The 1990s have brought sudden and dramatic changes to Mongolia.
The shift from a centralised state-run economy to a market one
has required new ways of learning and living for the majority
of the population, especially the nomadic peoples of the deserts.
These groups, particularly the women, have to cope with heavy
family chores, harsh climatic conditions, animal husbandry and
the task of regularly moving tents and pastures. Under a joint
UNESCO/DANIDA (Danish International Development Fund) sponsored
programme, 15,000 nomadic women, aged 15 to 45, are currently
receiving training through radio to better their conditions. The
introduction of radio instruction has had considerable impact
on community, family and commercial life.
The nomadic peoples of Mongolia live in "gers"
or tent-like structures built of felt. Their encampments consist
of 1-4 families. Vast distances, up to 20 miles, separate one
settlement from another. The average family size is 4 to 5 people.
Conditions, particularly in the Southern Gobi Desert, are harsh,
with extremes of climate ranging from +40 degrees celsius in the
summer to -40 degrees celcius in winter.Until recently, herders'
children went to boarding schools in the nearest settlement and
received a state education. For this reason, many nomads have
up to eight years formal education even if present economic difficulties
are undermining this achievement as many of the country's
structures fall apart. Boarding schools have been effective in
providing solid literacy and numeracy but had the disadvantage,
however, of separating families and imparting a curriculum that
was often far removed from the realities of nomadic life. Literacy
rates in Mongolia are, today, relatively high, 81 per cent overall
and 75 per cent for women. The women's
share of the labour force stands at 49 per cent. Women in Mongolia
have traditionally enjoyed equal status to men, participating
in activities at all levels of economic and social life. They
are a particularly sustaining force in the country and, in many
ways, epitomise the national spirit of Mongolia which is deeply
rooted in nomadic culture and the desire for survival.
For the nomadic peoples, the collapse of the Soviet system and
the change from the state management of herds as collectives to
private ownership was a major transformation. It brought with
it new hardships as well as opportunities with the decrease in
free services provided by the state leading to all forms of private
initiative and self-reliance. Households rapidly became responsible
for producing their own goods, obtaining services and marketing
their products. At the same time as this loss of public services,
outside information also became rarer. Newspapers and other reading
materials were hit by paper shortages. Transport slowed down,
isolating people further, and the State boarding schools closed.
With this context of uncertainty, the whole education and learning
environment of the country could only but change. The government,
well-aware of these transformations, realised that learning in
the country had to be redesigned and redirected especially for
the populations most at risk of marginalisation, notably the nomadic
women. Learning environments conducive to bettering life conditions
and community action had to be formed. A needs assessment survey
carried out by the government revealed that learning differently
and in a new way had become a matter of survival. The removal
of barriers to educational opportunity was the first task facing
any new project that also had to encourage women to become more
self-reliant and active agents in their own learning and that
of their families. Along with UNESCO, the state set about planning
a project for the nomadic peoples. Several distinct challenges
faced project planners as they dealt with the potential implementation
of a programme:
Learning outside the formal education was deemed an appropriate
solution and particularly distance education. Print and radio
were identified as suitable media as their combination allowed
for the overcoming of distance that was so crucial in Mongolia.
A system of visiting teachers would then allow for face-to-face
contact to complement the material. The target was to provide
nomadic women with the tools to survive the many and rapid changes
affecting their lives through new access to learning opportunities
and relevant learning. A project, entitled The Gobi Women's
Project, was accordingly implemented in 1991.
Radio instruction aimed to empower the women by providing learning
opportunities, but the appeal of income generation was needed
to serve as an entry point. For many women, finding and developing
the tools to direct their existence meant being able to produce
and sell. The learning then had a strong earning aspect with subjects
of direct relevance to those who were struggling to make ends
meet. Key areas for content were identified: livestock rearing
techniques; family care (family planning, health, nutrition and
hygiene); income generation using locally available raw materials
and basic business skills, for a new market economy. Literacy
subjects were then grafted on to these (the maintenance and upgrading
of literacy skills). Income-generation served as motivation to
the literacy and numeracy content of the broadcasts.
Centrally planned learning materials are supplemented by locally
produced print materials and radio programmes. Initially five
booklets and 17 radio programmes were produced by the National
Coordination Committee. A further 23 printed booklets were produced
in Ulaanbaatar on health, income generation and literacy support.
They included topics such as family planning, making camel saddles
and Mongol deels (clothes), producing milk and meat products,
making fuel from animal dung, leather processing, felt-making,
vegetable-growing, civics and small business development. The
literacy support booklets tackle subjects as varied as Mongolian
fairy tales, mathematics and the environment. The booklets were
distributed by jeeps and took 1 to 7 weeks to reach the learners.
Printed materials were produced at local level too. "Aimag"
or provincial centres created newsletters, information sheets
and prepared teachers'
booklets and demonstration materials. These supplemented centrally
produced booklets, developing materials in response to local needs
and circumstances. The radio programmes use a variety of formats.
Two programmes are broadcast from Ulaanbaatar but the rest come
from local stations where they rely on strong local content and
topicality. Radio programmes are broadcast at times convenient
to the women, mostly at evening time, They generally relate to
the booklet content and used a variety of formats. A few are broadcast
from Ulaanbaatar such as "Sunrise"
which cover topics of general interest, whilst others are more
specific and directly related to the needs of the Gobi women.
The role of visiting teachers is to reduce nomadic women's
isolation and support their learning process. Each teacher is
responsible for 15 learners and is expected to visit them once
or twice a month. Given the distance between nomadic families
and the lack of learning opportunities provided by the State,
women are encouraged to involve their family in the learning activities
and present them to the teachers. Most of the teachers are volunteers,
people who have completed secondary schooling, even university
and are well-versed in a subject. Some of the teachers were in
fact veterinary surgeons, doctors and teachers during the Soviet
era and are willing to put their knowledge to good use. Teachers
help with any problems that might arise from the booklets or radio
programmes or in carrying out practical work. They go through
each learner's journal
where they complete their lessons and bring supplementary materials,
occasionally bringing together groups of women in the "sum"
or district centres. The teachers are also a vital link with the
whole system, providing feedback to "sum"
co-ordinating committees and listening to any need that might
come from the learners themselves.
Small information centres also serve as meeting points. These
are set up in sum and aimag central points. They are rooms in
a local government office or school and contain a set of project
booklets and other learning materials, information leaflets, posters
and a radio. Radios can be repaired here and technological issues
discussed. The room also houses occasional exhibitions of women's
work and is used for group meetings. Women can also come to these
places of their own accord and use the information available for
self-study. Group meetings are held to mark the beginning of courses.
These three-day meetings are spent on a so-called crash course
where women meet their visiting teachers and have teaching and
demonstration sessions. This kind of contact provides much social
support and is an opportunity for direct teaching, skill development
and exchange of experience and news.
Consultative committees at national, provincial (aimag) and local
(sum) levels were set up. A plan for material generation was established
and print and radio production groups developed. Collaborative
arrangements were made with the state-owned Mongol Radio in Ulaanbaatar,
where the Gobi Women's
Project Radio was set up. In addition, three local aimag radio
stations were re-equipped and training provided for producers
and technicians (these three radio stations reached all six aimags).
10 teacher trainers from each pilot sum were trained and they,
in turn, trained 10 "visiting
teachers". Locally produced
radios (250) and batteries (25,000) were distributed since 20
per cent of the target group were without working radios or batteries.
The women of the Gobi desert are not weak women who require some
outside assistance to become empowered. Surviving is their way
of life. Radio has had the ability to bring various forces into
play, the most important of which is the interaction of people
and flows of information. This interaction lies at the heart of
the project's success.
After the initial lessons, the women, on their own initiative,
wrote to the central radio, asking for details on prices of wool,
practical issues concerning animals and health. The women themselves
then asked for their husbands and children to be brought into
the project, so they could share and listen to the radio programmes.
Thanks to the women, whole families ended up benefiting from the
project. It is the women who passed on their knowledge to their
children, who informed their husbands of their new capabilities
and saw the enormous potential that could be drawn from using
local capacity. Most significantly, the levels of local activity
increased. Small information centres were set up in many sums.
Increased communication and collaboration began to develop between
neighbouring settlements, sums and provinces. The women organised
local markets with exhibitions of handicrafts and sales of products.
Concepts such as learners'
needs, feedback, discussion and teamwork were more easily grasped
on a local level. When the central authorities saw how active
local groups were in organising their own learning, and how satisfied
and productive they became, they gave the project their full encouragement.
Women sent letters to their local radio stations and even to central
government asking for new materials, subjects and presenting ideas.
It is on the basis of these letters that the Head of State asked
UNESCO for the extension of the project to other areas. Radio
allowed for this communication, creating networks between the
women themselves, but also between the nomads and Government.
The Gobi Women's Project
has acted as a catalyst in the formation of local groups and networks
of specialists and resource persons (veterinary surgeons, doctors,
teachers, local officials) who visited learners at home or organised
group meetings. It has also opened up new areas of learning directly
related to the needs of the women breaking with the past formal
education system which was more scholarly in approach and less
based on local culture. The mobilisation of nomadic women and
their new-found skills also depended on using the national education
crisis as a positive chance for developing new ways of thinking
rather than carrying on blindly with a formal system that couldn't
adapt. The Gobi Women's
Project has proved effective in using radio to create change,
bettering existing opportunities and even providing thousands
of women with the tools to tackle their environment. Nomadic women,
in this process, have become active learners and agents of change
in the desert.
Some figures :
Population of Mongolia : 2.3 million
Rural population : 47 %
Expenditure on education as percentage of GNP : 2.7%
DANIDA funds for project : USD $ 1.4 million
Number of women reached : 15,000 for initial phase.
Source: In the Green Desert, No12, Innovations Series, ED/EFA UNESCO
Director, Non-formal distance education project
Ministry of Science, Technology, Education and Culture
Government Building III
Baga Loiruu - 44
Tel: 976 1 322 480
Fax:976 1 323 158