22 September 2014

Writing a bright future: Literacy rates in Mongolia

Children raise their hands during class at school in Khuvsgul, northern Mongolia 
© UNICEF/NYHQ2012-1786/Sokol
Earlier this month was International Literacy Day. Mongolian literacy rates are, for adults over 97 per cent, youth (15-24) male above 94 per cent and female youths over 97 percent. These rates are higher than the global literacy rates, which sit at 84.3 per cent, 92.1 per cent and 86.9 per cent respectively.

Because of the high literacy rate we don’t think about it a lot in Mongolia. But it is something that we should celebrate. It is also something that we should not take for granted.I have seen the impact literacy has on a child. When a child can read and write, they have opportunities for further education, to improve their economic situation and to full participate in their society. I have also seen these opportunities quickly disappear when children are illiterate. A literate child has the opportunity to reach his or her full potential; an illiterate child does not.

Literacy is a human right, intrinsically linked to education. Numerous international conventions enshrine the right to education, and by extension literacy, including the 1948 Universal Declaration for Human Rights and the 1989 Child Rights Convention, which believes that literacy is a basic skill that all children are entitled to. 

The positive impacts of literacy do not just stop at the child – they benefit families, communities and countries. Literacy is essential for sustainable development, poverty reduction, gender equality, maternal health, child mortality reduction and peace and democracy. Like all nations, Mongolia needs a literate and educated population to address the complex social challenges we face as a nation today and those we will face in the future.

There are three reasons why Mongolia’s literacy rate is so high.  Firstly, compulsory education, which was introduced under communism and continues today. Children are required to attend school for nine years and education is free in Mongolia. As a result, there is near universal primary and secondary education in the country and nearly three out of five students enroll in university.

Another reason why the literacy rates are high is the investment that the Government of Mongolia has made to education.  In 2011,the government spent 12.2 per cent of the state budget on educationIn 2010 and 2009 spending was higher at 14.7 and 14.5 per cent respectively. Mongolia, allocated more of their budget in 2010 to education, per cent wise, than the United States of America, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom and Germany. 

And a third possible reason is that 90 per cent of Mongolians speak Khalkha Mongol as their first language. This means literacy resources and teachings are focused on one language, rather than a number of different languages as in some countries.   

While the literacy rate is very high in Mongolia, there are still some that miss out, such as children with disabilities, children from rural areas or from nomadic families, boys in monasteries and children from ethnic minorities. Reaching out to these children and ensuring they are included is vital. Efforts are already being made by the Government of Mongolia, UN agencies and non-government organizations, which will hopefully result in a further increase in literacy rates.     

As we mark International Literacy Day this month, we know that continued efforts are required to ensure all children have the opportunity to be literate and achieve their full potential.
B.Buyankhishig, who has a hearing impairment and speech disability, completes a 
learning exercise with the help of her teacher in Khuvsgul, northern Mongolia 
© UNICEF/NYHQ2012-1788/Sokol

Bolorchimeg Bor Education Specialist UNICEF Mongolia, with support from Zetty Brake Communication and External Relations Officer UNICEF Mongolia


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