23 March 2016

Fulfilling dreams

Byambadorj (on the right holding pen) at school
©UNICEF Mongolia/2015/Ariunzaya Davaa
Fifteen-year-old Byambadorj is beaming, sitting at her desk at Ireedui school in Murun, Khuvsgul province, pen at the ready. This is where she is happiest, learning new things with her friends and dreaming of one day becoming a teacher.

Byambadorj was born deaf and until the age of 7 had never been to school. Her life suddenly changed when her mother had a chance meeting with Mr Ganbaatar, himself a graduate of a school for children with hearing disabilities, who was setting up an informal class for children with disabilities at one of the local schools. Byambadorj remembers learning the alphabet from Mr Ganbaatar, whom she clearly admires deeply. “He is my first ever teacher”, she says proudly.

When Byambadorj was 11, her parents sent her 800 km away to the capital, Ulaanbaatar, so that she could continue her studies at a special school for children with hearing disabilities. Life was tough. Away from her family, Byambadorj lived in the school dormitory with children from all parts of Mongolia. She was often teased and bullied, and sometimes even hit.

Meanwhile, back home in Khuvsgul province, the local government was working with UNICEF to enable children with disabilities to study in mainstream schools. In 2014 a learning and recreational centre for children with disabilities was opened in Ireedui school in Murun. UNICEF trained teachers and other school staff to work with children with disabilities and their parents as part of an inclusive education programme, where children with disabilities participate and learn alongside their peers in the same classes. Ireedui school hired Mr Ganbaatar, a sign language teacher, and 10 hearing students also learnt sign language so they could communicate with and support their deaf classmates.

Mr Ganbaatar teaches at the recreational centre
©UNICEF Mongolia/2015/Ariunzaya Davaa
So Byambadorj was able to move back home to Murun. She started at Ireedui school in 2014 and is now in Grade 6. She is three years behind her friends of the same age, but this doesn’t seem to worry her. There are four deaf children in ordinary classes who each have 2 or 3 hearing classmates who have learnt sign language and help them interpret what the teacher says. Byambadorj’s classmate Zultsetseg often helps her and another classmate Enkhzul, who also has a hearing disability.
After school, children with disabilities come to the centre for extra tuition and any other support they might need.

Zultsetseg helps interpret the lesson to Byambadorj and Enkhzul (behind)
©UNICEF Mongolia/2015/ Ariunzaya Davaa
“We teachers do our best to help and support children like Byambadorj and Enkhzul and ensure their participation in all school affairs”, says Mongolian language teacher Gerelmaa. “We do not want them to feel different from others. Also their classmates and families are very supportive. As a result, the girls study well and are never left out of social events at school. Byambadorj and Enkhzul are both extraordinary dancers!” she adds.

Right to education

There are an estimated 32,000 children with disabilities in Mongolia. According to the 2004 Census of People with Disabilities, more than half of these children and young people are not enrolled in school.

 “Every child has a right to education”, says Ms Bolorchimeg Bor, education specialist at UNICEF Mongolia. “That means children with disabilities have the same right to study a general curriculum as other non-disabled children. Having children with disabilities attend mainstream school not only benefits them, but also helps other children to be more comfortable with diversity and acceptance. We hope that our programme will be scaled up at the national level and that all children – regardless of their disability – can learn side by side in one classroom”.

Byambadorj is delighted that she can go to school close to home. Though the special school in Ulaanbaatar was better adapted to deaf children, she much prefers her school in Murun. Having experienced communication difficulties at first hand, she dreams of working as a teacher and helping children like her to become active citizens.

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