By a TMO Reporter
Modern Mongolia’s education system has undergone major changes in the past century. From 1921 to 1990 the country’s education reforms were modeled on the Soviet education system, which greatly expanded access to education for Mongolian citizens. Literacy was greatly expanded as most of the population enjoyed free primary school. However, the move to democracy and free market in the early 1990s has had some negative impacts on education, though these setbacks have been ameliorated some by an improving economy and policy reforms.
As part of this policy reform in the education system, the last 26 years have witnessed a boom in private, paid-schools alongside public schools, where challenges continue to remain. They continue to have overcrowded classes due to the lack of physical schools facilities, or in many rural areas, owing to inland migration from the rural to the urban areas, schools have few children and consequently the quality of education has been slowly slipping down. The teaching staff, the bulk of whom are women, are underpaid and recently teachers set up an association through which they have demanded from the Government a substantial pay increase as their monthly salary is a miserable MNT500 thousand or the equivalent of $200 only.
However, one of the positive outcome of the reform in the education sector is the choice for schools – both private and with different profiles, which can give children a better start in life.
In Ulaanbaatar there are many schools, both private and international, and one special private school where children are trained to know the value of labor, the importance of games and toys, and the value of academic education has a special name called The Intellect Lock School. It is a small but a secondary school with less than 200 children and is located in the 13th residential estate in the Mongolian capital.
It was founded in 2014 by a man Zandraa Tümenölzii, who is well known for his traditional Mongolian puzzles and toys.
As it is an accredited secondary school, it follows the standard curriculum but in addition to this, it has special classes where children are taught foreign languages, mathematics and games for intellectual development.
The school’s motto is “Creative Thinking – Life Skills” and towards this end, the focus of the school and its teachers lies in educating and developing children with values such as honesty, hardworking and intellectually advanced for which Mongolian traditional games and puzzles are also used as a part of the school-specific curriculum.
Speaking about the school’s mission and vision, its founder Zandraa Tümenölzii said: “A person who knows the value of labor has a fully developed intellect and this is pragmatic education. Our school’s mission is to help children learn life skills and this can be obtained through games that teach life skills. It also helps break stereotype mentality which not only creates barriers in the life of the people but also checks social progress. Take for example number 9 – looking at it from one side you’ll say it’s nine, but from the other side it’ll be six. The essence of our school lies in breaking such a stereotype thinking, that is, developing creative thinking and life skills, which sets our school apart from other schools.”
Teachers in 14 different professions are working at the school. There are extracurricular subjects such English and Chinese languages, optional mathematics, robotics, information technology, IQ development, chess, mathematics, music, traditional folk games and puzzles and eurythmics.
Some of the classes are held outside the classroom at the intellectual museum next door.
Says T. Mönkhaldar, the director of the Intellect Lock school: “Intellectual development classes are held at our intellectual museum next door, which was opened 26 years ago. It houses more than 11 thousand toys, puzzles, and games such as chess, all these games are believed to help develop both the right and left hemispheres of the brain. These toys, puzzles and games are used for additional classes outside of the regular classes.”
The museum, which was already set up prior to the founding of the school, has been used as a base for training and education purposes, and when required the exhibits of the museum are used as teaching aides.
English is taught to students starting in their second class and there is an expat teacher. Foreign language is taught here at quite an early age, earlier than in many secondary schools because, as the school Director T. Mönkhaldar says, “Children are able to learn a foreign language while they are small and there is nothing wrong in teaching them a foreign language. In this respect, the school’s education policy, set up, and the methodology of the teachers are very important.”
Both Tümenölzii and Mönkhaldar have a similar assessment of the education system in the country.
Said Tümenölzii: “Our education system is more academic based, while pragmatic training is almost neglected. And what we are getting are young educated people who only talk theory and are always critical.”
According to him there are three important factors that develop human intellect. They are labor, toys and games, and education. The country’s education system focuses on the last of these three factors and resultatively we have educated people who know nothing but will not stop to argue over everything, criticize and negate everything, but when it comes to action, they are nowhere to be seen.
In this sense, according to Tümenölzii, the country is “churning” out populists, who in the past were described as people with “harebrains.”
Says Mönkhaldar: “As I have already said, the vision and mission of our school is “Creative Thinking – Life Skills” and unlike the existing education system we are trying to educate hardworking, creative, self-confident and intellectually strong children. These traits are what are lacking in our education system and every time the Government changes, the education policy changes which has a negative impact on the quality of education in general. Since we Mongolians are few in number, as an educator, I feel there is an urgent need to include subjects that deal with Mongolian customs and traditions, history and culture, and educate our children to be patriots.”
Human resource policy is what has been overlooked in the country which at one time used to have a strong and well-thought human resource policy. In this respect, the Intellectual Lock school believes that the country’s human resources should be physically and mentally prepared to face the challenges in life and overcome them, which is not easy. And such human resource development should start at an early age and proceed stage-by-stage.
In this connection Z. Tümenölzii cited an early example during his young years when he was only starting his work career.
“Engineers who had been trained in Russia, Hungary, Rumania, after graduation when they started working, they would begin from the very lowest position in a plant, and then gradually they would be promoted as a mechanical engineer, and a year later the person would start working as an engineer. At our school we are trying to educate our children that everything begins from the lowest to the top, and in the process one gains experience,” said Tümenölzii.
The school is also planning to buy a plot of land where children will grow vegetables and berries, and which they will harvest themselves. Apart from this, schoolchildren have the obligation to clean their classrooms, desks and according to Mönkhaldar, children’s parents support the idea as children need to know what work is from an early age and in the view of Tümenölzii this is not “child labor” but on the contrary, work helps children to be creative.
“The most important for any child to grow and to become a worthy citizen is to develop creative thinking and our school is working to accomplish this mission,” concluded Mönkhaldar, the Director of the Intellect Lock school in Ulaanbaatar, which is all set to start another new and creative school year.