On the steppes of western Mongolia, Bayarkhuu and his schoolmate Tsengel herd a tribe of goats in search of better grazing grounds. Bayarkhuu’s family owns more than 130 animals. He is expected to play his part in tending to the tribe, especially during the summer months when the goats may roam hundreds of kilometers. Tsengel’s family are also herders. But they live in a remote region far from town. So she stays at Bayarkhuu’s home during the school year, and helps out with the livestock after class. Bayarkhuu and Tsengel may not remain classmates much longer. At ten, Bayarkhuu still attends school. But as he grows older he will face increasing pressure to drop out and work full time for the family. Now that the government has privatized ownership of cattle, more and more parents want their children to stay involved in the family business. Bayarkhuu hopes he won’t have to choose.
BAYARKHUU [10 years old]
When you devote yourself only to animal herding you wouldn’t know anything but looking after animals. You would miss out on knowledge and education.
Overall, primary school enrollment is rising in Mongolia. But in rural areas, particularly in the far west, many children find it a struggle to go to class. Dropout rates are much higher here, with boys accounting for nearly three-quarters of those who leave. Many rural schools suffer from poor sanitation and overcrowded dormitories, further discouraging children from staying in school.
Those factors literally push the children outside the school. It is already very difficult for them to be outside their home and family and when they literally have to suffer to be able to study, very often the call to go back to the ger is greater than the call for staying in school.
UNICEF is working to improve conditions in schools and dormitories, and to offer non-formal education programs for those who cannot attend school. It aims to train dormitory teachers to better handle the needs of students, and to equip schools with clean water and sanitation systems. The goal is to help more students like12-year-old Munkhjargal, who stays at a dorm in Zavkhan, in the western province of Uvs. Munkhjargal wants to become a teacher, not a herder like his parents. He says the good conditions at school and the dorm make it easier to continue his courses. It’s an effort to adapt schools to care for a community on the move and ensure that all children have access to education no matter where they call home. In Zavkhan Mongolia, this is Steve Nettleton reporting for UNICEF Television. Unite for children.