By a TMO Reporter
“We have been abandoned by our teachers,” said a small girl to her mother when teachers in Mongolia went on an indefinite strike on 13 November.
The teachers were not to “abandon’ thousands of similar children for long as on the same day, after a meeting with the Chief Cabinet Secretary and the Education Ministers, the striking teachers called of their action and schools and kindergartens resumed the next day.
The teachers, who were demanding a three-fold increase in their salary, were quite determined to go on with their struggle until their demands were met by the Government.
There are 654 secondary schools and around 850 kindergartens in the country. From them, teachers of more than 380 schools have taken part in the strike and the number was expected to go up, had the strike been continued indefinitely as initially planned.
Said B. Bayarmönkh, leader of the section to organize the strike of teachers, “We will continue with our indefinite strike until are demands are met. Should the Government fail to meet our demands, we shall resort to other more serious acts of disobedience, including going on hunger strike.
Why did they suddenly cut short their action?
The Government took the initiative, following a long lull as the new Cabinet was in the making after the previous Government was forced to resign more than two months ago on 8 September.
Long before the previous Government’s position began shaking, a group of teachers of secondary schools and pre-school institutions set up a so-called “Provisional Committee to Seek Salary Increase,” demanding that their monthly salary should be increased to 1.6 million tögrög.
This sudden demand for such a high salary hike further galvanized the societal sentiments against the Government, which was struggling with the accusations for corruption, meaning government money in billions were being misspent or misused.
Teachers of secondary schools and pre-school institutions in the country are classified as civil servants. However, their salary scale and category come under the services category mid-level.
The monthly salary, depending on the years of service in the education sector, varies between 450,000 and 608,000 tögrög (exchange rate as of 13 November: 1US$=2,450 tögrög) or the equivalent of US$183 to US$250 only.
Teachers are entitled to other allowances and benefits, which according to many teachers, are not as high as to make them make their ends in a more comfortable manner.
The conditions in which teachers at kindergartens and secondary schools work are not friendly in many senses.
There are some schools, especially in the large towns and settlements, particularly in the capital city, that have three shifts. The classrooms in some schools are already bursting in their seams as a classroom meant for a maximum of 35 children have as many as 50 to 60 children. What’s more, children have to literally fight to get a seat in the classroom as a school desk meant for 2 would have to accommodate as many as 3 to 4 children at one time.
The Government is struggling to cope with their challenge and is trying its best to build new schools, especially in the large cities including in Ulaanbaatar, where the population is growing rapidly because of inland migration from the rural areas.
Same is the situation also at kindergartens. A classroom in a kindergarten is supposed to have 25-35 children, but today there are 60-70 children in a class.
All this is putting too much stress on teachers, who are not only finding it hard to cope with their classes and schoolchildren and provide them a decent quality education, but also manage and give quality time to their families and children back home.
Does the Government have the money to satisfy the demands of the teachers, who were also joined by medical professionals and art and cultural workers, who also said they would go on a strike asking for their salary increase.
It is estimated that the Government budget will have to be increased by another 480 billion tögrög should it decide to increase the salary of the teachers to at least one million a month.
Mongolia is saddled in huge debts and it has no right to default. The Government has even reached an understanding with the International Monetary Fund to implement its bailout program, under which no salary increase is envisaged at least for the three years.
In addition to this, the Government also has to pay of its external debt of US$660 million.
The other day, the Mongolian Parliament 2018 State Budget, which has projected economic growth of 4.2% in 2018. The budget envisions a 39% percent of the total budgetary investment in the education sector. The Government plans to build anew 72 secondary schools and 127 kindergartens in 2018.
This is expected to largely improve the working environment for the teachers and the learning environment for the children.
However, the 2018 budget does not foresee salary increase for the teachers as demanded by them although the Government has initiated negotiations involving the trade unions and the representatives of teachers to hammer out a deal including salary increase, which will not be a one-time full increase though given the economic situation of the country.
Z. Tsogtgerel, Officer in charge of General Education Schools at the Mongolian Trade Unions of Education and Science expressed the confidence in a positive outcome of the negotiations with the Government on salary increase for teachers.
He said, “Working groups have been set up to discuss the salary increase matter with the Government. We are confident that we will come to some kind of positive understanding.”
Ts. Tsogzolmaa, Education Minister, before the negotiations began, had said that “There are many people who are interested in working as teachers for the current salary in force,” and even threatened to take disciplinary actions against the initiators and organizers of the strike, who are pressuring the government for salary increase.
What if there is no understanding reached?
Would the teachers again go on a strike and the small girl ask he mother once again “Why have our teachers abandoned us again?”