ULAN BATOR, Mongolia — In 1924 Mongolia became the world’s second communist state and it remained communist until 1989 when a new democratic movement peacefully changed the political system. The movement stemmed from a loss of Soviet financial support, which accounted for 30 percent of the GDP and 90 percent of foreign investment. Since then, democratic Mongolian government has had to slowly rebuild the country.
It has been difficult for Mongolia to transition from a planned economy to a free market. Starting with the loss of serious financial support and the transition to a market economy in 1990, Mongolia has seen a sharp increase in unemployment and poverty rates. Right after the democratic government came to power over 50 percent of the population fell into poverty. Only in recent years has there been a small decrease in poverty, but the rate is still at 27 percent. However, the education system has been relatively successful and the statistics help raise some hope that Mongolia is on the right track toward advancing education and alleviating poverty.
Mongolia has an education system similar to that of the United States. Children enter school at age 6, graduate at 18 and can enter university afterwards, if they want. Mongolia has a net attendance ratio of over 95 percent for primary school and 90 percent for secondary school. Youth literacy rates are over 94 percent.
These high enrollment rates could be related to the fact that Mongolia spends about 5.5 percent of their GDP on education, compared to the U.S. which spends 5.4 percent. Mongolia has also received a large amount of financial support from donors. These range from countries like Japan, Germany and the U.S. to international organizations like the International Monetary Fund and UNICEF. Between “1991 and 2004, donor countries and international organizations allocated $2.6 billion for the development of Mongolia.”
These donors help fund programs like Development of the General Education School, which started in 2000. This program helps organize and pay for the maintenance of school facilities. They renovate plumbing and water supplies in schools but also install up to date teaching equipment and technology.
The Mongolian government has said it is committed to achieving the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015. One example of how the government is attempting to do this is the Rural Education and Development (READ) Project which started in 2007. The project aimed to improve learning conditions for rural students by increasing the amount of books available as well as better teacher training.
The program successfully established 3,560 classroom libraries in 383 rural primary schools while successfully training 4,144 teachers. Some classrooms received computers and 2,000 students received laptops. In the end, the program “increased students’ classroom reading time per week by 100 percent.” The success of this program has led the government to expand and create other programs like it.
The education system is not without faults though. Mongolia has seen an increase in tertiary enrollment from 14 percent to 47 percent in the past few years. But the government spends little on the public university system leading to low-quality education and little research as professors often do not have their Ph.D. and are paid only $300 a month. Increased enrollment occurs mostly in private universities. There is unequal access to tertiary education, and the poor are more often left out.
In addition there is the issue of unemployment and job opportunities once students leave school. Their prospects are not as high as in more developed countries. Increasing enrollment and quality of education is important, but giving graduates more job options is also the key toward Mongolia’s development.
Mongolia still suffers many of the common problems of a developing nation — high poverty rates, high unemployment, inequality and a marginalized rural population. The government is attempting to increasing access and quality of education. Hopefully the donor countries keep up their financial investments so that Mongolia can continue improving their education system.