31 July 2017

Learning at home

“The name Amina comes from an ancient Arabic word which means honest and helpful”, says mother Maral Khuandag.
© UNICEF Mongolia/2017/ Mungunkhishig Batbaatar
“When I grow up, I’m going to have three jobs – a policewoman, a doctor and a teacher!” says 5-year-old Amina. This ambitious little girl, from a Kazakh ethnic minority family, lives with her parents, brother and sister in Khan-Uul district of Ulaanbaatar, the nation’s capital. In the same breath, she adds, “But I might become an artist because I learned how to sing and draw from the teacher on the TV kindergarten.” Amina, along with more than 2,000 other preschool children, has been following the UNICEF-supported home-based, distance learning programme aired on Mongolian National Broadcaster (MNB), the country’s biggest TV channel. The video lessons are supplemented by a workbook for children and a guidebook for parents, as well as regular counseling and monitoring from local education specialists.
In Amina’s neighborhood, there aren’t enough kindergarten places for all the local children, so a lottery was held to decide who would get a place. Amina, like thousands of children across the country, was one of the unlucky ones.

“Besides public kindergarten, the other option was a private one, which costs around 400,000 tugrik (US$170) a month, and we can’t afford that”, says her mother Maral. She looks after the three children while Amina’s father goes out to work.

Maral sitting outside the family’s home on the outskirts of Ulaanbaatar, with her children Madina, 8 months,
Amina, 5, and Oljas. 12. © UNICEF Mongolia/2017/ Mungunkhishig Batbaatar
Fortunately, Ms. Myagmarsuren, a teacher at a nearby kindergarten, told them about a third option – distance learning. “That’s when we decided to enrol in the programme”, says Maral.

“We watched the lessons every day and after every session, the TV teacher would give us an assignment and homework, or something to prepare for the next episode, which was very helpful and engaging.” Not only did these lessons help with her daughter’s education and development, they also improved their interaction and her own parenting skills.

Investing in Mongolia’s future

The distance learning kit, part of a home-based early childhood development programme, was designed by Ulaanbaatar City Education Department with the support of UNICEF Mongolia. It was first launched in September 2015 to help children aged 2–5 to learn at home with their parents. This was the first time a distance learning kit had been developed and introduced in Mongolia. It combines innovative use of ICT with visual aids and methods to improve parent–child interactions.

Five-year-old Amina holding the workbook she uses in the home-based distance learning programme.
© UNICEF Mongolia/2017/ Mungunkhishig Batbaatar
The programme has been followed by 2,150 of the most disadvantaged children aged 2–5, with the active involvement of 1,400 parents in the Nalaikh and Khan-Uul districts of Ulaanbaatar, and in Khuvsgul province. Most of these children had never attended kindergarten before and all come from poor families on the outskirts of the city and Khuvsgul province. “The parents in the target areas are now well informed and very eager to continue with this programme”, explains Ms. Myagmarsuren, one of the teachers who works with parents and pays them a biweekly visit to monitor progress. Amina’s father, Tileubek, is also enthusiastic. “I think all the children in Mongolia who were left out of kindergarten should enroll in this innovative programme”, he says.

The early years of life are crucial, not only for health and physical growth, but also for cognitive and social-emotional development. “However, in Mongolia, 20–30 per cent of children aged 2–5 like Amina, can’t go to kindergarten. The main barrier is a lack of places for children, particularly in remote rural and disadvantaged communities”, explains UNICEF Mongolia’s Early Childhood Development Officer Ulziisaikhan S.

Collage of Amina’s paintings © UNICEF Mongolia/2017/MaralKh

UNICEF and its partners will continue to support this much-needed initiative, improving on the programme’s teaching methods, while also searching for other more advanced, cost-effective and innovative solutions as part of UNICEF’s early childhood development programme in Mongolia. A digital platform is next in line, because every child deserves a future as bright as the sun in all of Amina’s paintings.

Author:
Mungunkhishig Batbaatar
UNICEF Mongolia

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