Making education more inclusive in Mongolia: Meet Oyunjargal
In the early days of spring, remnants of snow cover the ground of Arbulag, a rural village in northern Mongolia where 17-year-old Oyunjargal lives with her family. She watches her father herd cattle and later helps prepare dinner, enjoying time at home before the start of another school week.
Due to her hearing impairment, Oyunjargal, like many other Mongolian students with disabilities, faced great barriers to attending regular school – until recently. It is only since 2019 that the right for children with disabilities to attend regular schools has been fully reflected in policy.
Previously, these children were referred to 1 of 6 special schools located in the capital city, too far from Oyunjargal’s home in Arbulag. With special schools out of reach for many children with disabilities, and because regular schools were not obligated to accept them, an association of parents with children with disabilities set up informal child development centers.
Oyunjargal studied at one of these centers and remained outside of the formal education system until 2021, when, at age 15, she enrolled in grade 9 at Ireedui 21st school in the nearest town of Murun, located 80 kilometers from Arbulag. As the school is far from home, she lives with her sister closer to the school and visits the rest of her family on weekends.
Making education more inclusive
Inclusive education means all children learning together in their local schools, free of discrimination, rather than in segregated environments. It means providing support in regular schools for each child’s needs, so that they are not just present but can participate fully and learn.
“Education should be inclusive, should be equitable to all people. This is a fundamental right, a human right, that means that all kids, all children, must have equal opportunity and access to quality education. Societal participation and engagement are very important; especially, we have to improve public awareness of inclusive education. We have to change our mentality and mindset, our approach.”
Enkh-Amgalan Luvsantseren, Minister of Education and Science, Mongolia
Before 2015, official figures showed 97% of children enrolled in schools in Mongolia, yet enrollment of children with disabilities was low. For years, this group of children had neither been considered nor counted by the public education system.
UNICEF estimated that in 2010 only 44% of children with disabilities were attending school.
Since 2019, support for Mongolia’s national civil society coalition All4Education has bolstered advocacy efforts within the country toward fulfillment of the right to quality education for all children, including those with disabilities.
The advocacy efforts of civil society to introduce inclusive education in Mongolia have led to policy changes, increased funding and greater social awareness.
In 2019, the Minister of Education and Science adopted the "Regulation on inclusion of children with disabilities in regular schools."
The new inclusive education measures for students with disabilities include a zero-rejection policy (meaning no child can be denied education because of their disability), early identification and intervention, infrastructure improvements, appropriate teaching methodologies, guidelines for school principals, and salary incentives and support for teachers who have students with disabilities in their classroom.
In addition to helping gather data for decision makers to acknowledge the challenges facing marginalized students, All4Education participates in ministry-level discussions on inclusive education as well as a parliament working group on education law.
They also monitor education policies and budget, continuing to advocate for adjustments to successfully implement Mongolia’s inclusive education policy.
“I have a dream that all children with disabilities can learn equally; in other words, they can study in schools local to their homes. To achieve this, Mongolia’s education system must evolve. The members of the education coalition are working hard to create such a system – one that provides quality education that fits the needs of each child. The education system will be transformed into one that is flexible and adaptable and even helps create a culture that respects the dignity and needs of all children.”
Tungalag Dondogdulam, General Coordinator, All4Education, National Civil Society Coalition, Mongolia
Overcoming barriers to inclusive education
While the government has made great efforts to ensure that children with disabilities can both access and thrive in school, many still face barriers to a quality education, especially in rural areas.
The country needs more teachers trained in approaches for teaching children who have special needs as well as comprehensive support services for students with disabilities and their families.
Oyunjargal’s family realized she was deaf when she was 3 years old. No one in her family has sign language skills, so she has spent her life communicating with them through body movements.
With no special schools and without the option to attend regular school, Oyunjargal studied at home and attended an informal child development center established by an association of parents with children with disabilities.
When new regulations in 2019 made it possible for Oyunjargal to attend regular school, her parents needed to learn about this new opportunity.
“It must have been hard for her growing up. As a child, without special care from us, she struggled to communicate with people. After she started going to school, she changed completely. She now communicates with signs and gestures. I want my daughter to become a highly educated and independent person in the future.”
Gansugh Ulziitogtokh, Oyunjargal’s father
All4Education played a big part in persuading Oyunjargal’s parents to send her to school full time. At the start of the enrollment process, her parents took part in several sessions to educate themselves about sending their child to school.
Her father is grateful to all those who have made it possible for Oyunjargal to get the education she deserves.
“It has been 2 years since Oyunjargal came to our school. In the beginning, she did not socialize much with classmates. Today she socializes and gets along with her classmates. She is keeping up with class and her classmates, which means our main goal is being fulfilled. I am also proud of the parents who now send their children with disabilities to school. There are several children with disabilities in our school. I think there’s a real change in attitude.”
Enkhjargal Baljirkhuu, Teacher, Ireedui 21st school
As part of the All4Education network, parents along with other activists have advocated for children with disabilities to be accepted and included in Mongolian society, particularly in the education system.
Supporting the expansion of inclusive education
Since joining GPE in 2006, Mongolia has received nearly US$45 million in grants. The current $5 million grant – implemented by Save the Children Australia – supports the Enabling Equity to Advance Learning project, which aims to increase all children’s access to primary and secondary education and promotes inclusive education services.
Oyunjargal is one of many students reaping the benefits of Mongolia’s increasingly inclusive education system.
With the majority of children with disabilities enrolled in regular schools, and more resources devoted to meeting the diverse needs of these students, Mongolia is on course to achieve its vision of an inclusive education system.
This story was written by GPE in collaboration with All4Education and Oxfam Denmark, and originally posted on globalpartnership.org