Lottery system deprives children of equal early childhood education

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It can be said that Mongolia has become a country of lotteries. It is true that by lottery the government temporarily solves problems that they cannot address and citizens, on the other hand, view it as a means to get rich quickly. The biggest concern is that children are being selected by lottery or random draw to become eligible for kindergartens and schools. It is unfortunate that although children have the right to free education in the country, they are unable to exercise it. Desperate parents are uniting on social media, expressing their dissatisfaction and disapproval of this system. Citizens want to create a fair society where children do not have to be “lucky” to get an education.

Lottery policy began to intensify in mid-2015 in Mongolia. At the time, the country adopted the kindergarten lottery system. On August 19, 2015, representatives of parents gathered at the Bayanzurkh District Administration’s building to protest against the new kindergarten registration method. Principals of 35 public kindergartens in Bayanzurkh, in consultation with the district education department, decided to update the registration system and select new children through a lottery.

Back then, a few government-funded kindergartens in Ulaanbaatar enrolled children by lottery and most of them followed the old registration method, in which parents lined up outside the kindergartens for days. Nowadays, kindergartens register children aged two to five online or by lottery. In other words, parents now have to choose whether rely on the lottery system or pay for expensive private kindergartens.

In the school year of 2020 to 2021, 247,040 children were enrolled in preschool education institutions. However, in 2020, there were more than 300,000 children of kindergarten age in Mongolia, of which more than 60,000 couldn’t attend public nurseries. Nationwide, in 2021, 190,999 children were enrolled in 145 state-funded kindergartens, with an average of 131 children per kindergarten.

Affluent parents no longer even bother with the lottery system as private institutions offer better learning environments. Unfortunately, poorer families don’t have the luxury of being picky and some of those whose children didn’t get picked for kindergarten keep their children at home until the age of six or until they can go to school. This is because private kindergartens take children aged between two and five for 120,000 MNT to 700,000 MNT per month.

In specific, the lowest price to attend a kindergarten in the city is 120,000 MNT per child a month in Zuun Salaa, a suburb of Songinokhairkhan District, while the most expensive kindergarten is in Zaisan, charging 700,000 MNT per child. The average price of a daycare center is 300,000 to 350,000 MNT.

As a result, countless children are left alone at home, which puts them at a higher risk of getting injured without supervision. In a study conducted among injured children under the age of 19, 45 percent of them fell from heights and 12.1 percent got burn injuries. Experts and specialists say that children are injured due to poor supervision by parents and guardians and unsafe conditions. Leaving a child unattended at home increases the risk of them getting electric shocks and burns and causing a fire. It is unfortunate that children are becoming victims of erroneous government policy and irresponsible/struggling parents.

‘MY CHILD IS 4 YEARS OLD BUT HAS NEVER BEEN TO KINDERGARTEN’

Parents have expressed their dissatisfaction with the registration of state-funded nurseries on the Facebook group “Coalition of parents opposing kindergarten lottery”. They have unanimously agreed that parents should hold a demonstration to address this issue, which they view “unfair” and “violates children’s rights”. 

A resident of Bayanzurkh District criticized, “In the kindergarten lottery, one of my twins was not selected. This should be taken into account when conducting the lottery. In general, the system, which discriminates against children, should be abolished.”

“It is unbelievable that our country is not able to provide equal education to children who are temporary residents or come from rural areas. The country classifies its children as lucky or unlucky, and treats them based on their luck. Because of this, I really want to hold a demonstration. Kindergarten is a very important foundation for children’s development, for example, it provides basic education for children and their social relations. I can care for my children and raise them at home. But Human beings are a social species. Children have the right to make friends, interact with their peers and learn together,” a netizen complained.

Model N.Anu wrote on her Facebook account, “We also received a text message saying my child was not selected (for a public kindergarten). Education is a fundamental human right. If the government treats children this way, let’s elect lawmakers by lottery, not by election! Parliamentary lottery... I want to send a text message to legislators saying they were not lucky enough to enter Parliament!”

“On behalf of my three-year-old daughter who was not selected for kindergarten, I am ashamed of this country’s lottery policy. Of course, it is the parents’ responsibility to care for their children. However, the country is involving children in lotteries or random draws. They can reflect 10 trillion MNT in the state budget for Small and Medium Enterprises Development Fund and other state policies, but they dare to create a society where there are not enough kindergartens and schools for children who are the future of Mongolia,” a user named Budgarig commented.

P.Bolorzaya said, “I have a four-year-old child. She never won the kindergarten lottery and has never been to kindergarten. She is about to go to school without knowing what early childhood education is.”

‘CHILDREN AT HOME ARE AT RISK OF FALLING BEHIND THEIR PEERS’

More and more parents are reporting that they couldn’t get their children registered for a public kindergarten and that they have to leave their children alone at home or that one of the parents has no choice but to take time off work and stay at home. However, psychologists warn that children who do not get a nursery education tend to face difficulties and struggle in life.

Psychologist S.Uranbileg explained that children who live and interact only with adults develop slower. “The development of children who do not attend nursery school is slowed down. If we get two children, who are surrounded by adults only, to play together, they will most likely not be able to play with each other. This is because they haven’t developed the ability to participate in social interactions and their social abilities are weak. However, children living with siblings are less likely to have this problem,” she said.

The specialist informed, “Children acquire different skills at different ages. This means that children at home will not be able to fully develop the skills they need to have at a certain age. These children are also more likely to have poor speech development. Preschool allows children to socialize. Children at home are at risk of lagging behind their peers. They cannot easily catch up with their developmental delays. Therefore, it is essential to enroll young children in kindergarten. Most Mongolian children stay at home with their grandparents, brothers and sisters. People of this age may have poor ability to interact, play and communicate with toddlers. So they are more likely to show children TV or make them play on mobile phones.”

273 PRESCHOOLS PLANNED TO BE BUILT BY 2024

The government’s failure to enroll all children in kindergartens violates their right to education and endangers their health and lives. Hence, the government must adopt new policies. Overall, experts blame the shortage of kindergartens on bad government policy and poor long-term planning.

Public kindergartens in Ulaanbaatar have space for just half of the 146,000 children between the ages of two and five living in the city. The majority of Mongolia’s state-run schools were built during the Soviet era and relatively few new facilities have been added since the country became democratic in 1990. Therefore, parents are demanding to build more kindergartens to provide inclusive education.

Especially in ger areas in the suburbs of the capital, access to kindergartens is low. Unfortunately, the government explains that there are few opportunities to build kindergartens with state funding in ger areas due to a lack of land and infrastructure.

In any case, the government plans to build 273 kindergartens and 200 schools nationwide between 2020 and 2024. They believe that it is expected to be 91 to 94 percent complete by 2022. To date, 101 kindergartens and 59 schools have been commissioned.

This year alone, 2.3 trillion MNT has been budgeted for the education sector, of which 489.9 billion MNT will be spent on investment (projects and construction of kindergarten and school). In particular, in 2022, Urgoo Kindergarten with a capacity of 50 children and Khuree School for 100 children were planned to be built in densely populated areas without state-owned kindergartens and schools.

“In the past, there were plans to build a kindergarten for 150 to 200 children and a school for 640 to 920 children in ger areas, but they were not implemented due to issues with the land acquisition. Therefore, the land acquisition of two to four households and the construction of a kindergarten and primary school complex will solve the problem of access to schools and kindergartens in ger areas in a short time,” the government stated.

New public kindergartens must be built as a matter of urgency, but it takes many years to build and put into operation a kindergarten and school in Mongolia. Therefore, the government has instructed officials to complete the construction of kindergartens and schools within the next two years. In any case, we have no choice but to wait, believing that more kindergartens will become available in two years.

In addition to building a new kindergarten, the Ministry of Education and Science shared plans to implement a new regulation related to preschool registration. It reported, “The study found that two-year-olds in kindergarten were more likely to be ill. Therefore, the ministry views that it would be better to enroll children in kindergarten from the age of three. According to international standards, the average age to allow children to attend kindergarten in most countries is three. If this law is supported, all children aged between three and five will be able to attend kindergarten without having to hold a lottery.”

However, if this decision is implemented, parents with children aged two or under will be forced to stop working. According to statistics, an average of 48,000 two-year-olds attend nursery school each year, and their parents will face the stark choice of staying home for another year or paying for private kindergarten.

Misheel Lkhasuren

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