Nomadic nation a global leader in increasing school enrolment, thanks to ‘thirst for education’ backed by mining windfall, says new report.

Mongolian school girl
8 July 2014

A nation with up to 40% of the population living in nomadic conditions has a rate of secondary school enrolment that beats many wealthier nations, according to a new report by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI).

In the land-locked central Asian State of Mongolia, secondary school enrolment for boys is now 93% and for girls, 98% - trumping states like China and India. This success is all the more remarkable because the country’s education system almost completely collapsed during the break-up of the Soviet Union, and the accompanying melt-down of Mongolia’s economy.

The study From Decline to Recovery: Post-primary education in Mongolia identifies the factors which have driven this improvement.  One of these is Mongolian families’ ‘thirst for education’, which the report notes is ‘equal to that found in Korea and the other East Asian economic tigers.’ Another is the windfall revenue from new mineral exploration, which has revitalised Mongolia’s economy, making it one of the fastest growing in the region.

Mother of three, Togtokh Buyanjargal, who left primary school in the first grade to become a herder, says her children have a different future.  She said, “When I was a child, almost 40% of students left their school for herding. Now this happens much less often.”

The authors say the large scale public-expenditure in Mongolia’s education – higher than the world average– has been funded by booming mining industry.   The state has ploughed funding into educational reform, helping to close the gaps between rural and urban children, as well as rich and poor. International donor nations have also played a strong supportive role.

As a result:

·         The amount of time children spend in school has doubled from 7.7 years in 1994 to 14.3 years in 2010.

·         In 2010, nearly three in five students enrolled in university up from one in five in 1990.

·         In 2011, 96% of rural children were attending secondary school, compared to 75% of children in 2000. This was almost level pegging with children in urban areas.

To make education accessible, more boarding schools and dormitories have been built in rural areas, and in 2000, the government abolished dormitory fees. The government has also offered bonuses to increase the incentives for teachers to take posts in rural areas.  But the drift from countryside to town has also been accommodated by building more schools in peri-urban areas.

ODI research fellow, Susan Nicolai said, “There are 57 million children, globally, who are not in school. Mongolia shows how this unacceptably high figure can be reduced, even in the most challenging circumstances.”

However, the report notes that Mongolia, with its population of 2.7 million, faces continuing challenges. The authors say that the ‘learning outcomes for Mongolian youths at all levels remains...worrying’ and although there are more students graduating, many young people have been unable to find jobs.

According to the World Bank, 22.1 % of all those unemployed in Mongolia 2008 had completed university degrees – much higher than the global average – giving rise to fears that the education system may not be equipping its students with the right set of professional skills to take advantage of new economic opportunities.

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To read the report, interview the authors or for case studies and photographs of Mongolian families please contact Zoe Smith at [email protected] or +44 (0) 7795 101259 or Alfonso Daniels at [email protected] +44 (0)7808 791265.

Development Progress is a four-year research project carried out by the Overseas Development Institute and supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.