“Mongolia has achieved significant results in providing access to education in such a vast territory with so little population density and has maintained gross enrolment rates of more than 93 per cent at the primary and 95 per cent at the secondary level,” said the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to education, Mr. Vernor Muñoz, at the conclusion of his visit to Mongolia from 1 to 8 October at the invitation of the Government, the first mission by an independent expert monitoring the right to education in the country.
“Mongolia has placed great value in education with policies that encourage children from both urban and rural areas to complete primary and secondary education, and has shown innovation and creativity in order to provide education to such diverse groups such as nomadic communities and ethnic minorities,” added the UN expert.
The Special Rapporteur met with Government officials, civil society representatives, including non-governmental organizations, as well as education professionals, academics, students, parents and trade unions. Mr. Muñoz saw first-hand the state of education in his visits to kindergartens, primary and secondary schools as well as public universities, in the capital city Ulaanbaatar including one of its remote district Nalaih as well as Khovd, Jargalant and Myangad soums of Khovd province in the western region.
Mr. Muñoz was made aware of how the current economic crisis is affecting Mongolia and, although the State budget dedicated to education has remained steady at around 20 per cent, the increase of the population, particularly in the capital region, as well as inflation, makes it difficult to provide a quality education to all children. In urban areas, this has resulted in frequent overcrowding in schools, whereas in rural communities, the conditions of students’ dormitories as well as access to water and proper sanitation facilities are serious challenges for the well-being of students as well as teachers.
“This lack of adequate facilities have resulted in many parents not registering their children at the start of compulsory schooling and should be addressed properly by the education authorities” stressed the Special Rapporteur.
The vastness of the country and the great distances should provide incentives to stimulate distance education as well as generalized access to internet in order reduce the growing gap between rural and urban communities. As well, access to kindergarten (pre-primary education) still remains a challenge, despite creative practices such as the mobile kindergarten, which aims to attend the children of nomadic herders.
“The Government should also seriously consider the situation of children with disabilities in order to provide an inclusive education environment,” noted Mr. Muñoz, on realizing that little is provided for them, especially since Mongolia ratified the Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities. “Programs such as schools snacks and free textbooks should be extended also to secondary school children, or at least to those who need it the most,” said the UN expert, adding that resources could be better allocated.
The Special Rapporteur also noted that it was difficult to get reliable statistical data on indicators such as school drop-outs, especially high in rural areas and among the Kazakh minority, which calls upon better access to education material in their language and encourage intercultural education experiences. “Adequate data collection is crucial in developing public policies and affirmative action programs,” said Mr. Muñoz.
Finally, the Special Rapporteur considered important to highlight the importance of creating a human rights culture, not only in schools, but also among the citizens in Mongolia, considering the lack of participation of women in the public affairs of the country and being made aware of the persistence of certain stereotypes, even in schools.
Based on the information collected during this visit, Mr. Muñoz will prepare a report on his mission to the Human Rights Council in 2010.
Mr. Muñoz (Costa Rica), who was appointed Special Rapporteur in August 2004 by the UN Commission on Human Rights, is independent from any government and serves in his individual capacity. The Commission first decided to appoint a Special Rapporteur to examine questions relevant to the right to education in 1998. The mandate was renewed by the UN Human Rights Council in 2008 for an additional three-year period.
Mr. Muñoz is currently Director of the Department of Education's Human Rights Ombudsman of Costa Rica and Researcher of the Institute of Latin-American Studies at the National University of Costa Rica. He has been Professor of Human Rights, Philosophy of Law and Civil Law in public and private universities in his country, as well as visiting professor at various universities in the world.