By Anita Fahrni
Rozoon Enkhbat is a publisher and owner of AdmonPress, and has long been intensely involved in discussions about education in Mongolia, making public criticism of the present system. He has watched closely for changes in the approach, for democratization in the schools, and for better textbooks. Having studied the ability of very young children to learn, as well as the philosophy of education, he is critical of present attitudes found both in families and in the Ministry of Education.
Anita Fahrni, with the Swiss Program for Language Instruction and Teacher Training, spoke with Enkhbat about education in democratic society.
What recommendations can you give to parents of very young children?
One always hears that young people today are different from those of earlier times. However, things always change. What is not discussed are the conscious changes which should be made. What has been purposely changed for the better? Nothing!
Children are not simply a product of nature; they are part of our society beginning at birth. This societal part of raising children is sadly neglected and is not supported by our government. To prepare a child for his or her part in the social environment takes a special effort, a special attitude, a conscious will. Unfortunately, this need is not recognized.
How can parents best prepare their child for school?
In preschool and kindergarten there is much that must be done by both parents and teachers, as much of a child’s education takes place at this early stage. Learning letters and numbers is not important. Important is the awakening of the child’s sensitivity, awareness, curiosity, and fantasy. The child can learn to listen carefully to music, to sounds, to feel rhythms, to move harmoniously. The basics of language can be taught through fairy tales, through stories, and creative activities. Caring and respect for one another can also be taught this early.
Schools here seem often to lack the right material, the good books for pupils. Teachers are not given the freedom to adapt their teaching to their pupils.
The education system here is extremely authoritarian, with pressure and a tight curriculum coming from the State. There is no room for independence. Thus, teachers wait for orders from above.
One sees this especially clearly after elections. Everything changes. Teachers and directors are afraid of losing their jobs and simply wait to see what will happen. Proper development of the system from top down is impossible. Change must be initiated and grow from the bottom up, from those most affected by the system, those most closely involved.
Here, everything is set; the content is unimportant, the content is bad. No one dares contest it. Education is used by the political parties as a stage, to show at election time what the party members have done. It is all show. Real work on how or what is taught hardly takes place.
Reading, learning to read for pleasure as well as for specific knowledge, does not seem to be a priority in this system.
Yes, that is true. One hears many sayings about books: Mongolians honor books, love books. However, we don’t read them!
In Switzerland, where I live, the content of the school curriculum is discussed intensely by teachers, parents, and those in the state departments of education. Are the teachers and parents involved in such decisions here?
Over the past four years, it was heard that the Ministry of Education had written a new curriculum. It was praised on TV, in the press. No discussion took place. We tried to meet with the authors to discuss plans, without success. Why won’t the Ministry talk with us? No one understands this unwillingness to discuss the curriculum publicly.
You are critical of the results as seen in the textbooks now required for use. How could they be improved?
The curriculum cannot be improved without the involvement of the teachers and parents, the people most closely affected by the plans. Now the situation is worse than it was under socialism. I see no democracy whatsoever in the present education system. Everything is run with money: buying and distributing computers seems to be “education policy”. Those who actually know what improvements could be made are not asked.
Do you see reasons for optimism in the present situation? Are improvements possible?
Improvements can be expected only if the politicians in power have the will to make them. That is not the case, although a lot could be done. I do what I can, but it seems to take forever. The government does not support what is good, good suggestions or good efforts. The Ministry disregards these totally.
Whether optimistic or pessimistic, I will continue to fight for a better education for all Mongolians, no matter whether I will be successful or not. I don’t see hope for the necessary changes soon; the all important political will is lacking.