ADB support has boosted school enrollment, trained teachers, and made Mongolia’s education system more responsive to the needs of business and industry.

Udelgarav Demberel became a teacher 40 years ago because she loved children and wanted to help them realize their dreams and succeed in life.

It has not always been easy. When she started teaching chemistry at the Ireedui Complex School in the Songinokhairkhan district of Ulaanbaatar in 1997, the only teaching aids she had were a blackboard and chalk. The school had no equipment or materials for chemistry experiments.

All that changed in 2007 under the ADB-financed Third Education Development Project. The Ireedui Complex School received new equipment and facilities, including a chemistry lab; an information and communication technology center; and an e-library. The teachers were trained in new national education standards and curriculum and started using curriculum guides.

“Our teaching-learning activities are now laboratory-based,” Udelgarav says. “Students can do experiments, and students [who are being trained to become teachers] come to the school to practice teaching in the lab.”

Outdated education program

In the early 1990s, after subsidies from the former Soviet Union ended and the country began its transition to a market economy, Mongolia’s educators struggled to sustain achievements made in the 1980s. Educational spending and quality declined. Buildings and facilities fell into disrepair, and many schools closed. By 1996, enrollment had fallen to 94% at primary level (compared with 100% in 1986) and to 63% in secondary schools (compared with the 1986 rate of 87%).

Schools had stuck with central-planning-era curriculums that seldom gave students the knowledge or skills they needed to find work in the new market economy. Teachers lacked appropriate knowledge and used outdated techniques. Those qualified left teaching for more attractive jobs in the expanding private sector. Making matters worse, the education system had not embraced modern learning methods.

Poverty was widespread. At the start of the 21st century, more than one-third of Mongolians earned less than $0.75 a day. “High unemployment and underemployment caused by a mismatch between available skills and what the labor market needs have been a key cause of poverty,” says Bandii Radnaa, a project coordinator at the Ministry of Education, Culture, and Science.

Instituting reforms, upgrading resources

ADB has been the largest external supporter of Mongolia’s education sector. By 2006, two ADB education development projects had helped reverse declining enrollment and improved the quality of education. Both had the assistance of other development partners, including the Government of Japan and the Nordic Development Fund.

“The trust and public image of TVET schools was boosted with the provision of teacher training, teaching-learning materials, and equipment.”

Ulziimend Ganbold, a senior specialist at the Mongolia Ministry of Education, Culture, and Science

ADB worked closely with the Mongolian government under the Third Education Development Project, approved in 2006, to accelerate the pace of change. Financed by a $13 million ADB loan and government funding of $3.38 million, it extended basic mandatory primary education from 10 to 12 years. It focused on developing a national curriculum and new education standards to make the education system more responsive to the needs of business and industry.

By the end of the project in 2012, the new national curriculum framework and updated education standards were in place, new textbooks had been written, and more than 3,000 teachers had been trained.

The project provided 68 model primary and secondary schools with teaching and learning materials, information and communication technology equipment and software, and school furniture. These schools served as models in particular subjects, shared their expertise and experience, and provided support for others.

At the same time, six model technical and vocational education and training (TVET) schools were renovated and received new teaching and learning materials. “The trust and public image of TVET schools was boosted with the provision of teacher training, teaching-learning materials, and equipment,” says Ulziimend Ganbold, a Ministry of Education, Culture, and Science senior specialist who worked as a TVET expert on the project.

More opportunities for the youth

In all, more than 240,000 students and 21,900 teachers benefited from the project. The upswing in gross enrollment continued during the implementation period. In the 2010-2011 school year, it reached 99% at primary level and 94% in secondary schools.

Employment opportunities are now growing for young people. In 2013, 60% of the graduates from the Vocational Training and Production Center in Sainshand, for example, found work within 6 months of finishing school.

The students who have already come through Mongolia’s steadily improving education system may be in the best position to appreciate the benefits of the project.

“I’m proud of it. It gave us opportunities,” says Nyambayar Sambalkhundev, who graduated from the Ireedui Complex School in 2012 and is studying Mining Machinery at the National University of Mongolia.

This article was originally published in Together We Deliver, a publication highlighting successful ADB projects across Asia and the Pacific that demonstrated development impacts, best practice, and innovation.