29 August 2013

Schools for Asia: Providing a better education for Mongolia’s Monk Boys

13 year old Enkhbayar in class at the monastery
© UNICEF Mongolia/2012/Sabine Dolan
Gandantegchilen Monastery, Ulaanbaatar. It’s early morning and still dark outside the Gandantegchilen Buddhist Monastery in Mongolia’s capital of Ulaanbaatar; the voices of young monks chanting their prayers can be heard.

The boy monks who live in this monastery come from very different backgrounds but all have been selected for a life of prayer and contemplation. Until recently, aside from studying religion and scriptures, the children here did not have access to basic education.  This changed two years ago, thanks to a UNICEF-supported initiative to reach out-of-school children.

“I dropped out of school when I was in first grade,” says 13 year old Enkhbayar Narmandakh who joined the monastery five years ago. The boy explained to us that he always felt different from other children. When he was just five years old, Enkhbayar told his parents he wanted to become a monk. Children at school used to make fun of him, he tells us, and so he eventually dropped out.  

All my peers now, are in 7th or 8th grade,” says Enkhbayar.  But thanks to the initiative, education is back in his life and today he’s almost caught up with his former class peers. “I pretty much like all my education classes,” Enkhbayar tells us with a nod and a confident smile.

Adapted curriculum
Monk boys in their classroom studying Mongolian language
© UNICEF Mongolia/2012/Sabine Dolan
UNICEF helped the monastery design a special curriculum for the monk boys. With government support, it also helped develop school standards and adapted textbooks. The monastery’s head monks have been very involved with the process; they too embrace the importance of formal education.

Mongolian children living in a religious setting don’t usually have the same access to basic education nor do they get the same exposure to health and hygiene education as most other school children. There is overall less awareness of child rights and child adapted disciplines in their environment and child participation is limited. 

With its partners, UNICEF conducted a survey on children’s rights in temples and churches across Mongolia and found that 60 per cent of monastic children have limited access to education opportunities.  

Boys are more disadvantaged
Enkhbayar and his classmates in the main prayer hall
© UNICEF Mongolia/2012/Sabine Dolan
In Mongolia today, boys are generally under-represented in schools. It’s estimated that six out of ten boys are out of school. Boys make up less than 50 per cent of students in primary schools and are also seriously underrepresented in higher education, where only 35 per cent of students are male.

“We lack an official mechanism to monitor the education as well as the rights of over 1,300 monk boys who practice religion in temples and religious schools, and an estimated  4,000 children who practice religion at home,” explains UNICEF Mongolia Representative Mohamed Malick Fall.

As a result of these findings, UNICEF helped 120 monastic boys participate in non formal education programmes in 2012, this in addition to 600 out-of-school children who were already engaged in similar projects last year. UNICEF is helping more children take part in these programmes this year.

The education model practiced here at the Gandantegchilen monastery has been successful. UNICEF is replicating it across the country to ensure that all disadvantaged children, especially boys, have access to basic quality education.

For their part, the monk boys at the Gandantegchilen monastery have generally embraced the opportunity to learn academic subjects such as history, mathematics and biology. But as Enkhbayar explains, it’s not always easy and he struggled a little with his studies at first.

“Hum…You know, when you learn a new subject, in the beginning, it’s hard. There are many things you don’t understand right away, but gradually, you start understanding everything. Now I can say that I really enjoy all my classes” says Enkhbayar.

Schools for Asia is dedicated to bringing quality education to children like Enkhbayar and all disadvantaged children, regardless of their circumstances. Help us transform young lives through the power of education!

Article by Sabine Dolan

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