Wow, this is so exciting

The first taste of school – five-year-old nomadic children in Mongolia

By: Johnny Baltzersen  

“It’s such a pleasure to see the children’s faces light up with excitement when they receive the package of books, games, pencils and colors. Some children are a bit skeptical at first, but then a mother, a father and older siblings or a grandmother help out, and it’s fine,” says A. Timurjav. Timurjav. She is a teacher at the school in Dzungov district in the Western Uvs province of Mongolia and is responsible for rolling out the home-based school preparation program for nomadic children who cannot attend kindergarten when they turn five.

Although Mongolia has succeeded in establishing kindergartens in all 330 rural areas, there are still thousands of children from nomadic families who cannot benefit from play-and-learn with peers and skilled educators in the year leading up to the start of school.

Children who haven’t had a year or more of kindergarten are simply behind on points when they start school at the age of six. Data shows that the majority of children who drop out of school within the first few years come from nomadic families.

Mongolian herders have to move their animals four to six times a year. In the vast majority of cases, nomads pitch their ger (the traditional round felt tent of the Mongolians) so far from the kindergarten and district center that daily transportation by horse or motorbike is not feasible.

So, when the children can’t come to the kindergarten, the kindergarten has to come to the children. Better School Start – Better School Life for Nomadic Children in Mongolia.

This school year, the home-based preschool program is reaching over 900 children in the 62 districts in Mongolia where CICED’s partner MAPSSD (Mongolian Association for Primary and Secondary School Development) has branches.

As the images below the article show, materials are handed out and parents are guided both at school and at home in the ger. In many places and for many families, it has been possible to come to the district center and visit the school at the start of the school year.

“Here in Khalzan (district in the province of Suukhbaatar in southeastern Mongolia), we invited all parents of five-year-olds who cannot attend kindergarten. We gathered them in our large banquet hall, told them about the project and the materials the children will be working with. All parents were given instructions on how to use the parent book,” says S. Baataargal, who coordinates the efforts for the five-year-olds in the district.

In Khalzan, the teacher talks to the parents every 14 days. to hear how the kids are doing with learning new songs and new words and all the other things that are in the ‘pack’.

Conversations with teachers who currently have the children who were part of the home-based initiative last year show that there is reason for optimism. Everyone says that the children are more active in class, they function well socially, and they have better language and motor skills.

In the coming months, questionnaires and yearly grades will be analyzed and MAPSSD will have a solid basis for sharing experiences with national and regional school authorities.

The ambition is, of course, that the experience and ideas can benefit all five-year-old nomadic children, and not just those who are lucky enough to live in one of the 62 districts in which the project unfolds.

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