UNICEF develops audio lessons to support learning of Mongolian children during COVID-19 pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact on multiple sectors in Mongolia, but the education sector was amongst the most affected.
Seven-year-old Enkhmaa is a quiet girl who loves learning new things. She carries her bright blue radio everywhere, often smiling at what she is listening to.
Enkhmaa is a part of a big family of eight; she has 5 siblings, two of whom live with her and her parents in the Ger area of Bayanzurkh district in Ulaanbaatar. Their home consists of a Ger (a traditional dwelling) with a diameter of approximately five meters furnished with a little couch, a small table, and a modestly equipped kitchen.
Before COVID-19, every morning her mom would drop her off to school and go to work in a supermarket. Since the outbreak of COVID-19 their lives suffered several unexpected changes. Enkhmaa’s mother was forced to quit her job to avoid getting infected and to assist her kids with distance learning as the schools were closed. “Now only my husband works” Enkhmaa’s mother (41) explains, “He leaves every morning at 5:30 am and comes back at 8:00 pm every night. I take care of the kids alone, because since the beginning of the pandemic we try to avoid contact with neighbors and friends to lower the risks of getting infected.”
Learning from Storytelling
The COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact on multiple sectors in Mongolia, but the education sector was amongst the most affected. Mongolia, in fact, has been one of the first countries to undertake strict preventive measures and to close all educational establishments in January 2020 affecting over 900,000 children in pre-primary and general education schools.
“I missed very much my teachers and friends during distance learning. I love going to school and learning things. But it was difficult to study at home.” Enkhmaa explains, “and sometimes I was bored.”
In order to support distance learning for children like Enkhmaa, a joint team from the Ministry of Education and Science and UNICEF identified the learning objectives of kids aged 4-7 and initiated an innovative teaching method based on storytelling. As a result, in 2020, UNICEF led an initiative to create child-friendly learning content for children both in pre-primary school (4 – 5 years old), and in primary school (6 – 7 years old). UNICEF created 30 engaging and enchanting audio lessons called “Knowledge Wave” and uploaded them into 1,300 emergency radio equipment, that were successfully distributed across the country to herder families and disadvantaged kids without stable access to TV and the internet. Furthermore, the audio lessons were broadcasted through Mongolian National Radio and through an mobile application called Marchaakhai. This application, specifically developed for children, reached over 135,000 viewers.
Since I first received UNICEF radio equipment it kept me company. I really like the radio, and it was very easy for me to learn how to use it. I listen to stories in the morning, and dance to the music after dinner, before going to sleep. My brothers and sisters like it very much too. We enjoy listening to it together.
Enkhmaa, 7 years
“I like the story of the boy and the box very much.” Enkhmaa says while holding her radio. “It’s a story about a boy who builds a box with his father for his friend’s birthday”.
The audio lessons developed by UNICEF engaged children through storytelling. Each of the stories taught new notions through the adventures of three main characters: the Fox, a boy, and a girl. While listening to the stories, students learned about values such as: self-introduction, empathy, and diversity. Furthermore, each audio story introduced new learning objectives (i.e. the specifics of the four seasons, time expressions, colors, numbering, professions, etc.) while supporting children’s creativity and experimentation. This new learning method resulted particularly effective in attracting children’s attention: they enjoyed listening to fairy tales that they could understand and relate to.
Enkhmaa’s mother says how the radio equipment provided by UNICEF has been an enjoyable and innovative educational tool not only for Enkhmaa, but for all her children: “They love listening to it together” she explains, “and they also carry it when we visit their grandparents in the countryside. It works everywhere and we don’t need batteries to charge it: the solar panel automatically charges the radio with solar energy. Before receiving the radio, my kids didn’t know about solar energy, thanks to UNICEF they continued learning school programmes and they also learned something new about green energy.”
“Our main goal was to reach the children without access to TV/internet and help them continue their learning remotely. And for children of this age, learning must be age-appropriate, appealing, and engaging. We believe we have achieved it with the audio lessons. Furthermore, the distribution of radio equipment, ensured that children can actually listen to them anywhere they go” says Ms Tserennadmid Nyamkhuu, Education Specialist at UNICEF Mongolia.
UNICEF is currently working on the production of more audio content and the procurement of new audio players in order to reach more children in need. All this was made possible with thanks to the funding support of UNICEF donors, in particular, the United Nations Multi-Partner Trust Fund and the Tanlaw Foundation in the UK.