SUKHBAATAR — Of the 3 million people living in Mongolia, an estimated 30 percent live as nomads. Nomadic children in Mongolia face unusual barriers to early childhood education including limited access to educational materials and traditional schools. A program funded, and managed, with a $2.5 million grant from the World Bank’s Japan Social Development Fund aims to improve nomadic children’s access to education and learning achievements.
Mongolia provides free, mandatory education for all children age 6 and older. However, there is a large discrepancy between school enrollment rates of urban Mongolian children and of rural Mongolian children. While urban schools have a 96 percent enrollment rate, rural schools have only 85 percent. Additionally, 83.2 percent of child drop-outs live in rural areas.
The World Bank’s project has largely been managed by Save the Children Japan and has introduced initiatives targeted at improving nomadic children’s school performance by increasing access to educational materials and encouraging community involvement. The program respects cultural norms while bettering educational achievement in 30 villages (soums) in four low-performing provinces (aimags) — Arkhangai, Dornod, Sukhbaatar and Uvurkhangai.
The World Bank’s Innovative Initiatives
One initiative implemented by the World Bank is the dissemination of home-based school preparation programs. These kits help parents prepare their 5-year-old children for school by providing an accessible form of early childhood education to nomadic children in Mongolia. Parents, trained by local teachers and led by guidebooks, act as lesson facilitators.
Families borrow 1 of 30+ educational kits from the mobile libraries established for the program. Each kit contains toys, books and listening resources intended to spur early childhood development. Children learn from their kit for 2-3 weeks then trade in their materials for a new bundle.
The World Bank also funded the creation of child development centers in 30 school dormitories. Nomadic children in Mongolia often live in dormitories or with family in city centers in order to attend school. The development centers provide extracurricular activities to engage children after classes. The centers act as a social epicenter for young children separated from their families.
The program also targets rural Mongolian children excluded from traditional educational opportunities due to disability. Six different compensatory education programs were developed to help students learn the skills taught in grades 1, 2 and 3. Parents, with the support of learning centers, teach lessons to their children at home. Additionally, classes are accessible online. In total, 200 children — 80 under age 10 — enrolled.
The World Bank and Save the Children cultivated interest in their initiatives by establishing community education councils in each soum. Each of these councils is comprised of volunteer parents, teachers and government workers. They are tasked with encouraging community involvement in early childhood education development. These councils also mobilize funds from local government budgets to supplement the World Bank’s grant.
The Program Has Proven Results
This project concluded in June 2017 with impressive results. In total, the program directly benefitted 8,500 remote Mongolian children aged 5-10. A World Bank study found that children who utilized the program developed better cognitive and noncognitive skills than children enrolled in different programs.
The World Bank reached key performance targets through community-based and culturally sensitive initiatives. Replicating this model in other low-performing rural provinces could further mitigate Mongolia’s school dropout rate.
– Katherine Parks