Gavkar playing at kindergarten
The sound of laughter and children’s voices floats across the grounds at Kindergarten 152 in Nalaikh, a small city 40 kilometers from Mongolia’s capital Ulaanbaatar. It is coming from the two white gers, Mongolia’s traditional, mobile home that sit in front of a multistory kindergarten building.
Inside the gers are 25 children and two kindergarten teachers. The children are sitting at brightly coloured tables and chairs, drawing. Earlier the class had been learning shapes, numbers and colours using the posters on the wall.
Sitting at one of tables is Gavkar, a tall six year old with long hair in two pony tails. She is dressed from head to toe in pink. When her father arrives to pick her up from class, she bounces out of her seat to show him her work.
Gavkar and her father Usurbek
“I like going to kindergarten” Gavkar says, “Because we play games, there are toys and I learn many things. My favourite subject is maths and I know all the different shapes.”
Gavkar started attending the kindergarten in September, despite being old enough for the past three years. Her father Usurbek explains that the family had tried to get her into a kindergarten earlier but there had not been space for her.
“When I heard that a ger kindergarten was starting, I came and enrolled her and she got in,” he says. “Gavkar is very happy here and is learning a lot from kindergarten that will help her when she goes to school.”
“If Gavkar could not attend the ger kindergarten she would be at home with her mother and younger brother,” Usurbek says. “She would have gone straight into school without going to kindergarten. If she could not go to kindergarten she would be less prepared to go to school.”
Gavkar lives with her father, her mother Altanguli, older sister Jansulu, seven, and younger brother Aibat, two, in a ger a few kilometers from the kindergarten. Usurbek drives a truck that carries coal and Altanguili takes care of the children.
Since Gavkar has been going to kindergarten, Usurbek has noticed a difference in her. “Her confidence is growing and she is getting better at communicating with others,” he says.
Improving access to early childhood education
The ger kindergarten at Kindergarten 152
For Gavkar and her classmates the gers provide an opportunity to attend kindergarten that they otherwise would not have.
Altan-Od Janchivdorj has worked in the Mongolian kindergarten system for over two decades, as a kindergarten teacher and a district kindergarten supervisor with the education department. For the past two years she has been the Director of Kindergarten 152.
In her office she tells us that the biggest issue facing the kindergarten is access. “There are not enough kindergartens in the Nalaikh,” Altan-Od says. “The population of the district is increasing and there are more families with young children, but there are not enough spaces in kindergartens for them.”
The lack of places for students in kindergartens is an issue across Mongolia. According to surveys conducted by UNICEF and the Government of Mongolia, only 68 per cent of kindergarten aged children are attending early childhood education (Social Indicator Sample Survey Mongolia 2013). The main reason is a lack of places for them.
Altan-Od says Kindergarten 152 is already above capacity. “We are only supposed to have 35 children in each class, but in some it is up to 50 children,” she explains. “Even with this and the ger kindergartens, it is not enough. In our catchment area only 53 per cent of children can go to kindergarten”.
The kindergarten does not have the resources for another building or to expand the one they have. Neighbouring districts are facing a similar issue with not enough places for children and not enough funding to expand.
Finding the solution
Gavkar in class with her friends
At Kindergarten 152 the establishment of the ger kindergarten provided extra places for 25 children. It was a joint project between ING, one of the largest global financial institution, the local education department and UNICEF. ING also supported the establishment of a ger kindergarten at another school in Nalaikh.
ING provided the ger, furniture, learning materials and toys, while the education department provided the staffing and ongoing running costs. UNICEF, who has a global partnership with ING, brought the two parties together to form this innovative private public partnership and provided assistance in setting up the ger kindergartens.
Howard Lambert chief representative of ING in Mongolia says that education is a priority at ING because it offers children the knowledge, skills and the self-assurance they need to build a better future for themselves. “This clearly ties in with the Nalaikh kindergarten project and the low intake of children into the kindergartens in that district,” he says.
“We saw that the project was very much needed and had high impact for the local community and obviously was developed and supported by UNICEF which very much made this a project that we would like to participate in,” Mr Lambert explains. “We are proud to support the project, both financially and through volunteering, and are excited that 50 children will now have access to early childhood learning.”
Tsendesuren Tumee, UNICEF’s Early Childhood Development Officer, believes the project has had a big impact. “While ING’s donation will directly help 50 children receive early childhood development, the impact will be far reaching for those children, their families and community,” she says.
“Early childhood development is one of the most cost efficient investments in human capital and will have a significant impact on Mongolia’s future development,” Tsendesuren says. “We are very grateful to ING for their support on this key issue. The private sector can play a vital role in improving the lives of Mongolian children and I hope that there will be more partnerships, like this one, with the private sector in the future.”
For Gavkar and her friends the impact is obvious. They are learning and developing skills that will help them throughout their lives. Hopefully soon all children will have the opportunity to go to kindergarten and reap the benefits of early childhood learning.
For a decade UNICEF and ING’s partnership has focused on improving education services and ensuring every child has access to quality basic education. The partnership aims to positively impact at least one million disadvantaged children, providing them with access to school, better quality education and safer and healthier living conditions.
Zetty Brake, Communications and External Relations Officer, UNICEF Mongolia