ULAN BATOR, Mongolia — In 1991, the USSR collapsed, and with it, so did every single Soviet satellite nation that depended on the former power’s continual support. Mongolia was one such country.
Left to fend for itself after 50 years of Soviet resources, Mongolia suffered an economic shock. The education sector in particular was decimated. Between the years of 1990 and 1992 alone, government spending on education as a percentage of GDP was halved.
But as a new report by the UK-based Overseas Development Institute (ODI) shows, Mongolia has already recovered and even outpaced its Soviet-era statistics. The country now achieves enrollment rates that rival those of its neighbors and even some OECD members. Equity of all types — gender, income and the urban-rural divide — has stabilized tremendously.
The ODI report briefs the three main areas where education in Mongolia has made great strides: resources, accessibility and equity.
Since the mid-2000s, Mongolia has enjoyed an average annual growth of over 7 percent, reaching a peak of 17 percent in 2011. The national poverty rate stands at 30 percent, which compared to the average for middle-income countries of 39 percent, demonstrates its steady decline.
The country’s economic success can be attributed to an increase in the mining of copper and gold in Mongolia. In fact, copper and gold account for two thirds of national GDP.
Economic growth and stabilization has allowed Mongolia’s historically high fertility rates to drop between 2005 and 2010. The average woman in the 1970s reared seven children. The doubling of life expectancy has left Mongolia with a huge cohort of young people, with 55 percent of the population under the age of 30.
With this proliferation of school-aged children, Mongolia responded by allocating more funds to their education system, which became more feasible as the country’s economy shaped up.
In 1995, the government enacted the Primary and Secondary Education Law, which set a target for government expenditure: 20 percent of GDP should be spent on education in Mongolia. The target has only been reached once in 2001, but the law has kept education spending high and allowed additional school infrastructure to be built.
Between 1989 and 1994, as Mongolia transitioned from its existence as a Soviet satellite to an independent nation, school life expectancy–the number of years the average student spends in school–fell from 10 years to 7.7 years. By 2010, the number shot up to 14.3, surpassing Soviet-era statistics.
The gross primary completion rate–the percentage of school-aged children who complete the last year of primary school–has improved from 75 percent in 1999 to 100 percent today. In addition, dropout rates have continued to steadily fall after peaking in 1991 at 20 percent, and secondary school enrollment rates show similar progress.
Under the USSR, the number of Mongolian children completing secondary school quintupled. However, in 1997, after the Soviet collapse, secondary school enrollment rates reached a historic low of 61 percent. But today, rates have risen to approximately 75 percent.
The most significant improvement, however, has been made in regards to university enrollment. In 1990, only one in five Mongolians attended college. By 2010, three in every five — a majority — entered university.
Mongolia has long faced a unique problem: more girls attend school than boys. But now, this reverse gender parity has been largely addressed. In 1999, secondary school enrollment for girls was 15 percent higher than for boys. By 2011, enrollment was only 5 percent higher for girls. However, while 68.6 percent of girls are enrolled in university, the same can be said for only 45.9 percent of boys.
The urban-rural divide, which has historically posed problems for rural Mongolians, has seen similar progress. In 2000, rural Mongolians experienced secondary school enrollment rates 16 percent lower than their urban counterparts. By 2011, the gap closed to 2 percent.
Finally, income equality, perhaps due in part to the pro-poor mineral industry, has seen tremendous improvement. The difference in secondary school enrollment rates between the rich and poor halved in the last decade.
– Shehrose Mian