Intersectoral collaboration is moving forward in early childhood development despite COVID-19

Early Childhood Development

Ulziisaikhan Sereeter
Twins holding a study guide
UNICEF Mongolia
27 January 2021

UNICEF Mongolia has been supporting effective national and subnational intersectoral collaboration in its early childhood development (ECD) programme for the last three years, with increased efforts  during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2018, programme stakeholders – including the government, international organizations and local NGOs – had a round-table discussion with support from UNICEF Mongolia and the Ministry of Education and Science (MoES). During this event, they identified a need for intersectoral collaboration in ECD. Since then, UNICEF Mongolia has demonstrated examples of intersectoral collaboration at the subnational level and advocated it to policymakers. As result of these efforts, line ministries came together to discuss the key issues of child development and took further actions during a consultative meeting organized in October 2020.

MoES had a leading role in this meeting and invited the Ministry of Health (MoH) and the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection (MLSP) to participate in the discussion. As a result, the ministries agreed to establish a working group to revise the 2005 Integrated ECD policy.

Subnational intersectoral collaboration began when UNICEF Mongolia supported capacity enhancement of education, health and protection service providers through training on importance of integrated ECD in 2019. The training participants developed an Integrated ECD strategy under the leadership of social policy departments in three target provinces and one district of Ulaanbaatar city. The district’s and provinces’ governors approved the strategy at the beginning of 2020. Under the strategy, different sector service providers now engage in collaborative work to provide services for young children. In particular, UNICEF Mongolia, in collaboration with MLSP and MoH, initiated health and developmental check-up of 18- and 36-month-old children in the target areas. Between June and August 2020, over 2,800 children were covered by this health and development checkup which has facilitated the cross-sectoral collaboration among health, protection and education service providers as they have performed the training and screening on site together. It has successfully practiced the international and national commitment to screen children’s development at the community level. Through the health and developmental checkup, some developmental delay and abnormalities were identified for around 200 children therefore necessary interventions started for those children. These interventions will lead to better and productive life for the children that ensures social inclusion.

Children studying in a ger.
UNICEF Mongolia

Another example of intersectoral collaboration is showcasing models of child-friendly kindergarten environments. In Mongolia, children aged 2–5 years attend preschool free of charge and go to kindergartens for 8–9 hours daily on weekdays. The enrolment rate for early childhood education (ECE) has increased in recent years and reached 84 per cent in 2019. However, it has been reduced to 80 per cent due to COVID pandemic in 2020. There are some other challenges in terms of classroom size in Ulaanbaatar city and most kindergarten facilities are old. In addition, a home to almost half of the country population, Ulaanbaatar has one of the worst air pollution in the world, especially in winter, due to increased use of coal. In order to enable children to learn in clean and healthy environment, UNICEF Mongolia has been working on retrofitting of kindergarten constructions, setting up a mechanical ventilation system to improve indoor air quality in both Ulaanbaatar as well as Bayankhongor province. In doing so, integrated approach has been taken where the kindergarten staff capacity has also been enhanced and the environment has been improved with better kitchen and water, sanitation and hygiene facilities. In 2020, over 1,750 children benefitted from these improved  facilities which enabled them to develop and learn in healthier and more energy-efficient environment. UNICEF Mongolia will continue to work with the government for better kindergarten environments and mechanical ventilation systems.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, all kindergartens in Mongolia were closed February–May and November–December, after reopening on 1 September 2020. Closing the kindergartens created several problems. These included reducing the ECE budget and discontinuing children’s early learning, and even led to some children being exposed to greater risk of malnutrition and injury at home. UNICEF Mongolia actively led the Education Cluster together with Save the Children, and supported the Government of Mongolia in ECE and ECD during the pandemic. In particular, it printed and distributed 81,000 copies of a workbook for 5-year-old children and their parents to prepare them to begin school in May 2020.

Twin girls Nandin-Erdene and Nomin-Erdene shared their experience of using the workbook with their mother. They said: “We coloured the shapes and practiced the line drawings in the workbook. We like it very much.” Their mother, Ms. Dogsom, said that she received a lot of information about school preparedness from the workbook. She liked the advice about how to sit properly and school backpack size the most.

UNICEF Mongolia is continuing its support to revise the Integrated ECD policy and build the capacities of education, health and protection service providers, and parents of young children through community mobilization.