Soum Development begins in the classroom

Local news, 11.07.2019

We visited Burd and Khairkhandulaan Soums of Uvurkhangai Aimag in spring 2019 in order to report on the activities implemented by the Mainstreaming Social Accountability in Mongolia project (MASAM). Because of the season, it was windy and full of dust outside. However, inside the school classroom the people were full of warmth, understanding and respect towards each other.

MASAM project training
MASAM project training ©WorldBank/SDC

First stop of the monitoring team was in Burd Soum, located 136 km from the Uvurkhangai Aimag center and 344 km from Ulaanbaatar. Burd Soum has 820 households, 3,018 residents, and one secondary school with 365 pupils. Even though the project was finished in 2017, it brought in many positive changes, which were continued by the local soum government, the school administration and parents and they even tried to improve the projects’ endeavors.

Before the project started, the communication between the school administration and the parents was weak and cooperation did not go further than the parent-teacher conferences. Thanks to the project, the attitude of the parents changed positively. Before, they used to think that parents need to only pay attention to the academic success of their children and their career choices. The school or dormitory conditions and security was thought to be the sole concern of the school. Now, their approach has changed, and they all participate in the schools’ operations and planning activities.

This enabled combined discussion and planning between the school administration, teachers and the students on risks on the way from home to school and back, school lunch quality, dormitory conditions and many more issues.

The success of the Burd Soum part of the project is linked to their decision to use the soum emergency information channel to provide information to parents. Also, they cooperated with the soum hospital, the police and the soum administration. For example, when the civil servants started to provide introductions about what they do, to the high school students, not only did it assist in their career choices, but also helped the civil servants to become more capable.

On the second day the project team headed to Khairkhandulaan Soum of Uvurkhangai Aimag. This school was specifically selected because of the active participation from dads. They have established a Development Center of Horse-Riding dads.

Khairkhandulaan Soum has 3517 residents, and 433 pupils, out of which 288 are from herder families. Because this soum is located 70 km from to the aimag center the residents face the problem of sending their children to the school, located in the aimag center. Thus, the parents are paying a lot of attention about their children studying in the Soum School.

In the first period of the project, the most important issue was the rare participation of dadies/fathers in the consultation meetings of parents. Thus, in order to increase their participation, they organized sports events and eventually started to provide information about the school operations. As a result, 2 fathers were chosen from every group and formed a control team of 36 fathers. A member of the father’s control group says: “After the sports event the school invited us to the school cafeteria. One father asked about the food and they answered that it is the food that our children eat. That day we decided to form a control team.” Today this group implements the following activities in cooperation with the school administration, teachers, pupils and the soum administration:

  • Collect requests and remarks from parents, teachers and students through control sheets, based on which they do the planning.
  • The teachers visit the students’ households to provide information and meet the parents.
  • The school implemented “travelling teacher-parent meetings” at the bhag (small administrative units) centers, during which they showcased an exhibition of handcrafts made by children.
  • Started organizing training courses on preparation for the State Examinations with participation from parents.
  • Signed cooperation agreements with local soum private entities and non-governmental organizations. For example, as a result of this work, the soum school students went through a dental check-up.
  • Planning on organizing a Fathers’ Conference meeting, where they would exchange information on how fathers can participate in their children’s development and education.
  • Most importantly, the local communities now understand what results can be achieved, if citizens unite and dialogue with their local government. Also, this project helped to understand that if people unite their voices, they will be heard.

As part of the MASAM project, these schools are implementing the public participation approach implemented by the Education Cooperation NGO and the schools expressed their views and issues through the evaluations based on state school quality standards. As a result of all the activities implemented in 10 soums of Uvurkhangai Aimag, the Aimag Citizen Representative Khural has developed and approved the state school program 2017-2020. They are spreading the ideas and concepts of the MASAM project that enjoys ownership of parents, a voice to students and empowerment for the schools.