Chance of a better future with ger kindergartens
“When I’m at kindergarten, I like to sing and play with Barbie dolls. I also like to play with all my friends,” says 5-year-old Minjinsor. She has a shy smile and short hair, newly cut during the Mongolian traditional hair-cutting ceremony.
Minjinsor is one of 15 children who left their overcrowded classroom in the main building of Kindergarten No. 8 in Ulaanbaatar’s Bayanzurkh district, and moved to a new ger classroom. Built in the typical Mongolian tent-like style, it is more spacious, so the children can play more freely, and smaller numbers mean they can also enjoy the full attention of their teachers.
“Children prefer the new classroom because it gives them enough space for play. For teachers it means that we can focus on children more individually and help with their development.”
More opportunities in the most populous district
Bayanzurkh is the most populous district of the capital, with more than 300,000 inhabitants. Its population is constantly growing, as large numbers of people move to the city in search of better employment opportunities. This rapid and unplanned urbanization has created challenges in delivering basic social services. There are just 36 kindergartens in Bayanzurkh, which are able to provide preschool education to only 72 per cent of local children.
Finding a place in public kindergartens is extremely difficult, and classrooms are overcrowded – more than 200 children attend Kindergarten No. 8 though it has capacity for only 120. As a result, all kindergartens in the district started organizing lotteries to enroll 2-year-olds.
Like many families, Minjinsor’s parents struggled to find a kindergarten place for their daughter, and so had to take turns looking after her at home while working shifts. “It's really difficult to get children into a public kindergarten and the private ones are too expensive,” explains Minjinsor’s mother, Gan-Otgon.
Last year, fortune finally smiled on them. “We had to take shifts and queue for three days outside the kindergarten, but we got a place for our daughter,” says Gan-Otgon, her voice full of relief.
Modern yet traditional
Now Minjinsor attends the ger classroom, which was opened in February this year thanks to the technical and financial support of UNICEF Mongolia and the Korean National Committee for UNICEF.
“The classroom in the main building was too small so I was very happy about the ger classroom – it's much more spacious. Also, it has bigger, more modern bathrooms compared to the old ones,” says Gan-Otgon. Some of the parents were worried that the ger would be too cold in winter, and so were relieved to find that the traditional stove was replaced by central heating.
The ger kindergarten has another important advantage – it brings children closer to Mongolian traditions. “Children learn the proper words for parts of a ger, like roof, walls and so on. When they live in apartments in the city, they hardly know these words,” explains Gan-Otgon.
Early childhood development for better future
The early years are a crucial period in children’s life and can impact their future significantly. Scientific research has shown that the experiences children gain in early life – especially in the first three years – shape their developing brain and affect whether they grow up to be healthy and productive members of society.
UNICEF advocates for an increased focus on early childhood development in national and sub-national policies, with a focus on reaching the most disadvantaged children. Ger kindergartens are one of the cost-effective ways to provide early education to children and support their social, emotional and cognitive development.
“Investing in early childhood development is a cost-effective way to boost shared prosperity, promote inclusive economic growth, expand equal opportunities, and end extreme poverty. For every $1 spent on early childhood development, the return on investment can be as high as $13.”
Gan-Otgon marvels at the changes in her daughter. “Every day, Minjinsor learns something new. She comes home with a new poem or a new song. Recently she learned the names of colours. When she stayed at home, she didn't know these things because we didn't have time to teach her,” she says.