Can education reform solve core problems in the sector?
- By Misheel Lkhasuren -
- Nov 24,2021
The education sector in Mongolia urgently needs to enhance the quality of education services, eliminate the urban-rural education gap, establish a child-friendly and accessible learning environment, strengthen cross-sector linkages, build partnerships with all stakeholders, and improve the governance and management of the education system. To address these needs, the country adopted the Education Sector Medium-Term Development Plan 2021-2030 in October 2020. Also, this parliamentary fall session is scheduled to amend the Law on Education to provide all citizens with equal access to education services, ensure vertical and horizontal alignments in education policies, disseminate smart and digital technology at all levels of the education system, and promote green development in the learning environment and materials. However, it is doubtful whether the bill can solve all the problems facing the sector.
In fact, the education sector achieved significant outcomes over the past years in modifying preschool, primary and secondary education curricula, vocational education and training, and higher education and program contents, as well as revising student textbooks and learning materials, and establishing a favorable learning environment. Positive changes were also made in the supply of qualified teachers and the capacity of kindergartens and schools. Despite these significant outcomes, more effort is required to resolve the above-mentioned challenges.
Several world ranking studies showed that education in Mongolia is lagging behind compared to other countries. For instance, Mongolia was ranked 139th in the Global Competitiveness Report 2020 by the World Economic Forum in terms of its high-skilled workforce and also placed 101st in the Human Development Report of 2020.
Moreover, the General Entrance Exam results demonstrated inequality in the national education system. Large disparities were noticed among graduates of public and private high schools. The average score of public schools in the 2020 general entrance exam was 513.7 points, and that of private schools was 565.5 out of 800 points. Also, various poverty indexes displayed a higher poverty rate among uneducated people as it has been found that 52.8 percent of uneducated people were living in poverty as of 2019.
The educational reform must seek to separate the educational industry from politics and develop value-based, student-centered and digital and technology-based learning. It should improve training and employment opportunities for teachers and promote parent engagement in children’s learning. Some researchers and non-governmental organizations such as Education Reform NGO believe that the education reform should reflect these proposals and recommendations.
Despite the fact that the government reform has been underway since 1990, the country’s education-related programs do not reflect any educational research. In this regard, there is a real need for an education reform to fully address the shortcomings in the sector.
‘EDUCATION BILL DOES NOT ADDRESS PROBLEMS OF THE SECTOR’
Minister of Education and Science L.Enkh-Amgalan said that the reform would solve all the problems faced in education, sparking great expectations among the public.
However, some non-governmental organizations and researchers stated that the bill on education does not address real problems of the sector but rather poses more risks. Particularly, Young Researchers’ Support Fund NGO strongly advised bringing the purpose of the law in line with the Constitution of Mongolia. They noted that it is necessary to establish the basic principles and forms of educational activities, bring them in line with international standards, and clarify the rights and responsibilities of relevant officials.
The organization also noted that powers of the state central administrative body in charge of education, local councils and mayors are well-defined in the law but their responsibilities are not clearly defined. This will make it difficult to monitor their work and hold them accountable, it viewed. The fund noted that it is wrong to define key terms, such as education and kindergarten, in two ways.
In fact, eight consulting teams were established for drafting the bill. These teams consisted of scholars and researchers of various universities and colleges and scientific organizations.
Based on studies as well as suggestions that have been received, the bill reflects the following changes:
• Various forms of lifelong learning were defined, reflecting 12 years of compulsory education.
• The classification of knowledge and skills was renewed and will be transitioned into the International Standard Classification of Education 2011.
• English will become the second language of Mongolia for developing global citizens.
• Quality assessment for all levels of education was reflected.
• The structure, status, function, and requirements for educational institutions were properly defined.
• Funds and financing will be spent more on the performance, quality, and results of educational services.
• An assessment system, which evaluates the learning progress, skill and knowledge of students to improve the social security of teachers as well as their salaries and bonuses, will be created.
Bill initiators view that implementing the new bill will create favorable conditions to reach the goal of ensuring equal access to quality education for every citizen and strengthening the system of lifelong learning through education as the basis for personal development, family life and country development as stated in the “Vision-2050” long-term policy document.
The bill on education, which is under review now, states, “Mongolia’s educational goals are to inherit history, culture, traditions and values, and to develop democratic, humane, ethical, healthy and responsible citizen with world-class knowledge and skills.”
Moreover, bill initiators believe that the bill’s essence is the teacher training system. Currently, teachers are being trained in 40 universities and training centers in Mongolia. It is important to improve the teacher training system and provide continuous learning opportunities for teachers in the workplace, lawmakers stated. Education Minister L.Enkh-Amgalan noted that 138 countries have a 12-year educational system, adding that this system will be integrated with vocational training in Mongolia. The bill provides for the establishment of a results-based and quality-based financing system, the minister reported.
Although these important regulations are included in the bill, there are a number of “problematic” provisions, as criticized by some researchers and organizations.
The current state policy on education and the Law on Education define the purpose of preschool education as “... early childhood development through their own characteristics, skills and creativity, and acquisition of basic lifelong learning skills...”.
The education minister said that “childhood is the golden time of development”. However, the bill stipulates that “preschool education aims to support the physical, mental and social development of young children and prepare them for school.” In other words, it is defined only as “preparation for school”. The purpose of preschool must not be limited to kindergarten activities, but it has been developed only within the framework of an educational institution.
Moreover, Article 24 of the bill on higher education provides for the establishment of a National Council for Higher Education with a full-time office and a sub-council. A chair of this council will be a minister. This is a violation of Article 5.1.10 of the General Law on Education, which stipulates that “the education sector must be free from political influence and conflict of interest”.
Also, the regulation for a minister to chair the council and appoint heads of state-owned higher education institutions violates Article 5.1.8 of the education law, which states that “senior officials of educational institutions shall be selected on the basis of merit”.
The establishment of research universities was specifically proposed, but the specifics of legalizing this type of university are unclear in the bill.
From all of this, there is a need to improve some provisions of the bill and reflect the recommendations of researchers and experts.