12 February 2016

Learning at home

Cheerful and happy Anungoo, after she read her favorite poem

©UNICEF Mongolia/2016/Enkhzul Altangerel
5 year-old Anungoo (Anu) is a cheerful little girl, who loves to sing and recite poems for anyone she meets. 

“I know a lot of poems. Do you want to hear one? My favorite poem is the Fall” says Anu enthusiastically, and goes on to recite a poem about beauty of nature in fall. She learned all these just in the past few months by attending recently launched home-based distance learning program.

Anu lives with her parents and younger sister in Nalaikh district, a peri-urban of Ulaanbaatar, the capital city of Mongolia. They live in a small “ger”, a traditional Mongolian housing, without water, sanitation or basic infrastructure. Anu’s mother Oyunbolor is a stay-at-home mom, looking after her two girls, while her dad is between jobs, often working at the local artisanal mining. Even though Nalaikh district has more than 4100 children under the age of five, there are only seven kindergartens, highly overcrowded, leaving many children out of early childhood development programs. Anu was one of them.

“I tried to send my daughter to a nearby kindergarten, but there was no space. So in order to look after my children I stay at home. Luckily, we were able to find a spot for Ariuka (Anu’s younger sister) to kindergarten this year, but for Anu we couldn’t” says Oyunbolor, Anu’s mother.


Anu with her mom Oyunbolor, sister Ariuka and father Soronzonbold at their home.
©UNICEF Mongolia/2016/Enkhzul Altangerel
When UNICEF and City Education Department in partnership with local kindergartens launched a new distance learning program to support early childhood development (ECD), Anungoo was chosen as one of the targeted children. Oyunbolor attended trainings and was given a guidebook for parents and workbook for children to study along with the TV lessons. 

“We would watch the program at 5.30 o’clock every evening, and study together afterwards. The TV lessons were very interesting, even children who go to kindergarten can watch and learn. And the workbook was great too, Anu really enjoyed learning from it” Oyunbolor says.

“I did all my homework and taught what I learned from the workbook to my sister. For example, we need to use handkerchiefs when blowing our nose, not use our hands” beams Anu, proud of her achievement.


Anu with her mom and sister Ariuka. She has already learned the alphabet.
©UNICEF Mongolia/2016/Enkhzul Altangerel
Oyunbolor further explains that the home-based distance learning program made her interact more with her children, which not only helped Anu’s development, but also improved her parenting skills. “Before, I didn’t know much about how to talk to my children. I would get mad at them when they don’t learn, but now I try to encourage them all the time. And it worked well, they have been doing much better! She has learned many songs and poems, and even how to count. I can see that her communication has improved a lot, because she was shy and didn’t talk much before. But now, she would just talk and ask questions to anyone who comes!”

An innovative approach

The distance learning kit for home-based ECD program designed by City Education Department with the support of UNICEF Mongolia was launched last September, with the aim to help children aged 2-5 to learn at home with their parents. The home-based distance learning program has been implemented in Nalaikh district for three months, from September to November 2015 with financial contributions of the Japan Committee for UNICEF and Government of the Principality of Monaco. This is the first time a distance learning kit for home-based ECD has been developed and introduced in Mongolia. It combines the innovative use of ICT with visual aids and methods to improve parent–child interactions

As a result of introduction of the program, 1700 children living in Nalaikh  who are unable to attend any early childhood  education programs can now study at home. These children have never attended kindergarten before and most of them come from poor families in peri-urban areas engaged in artisanal mining and brick-making. The program also benefits 30 kindergarten teachers and 900 parents who provide home-based distance learning for disadvantaged children.  The distance learning program covers 100 per cent of children aged two to five in Nalaikh district.

To monitor the progress, six kindergartens in Nalaikh each selected five target households, trained the parents on how to teach their children using the study materials and TV lessons. Mrs. Baasanpurev, one of the kindergarten teacher who trained the parents, says that the whole process helped improve relations between parents and kindergarten.


Kindergarten teacher Baasanpurev (in grey) visits Anu twice a month to monitor her progress of distance learning.
©UNICEF Mongolia/2016/Enkhzul Altangerel
“I would visit the family once in two weeks to make sure that they are on track. Also, we would talk on the phone whenever parents had questions. We are now closer to parents, as we got to meet them personally and work with them on their children’s development. They pay more attention to their children’s education now”. I think that it was an important step towards making early childhood education accessible to every child, especially the most vulnerable” she added.

Improving access to equitable and inclusive early childhood education

The early years of life are crucial not only for health and physical development, but also for cognitive and social-emotional development. However, less than 70 per cent of Mongolian children are attending pre-schools or kindergartens, and missing out on the life-long benefits it brings. The main barrier is a lack of places for children, particularly in remote rural and disadvantaged communities. 

UNICEF with its partners has carried out various projects to support ECD in Nalaikh, including ger-kindergartens, capacity building for parents and teachers and projects to expand alternative ECD programs. The home-based distance learning program is one of its latest projects.


Anu and her sister Ariuka outside their home.
©UNICEF Mongolia/2016/Enkhzul Altangerel
“In order to improve access, we need to build more kindergartens, which can be very costly. But almost every household has a television set in Mongolia, which can   serve as a medium to bring ECD program and early childhood education to every child. So far, we have seen remarkable results from the pilot. Now we are in the development process of the second phase” explains UNICEF Mongolia’s Early Childhood Development Officer Tsendsuren. 

Events in the first few years of life play a vital role in building human capital, breaking the cycle of poverty, promoting economic productivity, and eliminating social disparities and inequities. With innovative approaches like home-based distance learning, more children can have solid foundation for a better future.



Author:

Enkhzul Altangerel, Digital Communications Consultant at UNICEF Mongolia

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