Education Issues in Mongolia

Primary education has experienced some turbulence with the rise of free markets and increasing urbanization. As more families move to the cities urban schools are suffering from overcrowding while rural schools suffer from low attendance. After the communist regime stepped down and free markets were introduced, the Mongolian education system was reformed through decentralization and handing control over to local provincial governments. Before this, the government highly subsidized education, with education spending consuming 27% of the budget in 1985 (by 1999 this number dropped below 15% of the total budget). Every child, no matter how rural, could go to well-equipped schools that had some of the lowest student-to-teacher ratios in the world.

This situation changed when privatization of herds and the economic downturn of the 1990s put pressure on the financial stability of families and strained school budgets. This led to an increasing amount of children being taken from school and put to work helping their families. The introduction of capitalism led 36.3% of the Mongolian population below the poverty line by 1995. At one point more than 15% of rural children were being put to work herding every year, and over 8% of urban children were working in cities rather than attending school. Some herders questioned the need for education if their children were only going to be tending flocks. The dropout phenomenon was exacerbated by the fact that many children needed to attend distant boarding schools. At one point these schools implemented a "Meat Requirement" to help cover the cost of feeding students. A family had to pay 70 kg of meat per child a year. The "Meat Requirement" was in essence a school fee that some families could not afford; it has since been rescinded.

Boys suffered the most from the dropout rates because they were more likely to be needed tending herds and were often seen as problem students. Fortunately, primary education in Mongolia has largely rebounded and school dropout rates are decreasing. However, the quick growth of dropouts during the economically turbulent 1990s illustrates how fragile access to education can be in Mongolia. And while legal safeguards guarantee eight years of primary education, there is no way to enforce these laws.