16 September 2015

Supporting education of Tuvan ethnic minority children in Mongolia

A primary grade Tuvan girl reciting a poem in her mother tongue
©UNICEF Mongolia/2014/Gansukh Kh

Eight year old Bolormaa is a Tuvan girl who is in Grade 3 of primary school in a remote border soum, Tsengel, in Bayan-Ulgii province.

Located nearly 1,800 km away from Ulaanbaatar, at the skirts of the picturesque snow-capped Altai Mountains, Tsengel soum is home to around 1,600 Tuvans. These people are a “minority among a minority”, since Bayan-Ulgii province itself is predominantly inhabited by the Kazakh ethnic minority. In Tsengel soum, only around 20 percent of the population are Tuvans and the rest are Kazakhs.

The academic year of 2013-2014, when Bolormaa started school, was a special one for the school and the children. They were the first students to start school using a beautifully printed, brand new Tuvan alphabet. Bolormaa’s elder siblings used to use handwritten or photocopied training aids developed by the local teachers themselves, a handful of textbooks brought from the Republic of Tuva in Russia, which were not always consistent with the local dialect and culture. 

Tuvan Alphabet and Tuvan Language textbook 
©UNICEF Mongolia/2015/Odgerel Myagmar

“We are very happy that our Grade 1 students have this nice Alphabet to enable them to learn to read in our mother tongue,” Bolormaa’s mother Mrs Ariunaa commented. “For the future, if such books in Tuvan made available for all the 2nd and 3rd graders, our children will perform better in school.”

Ms Oyun, a teacher at the school, added: “The Tuvan Alphabet is a well-developed book. We like its design and content. The pictures, texts and exercises in the book are very suitable for our children. We think it is better for our children, if primary education is provided to them in Tuvan. So, we would appreciate much if we have such textbooks produced for all the students throughout grade 5.”

Introducing the Tuvan Alphabet and Tuvan Language textbook (for Grade 2) in 2013 made it much easier for children to learn to read and write, and for the teachers to teach. 

The books were produced, with UNICEF support, by the Education Research Unit for Ethnic Minority Children, part of the Institute of Education. The teachers from the local school, the only Tuvan school in the entire country, helped to write the textbooks.

Over the last four years, UNICEF Mongolia has been providing steady support to the Unit to develop and print curricula, learning materials and teacher guides. These include Kazakh and Tuva languages primary education curriculum, guidelines for Mongolian language teachers in Bayan-Ulgii province, a primary level Mongolian language textbook for Kazakh students consisting of a teacher guide, a student book and an audio CD, and 20 non-formal education training modules.

Dr Gansukh is a Tuvan native and Researcher at the Unit. She is one of authors of the Tuvan Language Alphabet and Tuvan Language II textbook and the editor of the Teacher’s Guide. “These textbooks are the first ever textbooks developed and produced in Mongolia specifically for Tuvan children,” she comments. At the end of the 2013-2014 academic year, she collected written reviews on the Tuvan Alphabet from some teachers and parents, including Bolormaa’s mother, who all had extremely positive comments.

Comments on the Tuvan Alphabet from parents and teachers
©UNICEF Mongolia/2015/Odgerel Myagmar
Dr Gansukh agrees with the views of the parents and emphasizes that “there is an urgent need to translate and print textbooks used in at least Grades 1 and 2 into the Tuvan language.” Based on a request from the Tuvan primary school, the Unit has submitted a request to the Ministry of Education for translation of the primary education textbooks from Mongolian into Tuvan.

Ms Bolorchimeg, Education Specialist at UNICEF, refers to two studies conducted in 2012-2013 by UNICEF and the Institute of Education, which examined learning achievements of primary school children in Bayan-Ulgii province taught in their mother tongue (Kazakh and Tuva) and Mongolian language.

“A shortage of textbooks and learning materials in ethnic languages was identified as one of the main causes of poor learning achievement of the Kazakh and Tuvan children,” she says. “Studies have clearly shown that children’s mother tongue is the optimal language for literacy and learning throughout primary school. They can start learning Mongolian as a second language, and then switch to this in secondary school.”

Ms Bolorchimeg adds that UNICEF Mongolia is ready to support the Education Research Unit for Ethnic Minority Children in translation and printing the textbooks and advocating for more systematic and sustainable support for the education of ethnic minority children, including the Tuvan children. The funding provided by the Swedish National Committee for UNICEF and other donors will be instrumental in these efforts.   

Odgerel Myagmar is Communication for Development Officer at UNICEF Mongolia

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