s in which 700-square-meter plots of land were promised to any citizen currently living in or moving to an urban area. The idea was to relocate the predominately rural population to cities so they could participate in manufacturing and other growing economic sectors.
People were optimistic about this program, thinking that it would offer better access to quality education for their children. Unfortunately, this did not come to fruition because the urban infrastructure was not prepared for this influx of inhabitants.
Koyanagi is hopeful, though, that the economic struggles experienced recently are coming to an end. Key commodities that make up large proportions of the economy have increased and the Mongolian government has instituted reforms to improve conditions across the country. This, paired with Save the Children making an investment in rural Mongolia, gives us reason to believe that education in Mongolia will improve.
– Brian Faust