Making early learning more accessible with ger kindergartens
The kindergarten No. 189 in Ulaanbaatar’s Khan-Uul district is buzzing with noises. In the ger classroom, using the traditional Mongolian tent-like structure, children are running around, playing or singing. Two teachers taking care of them – Mrs. Amgalan and her assistant – certainly have their hands full.
The ger classroom was opened in February 2018 because of the insufficient capacity of the kindergarten’s main building. Thanks to the two connected gers, additional 20 children can now access early childhood education.
“I’m very happy that my youngest son can finally attend kindergarten. I have three children, but I couldn’t work because I had to stay at home and take care of him. Now I work as a cook,” says Enkhtuya, mother of 2 years old Erdenebat.
Although Mongolia’s goal is to have every child aged 2 - 5 enrolled in early childhood education, the capacity of kindergartens is often not enough. In many districts of Ulaanbaatar city, the kindergartens organize lotteries to decide who will get a place. In the beginning of previous school year, the kindergarten No. 189 held a lottery as well, but many children ended up unlucky. The governor office of Khan-Uul district later decided to establish there a ger classroom for the youngest children, with support from UNICEF Mongolia and financial contribution of the Government of Monaco.
“My son Tsetsenbilguun won the lottery but eventually there wasn’t space for him anyway. Then in January, the kindergarten announced that it will be opening a ger classroom for 2 years old lottery winners after all,” says Dashzeveg, mother of three. “Now when Tsetsenbilguun goes to kindergarten, I have more time for my youngest child, who is only 10 months. My son used to be very naughty at home and often disturbed his little sister, but now everything is much better,” adds Dashzeveg with a smile on her face.
"I’m very happy that my youngest son can finally attend kindergarten. I have three children, but I couldn’t work because I had to stay at home and take care of him. Now I work as a cook.”
Learning to talk, sing and draw
The classroom is in traditional Mongolian gers, built right next to the main building and equipped with a carpet on the floor, furniture, learning materials and toys. Although gers are usually heated by a stove standing in the center, the ger classroom has a floor heating. This way the air inside does not get polluted so easily and children can play in much safer environment.
“In winter, children were not as sick as usual,” says Ms. Amgalan, who has been working as a kindergarten teacher for ten years. In the beginning of school year, she was working in the main building and taking care of more than 50 children in just one classroom.
“In the ger classroom, children have more space to play and it allows us to work with them closely, so they can develop better. Many of them could not talk or draw in the beginning of February. Now they communicate more with each other, play together, and they also learned how to hold a pen and color within the lines,” Amgalan describes.
The parents agree with her. “I can see a big difference in Erdenebat already. He is learning to sing, draw and tell stories. He is also getting more self-reliant – he can now eat and use the toilet by himself,” says Enkhtuya proudly, looking at her son.
“I like going to kindergarten because I enjoy playing games and listening to the teacher reading books or poems. I also like the food here,” he adds shyly.
The kindergarten has also helped Enkhkhuslen, an adorable little girl with ponytail and pink tights. “Just a few months ago, she couldn’t speak at all. Now her speech has become much better,” says her grandmother Oyunjargal, who is helping Enkhkhuslen’s busy parents to take care of her.
Early learning for the most disadvantaged children
Although the early years of a child’s life represent a crucial period for development and can have a major impact on their future, one in three children are left out of Mongolia’s early childhood educational services. Ger kindergartens represent a cost-effective way how to provide education even to the most disadvantaged children and boost their social, emotional and cognitive development.
The ger classroom at the kindergarten No. 189 proves that. But as the kindergarten’s manager points out, around 60 percent of preschoolers living in the sub-district still do not have access to early childhood education. UNICEF Mongolia is trying to fight this statistic.
“Early learning has a tremendous impact on education outcomes, is a key determinant of a student’s learning potential, and is among the most cost-effective investments a country can make to build human capital and promote sustainable development,” explains UNICEF Mongolia’s Early Childhood Development Officer Ulziisaikhan Sereeter.
“UNICEF Mongolia supports the government in ensuring that the most disadvantaged children benefit from increased access to early childhood education services by installing ger kindergartens,” she adds.
“Early learning has a tremendous impact on education outcomes, is a key determinant of a student’s learning potential, and is among the most cost-effective investments a country can make to build human capital and promote sustainable development”
The ger kindergartens are one of the various projects UNICEF carries out to support early childhood development. For children who cannot attend any kindergarten, the organization launched a distance learning programme, which allows them to learn at home with their parents using special workbooks and TV lessons. The programme, which combines ICT with visual aids and methods to improve parenting skills, has already helped thousands of Mongolian children.
UNICEF’s goal is to ensure that all children develop to their full potential and are ready for school at the right age. The Early Childhood Development programme is one of the ways how to help close the inequality gap, which often starts even before birth.