At a glance: Mongolia

Mobile kindergarten for nomadic Mongolian children

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Mongolia/2012/Brown
Erka, 6, is part of a semi-nomadic herder family who live in the remote Khuvsgul province of Mongolia. At a mobile school provided and fully equipped by UNICEF, Erka holds up a picture she has drawn.

By Andy Brown

Kindergarten comes to the young children of semi-nomadic herder families in Khuvsgul province, Mongolia, in mobile tents pitched seasonally in their remote districts.

Glossary

bagh: small district

ger: tent

soum: village

KHUVSGUL PROVINCE, Mongolia, 17 July 2013 – Six-year-old Erbenebayar, ‘Erka’ for short, lives with her semi-nomadic herder family in the remote Khuvsgul province of Mongolia. They are based in a bagh about 20 km from the nearest settlement, Tsagaan-Uur soum. There are no proper roads.

Erka’s parents have to look after their livestock and cannot take her to the soum centre every day. Luckily, there is a mobile kindergarten nearby that she can attend.

“I like coming to the kindergarten,” Erka says. “I enjoy singing songs, playing with puzzle games and reading poems. My favourite poem is about a baby chicken, and my favourite song is about getting an excellent mark at kindergarten. Yesterday, I got an excellent mark for my drawing. My best friend is Namuun. She’s the teacher’s daughter.”

A classroom pitched in a valley

The kindergarten is in a traditional Mongolian ger, with a thick quilted lining and a carpet on the floor. Children’s pictures are pinned to the wooden frame. Outside, it is raining, and heavy clouds blanket the hills. The ger is pitched in the middle of a wide, flat valley. Some children arrive on foot, with older brothers carrying them across a river. Others arrive with their parents on horseback, motorbike or tractor.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Mongolia/2012/Brown
Erka rides a horse with her father Ulziiochir outside their family home. Since coming to the school, Erka, who lives with disabilities since she contracted polio, has learned to speak.

The ger was supplied to the soum by UNICEF Mongolia, fully equipped with toys, learning materials and furniture. It is run by Dolzodmaa, a teacher from the main kindergarten in the soum centre, who now spends the summer taking the ger around the baghs linked to the soum. Currently, 24 children attend the ger kindergarten.

Education for a nomadic population

The mobile ger kindergartens are a unique solution to the problem of providing education to a nomadic population. They function in rural areas from June to August and, where weather permits, from May to November. As well as providing early childhood education, they give children the opportunity to socialize with others. In Mongolia, herder families live spread out over a wide area and can be very isolated, particularly in the winter when the days shorten, temperatures plunge and heavy snow piles up outside. The gers also give teachers better access to parents, and allow the parents to go out and work, tending their livestock and preparing for the next winter.

“The facilities here are more basic than in the soum centre, so we concentrate on teaching the children to interact and socialize,” Dolzodmaa says. “This is their main opportunity to meet strangers, make friends and express themselves. Today, we talked about weather in the summer season. The children learned a poem about a rainbow and made pictures of raindrops. There was a big thunderstorm last night, and some of the children were scared, so it’s helpful to talk about it.”

Including all children

Erka lives in a remote village, and she lives with a disability. She contracted polio at 4 months old, and she has a damaged right arm and leg and difficulty communicating. She lives with her adoptive family.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Mongolia/2012/Brown
Erka reads a book at home with her best friend Namuun. The mobile kindergartens function from June to August and, where weather permits, from May to November. As well as providing early childhood education, these schools give children the opportunity to socialize.

UNICEF is working with education authorities throughout Khuvsgul province to reach all children. “We are supporting early childhood development in each soum, by training teachers and officials, providing toys and learning materials for kindergartens, and supplying mobile gers,” UNICEF community development officer for Khuvsgul Zoya Baduan says. “We also work with schools to renovate classrooms and provide alternative learning for out-of-school children and children with disabilities. We help schools develop emergency preparedness plans in case of harsh winters and look at water, sanitation and health in schools. This is part of our strategy to address inequality by targeting the most vulnerable children and communities.”

Ger kindergartens prove popular

Governor Erdene-Bat highlights the success of the programme in Tsagaan-Uur soum. “Parents here are very happy with the ger kindergartens,” he comments. “It gives them time to rest and work, and the children a chance to learn. We know it’s been successful because it’s created demand. If a particular bagh area doesn’t have a ger kindergarten, the parents come to us and ask for one.”

For Erka, there’s no doubt that the ger kindergarten has helped. Since coming for the first time this year, she has learned to talk. Before, she could understand her parents, but her own speech was slurred and unclear. Now, thanks to interacting with other children, she can speak clearly and easily.

“The mobile ger kindergarten has helped us a lot,” says her father, Ulziiochir, smiling broadly. “Erka has learned to sing, dance and play. She doesn’t cry or complain. When she comes home, she says to me: ‘Daddy please take me to kindergarten in the morning, but don’t forget to pick me up in the afternoon.’"


 

 

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