50% of students don’t have textbooks

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The government spent 14 billion MNT to reprint old textbooks and develop new ones through the core education program. However, access to textbooks remains limited. Nationwide, only half of all students have received essential textbooks.

Authorities often brag about being able to provide free textbooks to every elementary school student and pat their own backs for supplying learning materials to 40 percent of middle and high school students for free of charge. However, a study conducted by the Institute of Education in the last three months proves otherwise. It reveals that the authorities are saying one thing but taking a completely different course of action.

Head of the institute’s Textbooks and Learning Environment Research Department D.Puntsagsuren gave an insight into the provision and accessibility of textbooks for general education students.

“The government set a target to fully supply textbooks to students in elementary schools. So far, this target has been achieved 97 to 98 percent. The least accessible textbook is the one for civic education. Ten elementary students have to share a textbook for this subject in remote places. For sixth to ninth grade students, the target is to supply free textbooks to 40 percent of them. At present, it stands at slightly over 30 percent,” she said.

“When we asked librarians the reason for the shortage of textbooks, they said that fewer number of textbooks are supplied to schools compared to the number of attending students. Forty percent of older students are supposed to receive free textbooks. However, only 15 to 25 percent of them have received textbooks from school.”

Results of the study indicate that the availability of textbooks is 50 percent nationwide. The availability of textbooks for fine arts doesn’t even reach 30 percent, and on average, 20 to 25 students of a class with 40 students don’t have textbooks. In remote areas, one in 10 students has textbooks, according to the study. Based on this, we can give a poor performance score for the core education program.

UN believes that textbooks play an important role in improving learning outcomes. Moreover, the fourth Sustainable Development Goal on Education (SDG 4) calls to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”. Access to appropriate learning materials is listed as a key strategy for achieving the first means of implementation under SDG4 related to providing inclusive and effective learning environments for all, which states, “Ensure that every institution is secure and has water, electricity, gender-segregated toilets that work and are accessible, adequate and safe classrooms, and appropriate learning materials and technology.”

The supporting Framework for Action Education 2030 for this new agenda also highlights access to learning materials as one of the core strategic approaches for implementing the goal, “Education institutions and programs should be adequately and equitably resourced, with safe, environment-friendly and easily accessible facilities; sufficient numbers of teachers and educators of quality using learner-centered active and collaborative pedagogical approaches; and books, other learning materials, open educational resources and technology that are non-discriminatory, learning conducive, learner friendly, context-specific, cost-effective and available to all learners – children, youth and adults.”

However, Mongolia is falling short in this area as the state fails to monitor the implementation of its programs and publishing houses disregard children’s education for profit. In particular, publishing houses that win tenders are printing textbooks in advance and selling them to earn a profit despite receiving government funding and subsidies so that textbooks can be handed out to students for free of charge. This is causing a scarcity of textbooks.

D.Puntsagsuren says their recent study surveyed 11th grade students’ ability to buy learning resources. The study showed that parents give students money to buy textbooks for key subjects such as mathematics. The price for all textbooks set by the state is 36,000 MNT. Yet, textbooks are sold for two to three times higher price in the market. Considering the average household income, most families in Mongolia don’t have sufficient earnings to spend on textbooks, which are only usable for the respective grade. Even if they do decide to buy textbooks, it’s hard to attain them.

It’s said that printing houses publish relatively few textbooks for sale and according to some parents, they aren’t able to find all of the essential learning materials even if they go directly to the printing house. There are other problems such as printing houses not printing the agreed number of copies because they fear losses or don’t have enough resources. Due to these reasons, one in two students is studying without textbooks.

The Ministry of Education, Culture, Science and Sports is collaborating with other educational organizations to revise procedures on drafting, printing and distributing textbooks, according to the Institute of Education.

When general education schools shifted from an 11-year system to 12-year system, sixth graders and seventh graders had to study without a single textbook. This was purely because of the slow tendering process and lack of responsibility of printing houses that won the government tenders. Yet, the state didn’t hold them accountable or supervise the process.

For the academic year of 2018-2019, 99 types of textbooks are required. Reportedly, Munkhiin Useg is printing 980,923 copies, Soyombo Printing is publishing 704,002 copies, Sod Press 83,661 copies, Bitpres 253,469 copies, Tengerleg Useg 28,872 copies, and Admon Print is printing 243,321 copies. These publishing houses are required to supply 1,000 to 28,000 copies for each type of textbook. Apparently, a single copy costs 1,300 to 6,000 MNT to print and the ministry spent around 6.2 billion MNT purely on printing textbooks.

For years, the government has been claiming that it is working to hand out textbooks to all students for free of charge and yet only half of the students are receiving textbooks. To increase students’ access to learning materials, Minister Yo.Baatarbileg introduced a textbook rental service earlier this month. When there aren’t enough textbooks, the minister’s “brilliant” plan is to rent books to students. Apparently, the ministry plans to raise required funds with assistance from international projects and programs, most likely foreign donations.

The ministry claimed this rental textbook service is the “most suitable” option for now and backed it up saying that Mongolia managed to increase students access to textbooks to up to 84 percent in 2014 through a similar plan. In any case, we’ll have to keep a watchful eye on the implementation of this service so that the ministry doesn’t slack off.

Dulguun Bayarsaikhan