Bayan-Ulgii is one of Mongolia’s most populated provinces, with approximately 100,000 people. Ninety-three percent of their population are Kazakhs, and the rest are Durvud, Uriankhai, Tuva, and Khalkh. The province center, Ulgii, is 1,686 kilometers from Ulaanbaatar and has 32,000 residents. Bayan-Ulgii Province has 1.4 million livestock in total.
From the governor of the province to the herders in the countryside, everyone in Bayan-Ulgii agrees that their biggest challenge were unemployment. Mongolia considers everyone above the age of 15 as part of its economically active population. As of the first quarter of 2015, almost two million people, 61.5 percent of our population, is in this category. The unemployment rate is calculated based on the number of people who are actively seeking jobs. The unemployment rate at the national level is eight percent, but it has reached 22.5 percent in Bayan-Ulgii.
These unemployment percentages do not include those who occasionally work, have part-time jobs, or are seeking employment without registration in the national labor system. If these people are accounted for, the number of those unemployed would double.
People are increasingly suspicious that public service positions are only filled by relatives and associates of decision makers, because those jobs provide a regular salary that is higher than what people are paid in the private sector.
The people of Bayan-Ulgii are discussing how to solve the unemployment issue at all levels of government. Having spoken to many people, including high school teachers and students, I am sharing some ideas below.
A good education is required for an individual’s livelihood to improve and for the people in Bayan-Ulgii to find employment. Everyone has been saying that students with good grades and aspirations often go to universities in Mongolia and abroad, after which they find a job with a higher salary in Ulaanbaatar or in Kazakhstan.
Currently, the province center has five private and six public high schools, whereas the soums have 12 high schools. There are 22,626 students in the elementary schools throughout the province, and 1,771 students are moving to the 12th grade this year. In the academic year of 2013-2014, the average score for the state’s general test (SGT) for college admissions was 498, while Bayan-Ulgii students averaged 15 points lower (484). However, students at some of Bayan Ulgii’s private schools scored higher than the national average – Empathy (617), Bastama (593), Darin (562), Rukhaniyat (513), and Bilge-Tegin (503), and School No. 5 (550). Students from the remaining 16 public schools scored below the national average. At the province level, Bayan-Ulgii students scored 41 and 24 points higher than the national average on Russian and English language tests respectively. However, their scores in Mongolian were 101 points lower than the national average.
A decision was made last year by the Ministry of Education to not allow students who failed the Mongolian language test to take the SGT. After the decision was made, 70 percent of Bayan-Ulgii students failed the Mongolian language test, and 30 percent of those who took the test for the second time did not pass. As a result, many students enrolled in universities in Kazakhstan and Russia because they failed to meet the 400-point threshold for the Mongolian language test.
Students from Empathy, a private school, averaged a score of 572, which is higher than the national average of 494. Students from Public School No. 2 in Ulgii averaged 510 points, whereas the scores of students from the other schools in the province fell below the national average. High schools in Bugat, Sagsai, and Deluun soums averaged 312, 314, and 316 points respectively. The education department of the province explains that the Mongolian language lessons are taught in Kazakh soums starting in middle school, and there are limited opportunities for the students to speak Mongolian outside of the classroom.
Kazakh parents are fully aware that it will be hard for their children to achieve success or hold a public service position, and that they could be discriminated against in their motherland if they do not learn the official language of the country. This is why parents try their best to have their sons and daughters learn Mongolian. For example, the Mongolian school in Ulgii (School No. 2) has admitted first grade students for the fifth year. Students taught by the Mongolian language teacher Jarkhanguli are always better at Mongolian and are easily admitted to Mongolian universities, which is why 25 first grade students have already been registered for her class of 2020. Forty-one out of her 44 students were small children when I visited her classroom.
With the emergence of private schools, competition has grown. It has had a positive impact on the quality of all schools throughout the province. For example, Empathy has capacity for 74 students and a tuition fee of 1.4 million MNT per year, but they received 640 applications for admission last year. Half of the graduates from this school enroll in Mongolian universities. A total of 700 students have graduated from Empathy in the last 18 years. This school has its own dormitory, a designated time for doing homework, and a policy that encourages parents to work with their children. A big component of their success relates to their focus on individual development.
The north-south road connecting China and Russia in the western part of our country will be complete as soon as the remaining 180 km of the road is built. It opens up an opportunity for Ulgii to become a commercial center and a transportation hub, and for Tsagaan Nuur to become Mongolia’s Erenhot. Russia and China do not require visas from each other’s citizens, which allows Ulgii to conduct trade on a larger scale. Since Russian visas were waived for Mongolian citizens last year, Ulgii’s stores today have better and cheaper products that are being imported from Russia.
Also, Bayan-Ulgii has a great opportunity to develop international tourism with its natural landscapes, snow-capped mountains, great steppe, and beautiful lakes and rivers. There will be a growing need for hotels, eateries, and commercial and service centers once the number of drivers and passengers who will be going through Ulgii increases in the future. Hiking has already become a tourism product for Bayan-Ulgii. More than 2,000 tourists go to Bayan-Ulgii every year to climb the Altai Tavan Bogd, Khuitnii Orgil, and Tsambagarav mountains.
The people of Ulgii now have the responsibility to make necessary preparations for creating the workforce required to develop the industries mentioned above. These industries are at the core of development for this province. As they pursue these opportunities, the hardworking, friendly, and hospitable people of Bayan-Ulgii will soon build another development center in the western region of our country.
Translated by B.AMAR