MONGOLIA UNDER THE SIGN OF THE CORONA VIRUS

The material for this article, which describes Mongolia’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak, not least in relation to the education sector, was collected by the two authors between the end of February and the beginning of December. March 8. In the evening of d. On March 9, the epilogue concluded by stating that no one had yet contracted the coronavirus in Mongolia. The On March 10, the first two cases are diagnosed. Paradoxically, the infection did not come from China, but via a Frenchman and an Englishman who both arrived on an Aeroflot flight via Moscow to Ulaanbaatar a few days ago.

The editors d. March 10, 2020 

In this article, we highlight a situation that is historically new for the education system in Mongolia: shortly after the coronavirus outbreak in the southern neighboring country, Mongolian educational institutions at all levels and locations were closed. At the same time, the Mongolian authorities took a number of other quite drastic measures to contain the virus. Steps have also been taken that have raised eyebrows and provoked cartoonists.

And the Mongolians – for most non-Mongolians – are showing amazing willingness and new ways to contribute to the fight against the coronavirus. Let’s briefly recap the process of the coronavirus outbreak before presenting some of Mongolia’s response to the crisis and then turn to the challenges facing the Mongolian education system.

At the end of January 2020, the WHO classified the spread of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV / Covid-19) in the People’s Republic of China as a “health emergency of international concern”. The WHO issued recommendations to all states to take the necessary precautions to contain the global spread of the virus.

Mongolia had already closed its border crossings with its southern neighbor on January 25. The closure followed a recommendation from Mongolia’s National Security Council. On January 31, the government made a decision to ban Mongolian citizens from traveling to China until March 2. However, the export and import of goods remained permitted. A controversial decision. On February 5, the Mongolian Minister of Health set up a task force to oversee the effort, and two days later health checks were introduced at all border crossings with China. More and more local factories started producing face masks.

After intense debates, the decision to suspend rail and air traffic between Mongolia and China was finally made on January 1, 2010. February 13.
In light of the upcoming Mongolian New Year (Tsagaan Sar), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had announced on February 8 that large gatherings should be avoided. Two days later, Mongolia’s equivalent of the Danish Emergency Management Agency announced that the traditional Tsagaan Sar wrestling matches would not take place.

                                                                     Samandaryn Tsogtbayar (2)

The same should apply to the traditional New Year ceremonies (zolgolt) in public institutions and associations, etc. Even before the very first official announcement of Tsagaan Sar’s regulations, the well-known Mongolian Dalantai Tserensodnom, who as a member of the Academy of Sciences enjoys great authority in matters of tradition, custom and practice, had given an interview in the national daily newspaper Ödriin

Sonin, where he urged people to put aside Mongolian customs and that New Year’s ceremonies should only be performed within the household, i.e. within the confines of the family’s apartment or ger.


New Year’s greetings in light of touching and kissing hazards
Samandaryn Tsogtbayar

When the official call to ditch the usual elaborate New Year ceremonies with lots of private visits was finally announced, there was widespread support among the population. An opinion poll showed 86% support for the extraordinary cancellations of the New Year festivities, but there are also reports of disputes and disagreements within families about the permissibility of dropping the regular Tsagaan Sar rituals.

When the official call to ditch the usual elaborate New Year ceremonies with lots of private visits was finally announced, there was widespread support among the population. An opinion poll showed 86% support for the extraordinary cancellations of the New Year festivities, but there are also reports of disputes and disagreements within families about the permissibility of dropping the regular Tsagaan Sar rituals.

Referring to the rampant plague, the female groundhog tries to persuade the male groundhog, who is determined to follow traditional customs, to think about his life and family and only exchange New Year’s greetings electronically. (Marmots have almost iconic status in Mongolia – and are also considered a great delicacy – ed.) © Samandaryn Tsogtbayar

Major mining company Oyu Tolgoi launched an alternative, a Twitter campaign called #CyberLunarNewYear. It encouraged people to spend the New Year at home and use smartphone technology to exchange New Year’s greetings. Younger people are asked to act as mediators while supporting older people in managing electronic communication. The extraordinary situation encouraged the renowned Mongolian actor and comedian M. Bayarmagnai to rewrite the lyrics of the well-known song “Zallaga”. On February 23, New Year’s Eve (bitüün), he uploaded his new version, recorded at home, to Facebook, where the video was quickly viewed by more than 30,000 people. The new text, whose Mongolian version comes in elegant syllabic rhyme, might sound something like this in Danish:

Don’t spend New Year’s with (other) families
Avoid guests offering the New Year’s greeting
The dangerous disease is at hand
Wear your face mask

Celebrate New Year at home
Don’t leave the house

I have a Mobi (com) number, call me
Transfer money via mobile banking
Get over the plague when it’s gone
Then you can stay as long as you want.

Celebrate New Year at home
One day we’ll exchange New Year’s greetings.

At the beginning of Tsagaan Sar, all major roads in and out of Ulaanbaatar and between city and village centers were closed. Public transportation was suspended and from February 24, the first day of the New Year, flights to/from South Korea were suspended until further notice.

As in many other parts of the world, New Year in Mongolia is celebrated with excursions with family and friends to scenic areas where you can also enjoy some fresh air. To avoid large gatherings in recreational areas in and just outside Ulaanbaatar, the city’s mayor S. Amarsaychan declared all such areas closed. The population should also not expect permission to publicly mark International Women’s Day on the same day. March 8th or other anniversaries in the coming months.

The country’s Minister of Tourism N. Tserenbat has announced that permission may not be granted to organize major (tourist) events such as the eagle festivals in Altai, camel festivals in Omnogobi or the ice festival on Lake Khuvsgul. For devout Buddhists, within the first fifteen days after Tsagaan Tsar, it is traditional to go to the monastery and, for a fee, have monks read from Buddhist scriptures (zasal nomoo khiilgekh). To avoid the gathering of large groups of people and thus increased risk of infection, the monasteries in Ulaanbaatar established a reading service via website and mobile app! 

A helping hand of 30,000 sheep

Immediately after the New Year, on February 27, President Ch. Battulga quite surprisingly on a quick visit to China. Here, as the first head of state since the coronavirus outbreak, he met with Chinese President Xi Jinping. The two heads of state discussed the work to contain the virus and Battulga was able to declare that Mongolia will donate 30,000 sheep to the Chinese people!

The protocol naturally invited the Chinese to thank the Chinese for the well-intentioned and mighty gift, and hopes were expressed that trade and transportation will soon be normalized and bilateral relations will move to a higher level. Mongolia is a major supplier of coal to China and the closure of transportation and trade with the country is causing Mongolia huge daily losses.

Back home in Mongolia, however, the gift of 30,000 sheep has sparked some amusement and wonder, but also some interesting competition. The satirical cartoonist

Samandaryn Tsogtbayar had this comment:


Under the title “Why only sheep”, a goat shows solidarity:
“We’re at the end of our rope. If we fall, we fall. Despite
all small cattle” © Samandaryn Tsogtbaya 

Mongolian press reports that immediately after the president’s return from Beijing, provincial leaders compete to see which aimag (province) can donate the most sheep to Mongolia’s gift to the Chinese!

There are pointed comments about what role mutton will play in the upcoming general election. Mongolians go to the polls on d. June 24, 2020, and candidates have a tradition of handing out this and that to win votes.

And what about logistics? How on earth do you get 30,000 sheep assembled and shipped to China? Not least in light of the fact that all transportation between Mongolia and its big neighbor to the south has been suspended! Vice President Ö. Enkhtuvshin has also admitted that it is unclear when and how the 30,000 sheep will be handed over to China.

The image of a Mongolian gift of 30,000 sheep to mighty China may seem a little strange to a foreigner, but it is part of the story of a Mongolia that has often demonstrated a willingness to donate and help in times of need.

Under the slogan ‘all to the front, all for victory’, there are numerous examples of aid deliveries during World War II in support of the Soviet Union. Paintings and other artistic expressions from that time, such as the handing over of Mongolian horses to the Red Army, are considered iconic elements of Mongolian commemorative culture. In recent times, North Korea has received cattle and food donations during famines. 

And finally, it has been an established tradition since the time of socialism to provide monetary and non-monetary aid to neighbors and neighboring districts affected by, for example, zud disasters, where hundreds of thousands and sometimes millions of animals lose their lives during the extra-ordinary harsh winters that follow bad summers and autumns, and where the animals are already in poor condition when winter sets in.

The cartoonist © Samandaryn Tsogtbayar has changed the inscription
at the Sukhbaatar memorial and awarded the revolutionary hero a coronavirus medal. Sukhbaatar proclaims that disease will not haunt us if we all stand together to defend ourselves against the danger, and that the attainment of eternal happiness only requires our unwavering courage!!!!

A (sheepish) competition 

Considering the wave of donations that have followed in the wake of the president’s gift of sheep to the Chinese, many Mongolians take Sukhbaatar’s statement in the cartoonist’s line quite seriously. Private and corporate volunteer contributions to fight the corona virus are abundant. A few examples:

On February 28, former Deputy Minister of Energy D. Dorjpürev donated 20 million tugrik (almost 50,000 kr.) for protective clothing for medical professionals. National wrestling champion S. Munkhbat donated a similar amount to the State Emergency Response Commission. The employees of the airline MIAT donated 10 million tugrik (approx. 25,000 kr.) as well as protective masks and disposable gloves to the National Emergency Management Agency. The Expatriate Mongolian Council donated face masks to the compatriots living and working in South Korea. A border guard unit produced and donated 5,000 masks themselves and has pledged an additional 25,000 masks to the border guard health department. Employees of the UN organizations donated a day’s salary.

On March 1, it was reported that retiree D. Dejid from Gobi-Altai aimag donated 1 million tugrik (approx. 2,500 kr.), which she had originally planned to spend during the Tsagaan Sar festivities. The next day, S. Amarmandach of the well-known band Khar Sarnai promised 30 million tugrik to the Ministry of Health and the pensioner Ts. Dashdavaa and his wife gave a month’s pension.

On the same day, rock band Khürd also announced that they would like to donate proceeds from the Women’s Day concert (International Women’s Day on March 8th is a big event in Mongolia), and production company Hero Entertainment donated the protection
clothing.

The actor and poet behind the above cheerful song contribution, M. Bayarmagnay, donated disposable gloves made in Japan, and two nurses’ associations donated aarts, a Mongolian curd product that is drunk hot, especially in winter, as it is considered to strengthen the immune system.

With such a wide range of donations and pledges, major companies couldn’t hold back: on March 2, mining company Oyu Tolgoi announced a contribution of 310 million tugrik (almost ¾ million), and the next day the Golomt Bank collective followed suit with 100 million tugrik (almost ¼ million) for the National Center for the Study of Infectious Diseases. Some of these donations are cleverly choreographed and provide great opportunities for effective social responsibility marketing.

By March 4, donations totaling 834 million tugrik had been received from a wide variety of organizations and workplaces. In addition to monetary donations, there are also livestock donations, such as 300 sheep each from nomadic families in Norovlin soum in Khentii aimag. Authorities are now considering how to handle donations of sheep, goats and cattle.

Limits to the flexibility of the school year

The Mongolian Ministry of Education was early to take precautions against the coronavirus. Already on d. On January 27, all schools and kindergartens were closed until January 27. March 2. The closure period has now been extended to April 1. Universities and secondary schools were initially excluded from the closure. However, the outrage was widespread on social media. “Students aren’t people, are they?”, someone asked on Facebook. (“Oyuutnuud khün bish üü?”). The protests were effective and two days later, on January 26, the closure of the university was announced.
and vocational schools from January 28th.

Post-socialist Mongolia is no stranger to these kinds of extra ‘forced vacations’. In the past, schools and kindergartens have been closed due to flu epidemics, and in Ulaanbaatar, extreme air pollution during the winter months has also forced authorities to close schools and kindergartens.

While there is a broad consensus that health must be a top priority, the population and authorities are also concerned about how to compensate for the relatively long closures of educational institutions. Like so many other former socialist countries, e.g. Russia and Bulgaria, Mongolia already has long holiday periods. The Mongolian school calendar provides one week of vacation in the fall, two weeks in the spring and schools close for a month during the coldest time, which is set to start on the d. December 22nd.

The summer months (June, July, August) are more or less tuition-free: Primary school children (grades 1-6) typically end the school year by attending the International Children’s Day on June 1, while older students preparing for exams continue until June 25. The school year, for all educational institutions, starts again on d. September 1. So the Mongolian summer vacation lasts 10-13 weeks.

Basically, the Ministry of Education determines the school year for all public schools in urban and rural areas. However, they are frameworks with built-in flexibility. The total number of school and vacation days is similar for rural and urban children, but rural schools in particular need flexibility. Consideration must be given to when the sheep and goat lambing season begins. The season varies by location, for example, the animals molt slightly earlier in the Gobi Desert than in northern Mongolia.

Coordinating the rhythm of the school year with the need for labor in mobile animal husbandry was common under socialism with large collective farms (negdels) and state farms. Immediately after the upheavals of the early 1990s, this practice was abandoned, but later reintroduced at the demand of the herders.

Not so very long ago, the majority of Mongolia’s population was engaged in mobile animal husbandry, and so the school year’s adaptation to the seasons of agricultural life was a matter of course. Nowadays, for most people, the reason for seasonal school holidays in the spring is more about the idea of helping out with shelter work.

TV lessons as compensation?

Despite flexibility in the school calendar, an unforeseen and prolonged closure of schools and other educational institutions presents significant problems. Too much of the planned training is simply lost. The holiday effect of learning loss is extended to a very large part of the school year.
When – or if – the schools reopen on d. April 1, nine weeks of classes are lost. Therefore, the Mongolian government quickly resorted to televised lessons to compensate for missed lessons at school or university. And it has already been decided that Saturday classes will continue for the rest of the school year, when/if students return to the classroom this academic year.

The TV lessons for primary and secondary school classes are broadcast on 18 channels, with 170 selected teachers teaching the lessons according to guidelines set by the Ministry of Education. The same guidelines are sent to all teachers in the country so they can follow up locally with guidance and help for students.

In rural areas where there is no TV or internet connection, educational materials are distributed by local teachers while preparing supplementary radio broadcasts.

The TV lesson schedule is displayed as an overview on the MNB Mongolian National Broadcast website, and there are also YouTube links to all TV stations. This allows you to rewatch all programs. Which channels offer distance learning for which grade levels can be found on the Ministry of Education’s website, where there is also a link to all the TV lessons.

To make sure there is no misunderstanding about the situation, the Minister of Education J. Baatarbileg has emphasized that the suspension from school is physical, but not a vacation! Students should follow TV lessons and at home they should be supported by parents.

All teachers are required to provide help and guidance from home during TV lessons, check students’ homework and provide feedback.

According to the Minister of Education, online teaching in individual classes should take place in separate chat groups with limited access and not be completely open and accessible to everyone on social media.

Teachers receive full pay, but no overtime pay. The closure of kindergartens and schools provides immediate savings on operations, including school meals. The money saved will fund extended schooling on Saturdays for the rest of the school year when/if needed, as well as cover any extraordinary hygiene measures.

While public operating budgets can be saved in the here-and-now, closed schools and televised lessons are an expensive affair for teachers, even if they receive their regular salary. This is because there is no compensation for the extra data and phone usage that teachers have when providing guidance and feedback on homework from home. This applies to both school and university teachers, so the National University of Mongolia has launched a campaign to get telecom companies to take social responsibility in this critical situation and offer free data allowance to school children, students and their families.
trainers. The outcome of the campaign is unknown at the time of writing.

What a TV lesson looks like

The TV lessons are built around a fixed template and virtually all lessons are supplemented with sign language interpretation. A theme song signals the start of class. At the same time, the Ministry of Education logo scrolls across the screen along with information about the subject, theme and grade level of the lesson.

The teacher greets with a ‘hello dear children’ (in Mongolia, university students are also addressed as ‘children’ by their teachers) and reminds the ‘dear children’ that they should now be ready to take notes. The teacher then briefly reviews the lesson’s learning objectives, which are also displayed in writing on the TV screen. From time to time, the teacher can be seen in the classroom writing on the board, showing supplementary materials or conducting an experiment. A large part of the teacher’s verbal explanations are also displayed as text. Sometimes with pictures and other illustrations. Tasks are given and solved step-by-step. Music jingles and small cartoons are used to create mindful transitions from one to the other.

Unsurprisingly, some teachers are clearly unfamiliar with teaching on TV and on camera. However, it’s not inexperience that has sparked the most criticism from students, parents and other teachers. It is, however, language teaching in English and Russian, with the TV teacher speaking only English or Russian, as is common in the most modern approaches to language teaching, which unfortunately is not widespread in rural areas and disadvantaged schools on the outskirts of Ulaanbaatar and other major cities.

Then it’s less complicated with gymnastics classes, where a group of students perform exercises under energetic instruction with an appropriate musical backdrop. Aside from user comments about difficulty navigating the TV lesson overview, the biggest dissatisfaction and frustration among students and parents is with the length of the lessons. With a maximum of up to 25 minutes, TV lessons are a maximum of half of a normal class period. Of course, this means that the content is covered quite quickly and the weakest learners get left behind along the way. 

The lessons can be replayed as many times as you need. That is, if you have access to the internet. And again, students in the most remote areas and others without internet are at a disadvantage.

How are current TV lessons experienced and perceived? To answer the question from as many different perspectives as possible, after a brief search of online sources, we decided to conduct phone interviews with teachers, parents, children and students.

Some of the problems listed were predictable given the technical infrastructure, but several problems also reflect the social differences in Mongolia. For example, a teacher from the capital of the western province of Khovd reports that even in the provincial center, some students cannot be reached because they don’t have internet connection at home. Not because there is no internet in Khovd-aimagcenter, but because the family can’t afford it.

A similar challenge applies to many students who have moved back from the city and originally come from pastoralist families. Many of them now live in shelters with relatives to get internet access.

For example, Mrs. M. Ganchimeg in Saikhan soum center in Bulgan aimag currently has four students staying with her, and others come every 2-3 days to use the internet and download lessons on their smartphones.

Radio and TV reception is usually not a problem in rural areas. But in order to download material and communicate with teachers and receive guidance and feedback, students in remote regions have to trek to places with cell phone reception, popularly known as Mobi-tolgoj – (named after the major mobile company Mobicom and tolgoj, meaning hills).

It may sound a bit cheerful, but in the freezing cold it’s not much fun. Here’s a report from February 12th:

We climbed to the top of a mountain to download PDFs for our seminars and after 20 minutes we have downloaded 4 files. This means we have to endure at least 80 minutes in the winter cold here at 3,000 meters above sea level amidst the icy wind. It’s difficult, it was supposed to snow from today and then it will be even colder and more difficult for students in rural areas – to put it bluntly. {…} There are many like me. The quarantine was imposed under the motto “Health is important”, I also had to think about my health, I would rather stay at home for a few days instead of freezing here and catching a cold. It’s difficult in this cold to climb a few times a day – what should we do if lessons and assignments are not sent?


Photo uploaded by the two students 

But even these rural connectivity options aren’t available everywhere. A teacher tells us:

This school year I am a class teacher for 32 children in grade 1, teaching Mongolian and math. As for TV lessons in Mongolian, exercises are given via letter and it’s not a problem if children practice with their parents or older siblings. With math, on the other hand, many parents complain that it’s too fast and sometimes incomprehensible. I try to keep in touch with the kids in my class, but most of them are nomadic kids and I can’t reach them. Although I opened a Facebook group, only 9 of the 32 children living here in the soum center have internet access. They ask questions about the class and send photos of their homework. But of the 23 children living in the countryside, only 7-8 call about 2-3 times a week asking for advice. There is radio silence from the others (Busad ni tag tsig). When the class starts again, I repeat everything from the beginning, there is no other way. {…} No, we don’t get money for cell phone devices or the internet.
Primary school teacher B. Tsogzol, 55 years old, Bulgan-aimag, Saikhan-soum

A second-grade student and her father share what it looks like from the perspective of a nomadic family:

I usually stay with my grandmother in the soum center during the school year. Our parents are shepherds. Because of the quarantine, I went home to my parents and two younger siblings. I watch the TV lessons and do my assignments. I understand the lessons fairly well (gaigüi oilgoj baina). Mom and Dad hardly have time to help me. Sometimes, when doing all kinds of work indoors and outdoors, I miss classes. We don’t have internet, so it’s not possible to watch programs later like in the centers. We don’t have a smartphone either. So I call my class teacher and ask what was in the TV lessons that I couldn’t watch. {…} Once the quarantine is over, my teacher will check all my homework.
B. Lkham, 7 years old, 2nd grade student at Guchin Us soum, Övörkhangai aimag

I leave the farm early in the morning and go out with our cattle; in the evening I come home late. I can’t help my daughter learn. Her mother is also very busy with household chores, taking care of the animals in the enclosure and the two small children, and has little time to help her daughter with TV lessons. Our daughter sits alone and does her tasks, poor thing (khöörkhii).
Lkham’s father, R. Byambasüren, 40 years old, shepherd in Guchin Us soum, Övörchangai aimag

As stated here, owning a smartphone is essential to truly follow the TV lessons. Mutual support is equally important. One mom says:

We left our children in the countryside with our parents for fear of the disease with the terrible name (aikhtar nertei övchnöös aigaad). I visited them recently and asked if our daughter understood the lessons and if she did her homework. As our daughter has good comprehension skills, she understands the TV lessons well. But some of the lessons are too fast. Therefore, grandma records the video with her cell phone and shows it to our daughter over and over again so she can do her homework. The class teacher opened a Facebook group and told the kids to upload photos of their homework there. But so far, only two or three children have posted pictures of their assignments in the group. Some children don’t seem to be able to find this Facebook group. Yesterday I was with a classmate of my daughter. She lives with her grandmother here in the aimag center. The grandmother said: “The TV lessons are way too fast, the two of us don’t know how to watch the lessons repeatedly, we can’t use the Internet.” So I transferred the videos to their cell phones and showed them how to watch them over and over again.”
Mrs. E. Üürtsaich, 31 years old, mother of a daughter, Arvaikheer, Övörkhangai aimag

As mentioned above, many children are currently being cared for by their grandparents in rural areas. One of them says:

My granddaughter is 5 years old. Due to the quarantine, her kindergarten in Ulaanbaatar was closed. The parents go to work, they have no one to take care of the child, so they brought the child to me. My granddaughter is learning preschool or kindergarten with TV lessons. These are taught in a very understandable way. Our granddaughter learns well, she imitates everything (duuraž chijž baigaa). Of course, it’s not possible to learn songs, poems and dances after watching it only once, so I record the videos with my cell phone and show them over and over again. I really like these TV lessons. In the kindergarten in Ulaanbaatar, the children are constantly sick, this smog is really bad for their health. But it’s nice here in the fresh air. And it’s fun to learn things through TV lessons.
R. Choigilmaa, 49 years old, grandmother of a grandson, shepherd in Guchin Us soum, Övörchangai aimag

S. Zolzayaa, a 30-year-old stay-at-home mother of a 9-year-old girl in fourth grade at a school in the Bayankhoshoo ger district of Songinokharan district in Ulaanbaatar, says that overall she has a good impression of the TV lessons, but that they are a bit too short and that her daughter, who loves going to school, misses school.

S. Yanjinlkham, a 6th grade student from Guchin Us soum in Övörkhangai aimag, who like many other children from nomadic families lives with his mother in the soum center during the school year while his father tends the animals on the steppe, finds the lessons easy to understand but too fast. Paying for the large amounts of data to view it all online is a problem. That’s why it’s great that many of her classmates download the TV lessons so they can be viewed and shared on smartphones. However, she worries that they won’t be able to complete the full curriculum.

G. Enerel, a second grade student in Ulaanbaatar who lives with her grandparents, also finds the lessons too fast, so it’s great to have an aunt to help with the lessons and homework. Her aunt goes to university, but that’s also closed.

On Facebook, university students are lively discussing their experiences with online learning. Two main problems can be identified here: First, students complain that most teachers have no didactic experience with online teaching and that representatives of the older generation, in contrast to their target group, are often unfamiliar with the use of online media.

There are complaints that some instructors don’t teach online at all, even though they should, and others simply upload a (often confusing) amount of study material. PowerPoint presentations with speech are widely used in online teaching for university students. Many students report that they find it difficult to go through the material on their own and that they miss their study groups.

Another, and quite large and controversial issue, is the tuition fee. For example. National University of Mongolia, the fee amounts to 1,500,000
2,000,000 tugrik (3,500-4,700 kroner) per semester. A lot of money for most students. And many students are now unhappy with the quality and scope of the online education offered. Some suggest that the fee for the next semester should be waived as a form of compensation.

Since the start of the TV lessons, there has been a lively exchange among teachers about the best practices for supporting students. But even with the best experience sharing, challenges can’t be overcome. A teacher at a sports school in the center of Bulgan aimag reports:

We contact those who have experience with TV lessons and use them as tutors. I know many of those who are now giving TV lessons from my further education in Ulaanbaatar. I watch the Mongolian lessons over and over again, the teaching structure is quite good. {…} I teach Mongolian language and writing, literature and English. The uniqueness of our school is that it has a sports focus, so we mainly have boys who want to be athletes and are interested in wrestling, handball and basketball or boxing. In other subjects, they are often disinterested and not very active. You can handle this situation in the classroom,
but with TV lessons, students are out of reach. Although all class teachers have set up Facebook groups, uploaded materials and checked assignments, only around 50-60% of students are recorded as active. We have no choice but to teach everything from the moment the lesson starts. {…} No, teachers will not be reimbursed for costs incurred via Internet and mobile phone lessons during the quarantine. Some also say that the amount of data they have available is insufficient.
Mongolian and English teacher B. Byambasüren, 31, Bulgan Aimag Center

For many teachers, the current situation means that even though they are currently working from home, they not only have more expenses, but also more time to prepare and follow up on lessons. There are also organizational challenges, as this example from Ulaanbaatar illustrates:

Our school teaches according to the national curriculum and the international Cambridge program. In the national curriculum, I teach grades 7-10. My students say they watch TV lessons and have no problems. However, the homework is far too extensive. In the Cambridge program, I teach grades 9-11. I opened a Facebook group for these students and uploaded materials and homework. 9. and 10th grade worries me, they don’t do their assignments. Our school management organized two seminars before the TV class started and taught us how to use google drive, upload large amounts of
data and take online tests. We get paid, but only if we write a report twice a week and send it to the school management. In the report, we need to explain how we contacted the students, what homework we gave, how we checked them, what tips we gave. {…} It becomes clear that after the end of the quarantine, the training material is extremely crowded. Some say that the quarantine might be extended to March 20 (in the meantime, the quarantine has been extended to at least April 1 – ed.) And then, because we are now in an election year, the summer vacation will not be postponed. We pay particular attention to those who will pass their final and qualifying exams this year. Teachers will not be reimbursed for additional costs for internet data volumes or mobile phone devices.
Geography teacher D. Lhhagvasüren, 28 years old, Ulaanbaatar

Voluntary and involuntary fun

The efforts to keep the virus at bay are not only associated with unexpected risks and side effects, but also with (sometimes involuntary) fun.
The Mongolian name for the TV training as tele-khicheel associates with the term telee, which is a young animal that is born of two mothers and is therefore used to accessing more than one source.

And here are a few examples of the jokes and anecdotes that abound on social media:

  • We used to scold the kids: Turn off the TV and do your homework. Let’s call it: Turn on the TV and do your homework!
  • Mom: “The TV lesson begins!” Child: “Wait, I’m not wearing my school uniform”
  • ext next to a photo of a well-fed cat on the couch with its paw on the remote control: “When there’s physical exercise on TV and you don’t want to participate.”
  • Mom, are there any teachers in TV lessons who aren’t angry
  • Is lunch provided during TV lessons?
  • Mom, switch to another channel, it’s not our teacher!
  • Why can’t I see our classmates?

Epilogue

In Mongolia, the first experiences with nationwide TV lessons were gained in the early 1990s. At that time, it was decided to reintroduce the Uiguro Mongolian script, which a large part of the population – and unfortunately also the teachers – had no knowledge of.

Therefore, renowned Mongolian Sharavyn Choimaa had thirty-six of his intro lessons filmed and the lessons were televised one-for-one. Unlike today’s televised lessons, the lessons back then were broadcast in full length and not as compressed versions of a lesson. The ‘students’ behind the TV screen were therefore better able to follow the teaching. Since 2016, these historical recordings have been available as a modern e-book.

There are parliamentary elections in Mongolia in d. On June 24th, and as in many other countries, schools are used as polling stations, but unlike, for example, the United States. In Denmark, schools are closed for an extended period of time as the election process coincides with the start of the school holidays. There have been considerations to move the election so that schools could continue and make up for lost time due to the coronavirus quarantine. But it looks like the election date will be kept.
How the authorities will ultimately choose to compensate for lost tuition is unclear at the time of writing. Modification or cancellation or postponement of exams is under consideration. Despite extensive and rapid efforts, valuable teaching time has been lost. So far (at the time of going to press on March 09), no one has been infected with coronavirus in Mongolia.

A satirical drawing to round off this article:

Three warrior-like heroes called “fine dust particles”, “stench” and “smog” bow respectfully to the coronavirus. The speech bubble reads: “For many years we have fought in vain to get
Mongolians to wear masks. You have only succeeded in scaring them and making them do it. We salute you and will follow you! ” © Samandaryn Tsogtbayar

Notes
1) Ines Stolpe is Professor of Mongolian Studies at the University of Bonn. Dr. T.-O. Erdene-Ochir is a visiting lecturer at Mongolian Studies, University of Bonn. The article was written in German for the journal ‘Mongolische Notizen’, published by the German-Mongolian Society, and translated and adapted into Danish by Johnny Baltzersen, ViSTA editor.
2) We are deeply grateful to Samandaryn Tsogtbayar for permission to use his satirical drawings in this article in ViSTA. The editorial team.

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