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Mongolia faces challenges keeping ‘herder children’ in school

©UNICEF video
Bayarkhuu, 10, tends to a goat, one of his family’s 130 grazing animals.

By Steve Nettleton

NARANBULAG, Mongolia, 11 September 2007 – On a windy, treeless plain in Mongolia, 10-year-old Bayarkhuu and his classmate Tsengel are herding goats in search of better grazing grounds. The goats may travel hundreds of kilometres in the summer months, but today they have been kept close to town, allowing Bayarkhuu to attend school in the morning and work in the afternoon. 

Tsengel’s family are also herders who live in a remote region far from town. She stays at Bayarkhuu’s home during the school year and helps with the animals after class.

Bayarkhuu and Tsengel may not be classmates for much longer. As Bayarkhuu grows older, he will face increasing pressure to drop out and work full-time. Now that the Mongolian Government has privatized ownership of livestock, more parents want their children to become involved in the family business.

Bayarkhuu is hoping that he won’t have to make this choice.

“When you devote yourself only to animal herding, you don’t know anything other than looking after animals,” he says. “You miss out on knowledge and education.”

© UNICEF video
Bayarkhuu, 10, tends to a goat, one of his family’s 130 grazing animals.

Challenges in rural areas

Besides facing the pressures of family and work, rural Mongolian students must often attend classes in less than ideal facilities. Many schools suffer from poor sanitation and overcrowded dormitories, further discouraging children from staying in the classroom.

“Those factors literally push the children outside the school,” said UNICEF Representative in Mongolia Bertrand Desmoulins. “It is already very difficult for them to be outside their home and family, and when they literally have to suffer to be able to study, very often the call to go back to the ‘ger’ [a traditional Mongolian tent] is greater than the call for staying in school.”

Unlike many other countries, Mongolia has more girls than boys attending school. Overall primary school enrolment is high, at more than 92 per cent, and drop-out rates have gradually decreased to less than 3 per cent nationwide. But in rural areas, particularly in the far west, many children find it a struggle to go to class. Drop-out rates are much higher here, with boys accounting for about 70 per cent of those who leave.

©UNICEF video
While more girls than boys attend school in rural Mongolia, all students face pressures that may keep them away from the classroom.

Better conditions, more opportunities

To help students from rural and nomadic communities, UNICEF is helping improve conditions in schools and dormitories while offering non-formal education programmes to those who cannot attend school. UNICEF also aims to train teachers in better addressing their students’ needs, and to equip more schools with safe water and sanitation systems.

Better conditions, along with a wider array of opportunities for the children of herding families, will make it easier for young people like Bayarkhuu to continue their studies.

It’s all part of an effort to adapt schools to serve communities on the move, ensuring that every child has access to education.


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UNICEF correspondent Steve Nettleton reports on efforts to keep Mongolian ‘herder children’ in school.

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