An article discussing the issue of inequalities in public and private school education in Mongolia. Original can be found here.
“There is a Mongolian saying – ‘a man with two horses will travel far,’” said Nemuun Gal, vice-principal for international relations and projects at Hobby School, referring to said school’s bilingual curriculum and history of student matriculation at international universities.
International tertiary education appears to be a trend for all high school graduates in Mongolia; the number of private and public high schoolers enrolling in university abroad has increased steadily in recent years.
Private high schools send the most Mongolians abroad. According to Hobby School, as many as 60 percent of their students enroll in institutions abroad.
Private schools boast unique curriculums conducive to international learning, including second-language (often English) immersion and taking same courses as students in the USA or UK.
Hobby School, founded in 1994 by Dr. Oyuntsetseg Durvuljin as the first independent national school of Mongolia, not only has a bilingual Mongolian-English curriculum, but also offers AP, or Advanced Placement courses. These are prestigious courses taken by top students in the United States. A rich array of extracurricular opportunities are also available, including drama, community service, and debate. Additionally, a special program of “Mongolian Wisdom” celebrates cultural heritage. Students are taught Mongolian customs and traditions, from ger assembly to deel making.
Nemuun believes that because of this academic program, students are well-equipped both intellectually and culturally. They additionally achieve high standardized test scores.
“They consistently rank at or near the top percentile of their peers in Mongolia,” said Nemuun. “110+ iBT scores are ubiquitous just like 1400+ scores on the New SAT reasoning test (out of 1600).”
While private schools are not always economically accessible, Hobby School works to reduce financial barriers.
“40 percent of the total student body receives tuition fee waivers ranging from 10-100 percent,” said Nemuun. “An overwhelming majority of our students, therefore, come from middle class families.”
Hobby School was the first Mongolian school to have a student matriculate at Harvard. Students have also enrolled in other elite universities and liberal arts colleges such as Vassar, Waseda, and UBC. The top international destination is the US, followed by Canada, Japan, and China.
Other private high schools see similar increases in international enrollment. Nomin Badam, from Elite International School, explained her choice to study electrical engineering at New York University.
“I wanted to study in an international university because I wanted to explore and experience more,” she said. “In addition to this, there is a general understanding in Mongolia that universities abroad are more qualified to give better education.”
Public schools are not left out of these opportunities. While public high school graduates still tend towards domestic universities, a smaller percentage does go abroad.
One such individual is Tenuunzaya Khosbayar, currently a student at Rhodes College. Tenuunzaya attended a public high school in Sukhbaatar Province and was inspired to study abroad by Peace Corps volunteers.
“There was a Duke graduate and she really inspired me through how she talks, writes, plans stuff and just every other little thing that type of education shows,” said Tenuunzaya. She then decided to apply to US liberal arts colleges.
However, for students in public school, study abroad can be harder due to the language barrier and expenses. While public schools teach the same subjects as private schools, their English courses are not always as effective. Students also tend to come from poorer socioeconomic backgrounds.
One graduate of the New Era Laboratory School who now studies in the USA felt her high school did not completely prepare her for American university. She requested that her name and university be kept anonymous.
“For math, I think my background allowed me to do well in college but besides that, compared to peers who went to an American high school…” she trailed off. “I think for me the whole American uni system was new. It was very student centered.”
Her university also provided her with a full-ride scholarship to ease the financial burden.
This gap in public school second language education seems to be a trend. However, since the Education Quality Reform Project was implemented in 2015, the national curriculum used by public schools has significantly improved, revamping teacher training and course design.
Furthermore, according to News.mn’s 2016 evaluation of top Mongolian high schools, three public schools — School No. 93, School No. 1, and School No. 11 — ranked in 6th, 7th, and 10th place respectively, a testament to public education development progress.
Additionally, the internet is a useful resource for internationally-minded individuals. Tenuunzaya took online courses with Khan Academy and EdX.org to supplement her English learning.
The expansion of bilingual education empowers students to explore new cultures and share their own heritage with the rest of the world.
Furthermore, intercultural exchanges are key to innovation and growth. Students who go abroad, regardless of their high school background, are important to developing Mongolia’s economy. As students travel the world for university, they not only spread Mongolian culture, but bring back valuable experiences, knowledge, and ideas for their country.