Bat-Erdene listening intently ©UNICEF/Mongolia/2015/Altangerel Sandag
Bat-Erdene stares at the piece of paper, with a look of intense concentration. He is drawing his favourite character, spider-man. Before beginning the drawing he debated with his kindergarten teacher how much paper he needed to draw spider-man. He wanted a bigger piece of paper in the room, instead they compromised on a smaller piece.
While Bat-Erdene is obsessed with spider-man now, when he grows up he wants to drive a garbage truck. “It is a great job,” he says. “It is really important and you are helping others by getting rid of their garbage”.
Six-year-old Bat-Erdene lives with his mother Balmaa Baigalmaa, 33, in Murun the capital city of Khuvsgul Aimag (province). He had been attending Kindergarten Number 4 for three years and will start grade one in September.
“I like kindergarten,” Bat-Erdene explains. “I like the toys and playing with them, singing and I like the lessons. My favourite subjects are Mongolian language, writing and drawing.”
His mother Balmaa says Bat-Erdene’s kindergarten experience has been positive. “The kindergarten is really lovely and very friendly,” Balmaa explains. “Every morning when we come the teachers are outside greeting the students and parents. I have a good relationship with his teacher and the kindergarten”.
Balmaa explains that there are lots of opportunities for parents to interact at the kindergarten. “My son’s teacher organizes many activities for the parents to participate in, to make us more engaged in what our children are learning at school,” she says. “She also tries to pay special attention to each child and to ensure every child is participating in class”.
Changing early childhood education
Bat-Erdene and his mother Balmaa ©UNICEF/Mongolia/2015/Altangerel Sandag
The interaction between the teacher and student, where they discuss an issue and come to a solution like the discussion between Bat-Erdene and his teacher about which paper to use, is new to Mongolia. Early childhood education is a more holistic approach to child development, and it focuses on a range of development areas including physical, cognitive, social and emotion. The new approach focuses on the development of each individual child, rather than just progressing through the syllabus regardless of if children were following or not.
Key to this has been UNICEF’s work with the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, as well as local education departments to create child friendly kindergartens. The initiative aims to build early childhood education centers that are welcoming and engaging for children, engage parents and careers, improve the quality of education services and create a suitable learning environment for children.
Doljorjav is the director of Kindergarten Number 4, which has nearly 300 students. The popular and very colourful kindergarten is bright green and has a large playground for the children.
“We are trying to make our kindergarten more child friendly, because we believe it will help the children develop their potential,” Dolgorjav explains. “It is an ongoing process, but we have started and are committed to building a child friendly kindergarten”.
How they are going about making the kindergarten child friendly is extensive. They have upgraded the school facilities making it bright and colourful and more engaging and interesting for the students, including renovating the playground.
“We have also been working to build better relationships with parents and to engage them more in their children’s education and the running of the kindergarten,” Dolgorjav says. “We have focused on improving communications between parents and teachers and we are seeing a positive change, which creates a better learning environment for children and leads to better learning outcomes.”
Bayasgalan is the Early Childhood Education Specialist at Khuvsgul’s Education Department and has been working in the sector for 20 years. She is overseeing the implementation of the child friendly kindergarten strategy in all the kindergartens in the province.
According to Bayasgalan, across the Khuvsgul kindergartens are undertaking four types of activities to make the more child friendly. They include:
- Improving evidence based planning and programming and making sure it supports learning and development of young children;
- Increasing access to quality early childhood education, especially for children in rural and remote areas;
- Building the capacity of teachers and kindergarten staff to increase the quality of education provided; and
- Improving cooperation and engagement with parents.
“One of the biggest changes has been the increased engagement from parents,” Bayasgalan says. “Before education was just something that happened when the children went to kindergarten. Now it is something that parents are engaged in and can happen at school or at home, and there is a lot more continuation of learning at home, such as reading books. It is a really positive outcome”.
The work continues
UNICEF Mongolia’s Early Childhood Development Officer Tsendsuren Tumee is very pleased with the progress that Khuvsgul has made to create child friendly kindergartens.
“Everyone in Khuvsgul, from the government, the education department, kindergarten directions, teachers and staff and parents have been very supportive of the child friendly kindergarten initiative and working hard to create learning spaces that are welcoming and engaging for children,” Tsendsuren says. “And it is having a really positive impact on children.”
Tsendsuren called for the initiative is expanded nationwide. “While great progress has been made in Khuvsgul and other small areas in Mongolia, what is really needed is a nationwide expansion of this initiative so that all children in Mongolia can benefit,” she says.
Bayasgalan agrees. “I hope that other Aimags (provinces) will look to Khuvsgul as a role model and adopt the child friendly kindergarten initiative.”
Hopefully it will happen, soon.
Zetty Brake, Communications and External Relations Officer, UNICEF Mongolia