Herder Families Literacy and Life Skills

Country Profile: Mongolia


2 951 786 (2007 estimate)

Official Language

Mongolian (other recognised languages: Turkic, Russian, Chinese)

Poverty (Population living on less than US$1 per day):

27.0% (1990-2004)

Total Expenditure on Education as % of GNP


Access to Primary Education – Total Net Intake Rate (NIR)

97% (2006)

Adult Literacy Rate (15 years and over, 1995-2005)

Total: 98%
Male: 98%
Female: 98%

Total Youth Literacy Rate (15-24 years)

98% (1995-2004)


Programme Overview

Programme TitleHerder Families Literacy and Life Skills
Implementing OrganizationNational Centre for Non-Formal and Distance Education Ministry of Education, Culture and Science
Language of InstructionMongolian
FundingWorld Vision International Organization, United States Department of Agriculture “Herder Livelihood Diversification” project
Date of Inception2008-2010

Context and Background


With a population of 2.7 million, Mongolia, the most sparsely populated country of the world is divided into 21 aimags (provinces) which are in turn divided into 239 soums (districts). Although in recent years the rate of urbanization in Mongolia has been relatively high, still the semi-nomadic and nomadic herders make up approximately 30 per cent of the country’s population. These hardworking rural dwellers make their living by herding horses, camels, goats, cattle and sheep for milk, cashmere, meat and other livestock products. Maintaining a regular income is a constant battle as the climate is prone to severe, freezing winters and extremely dry summers.

In the mid-1990s, as Mongolia shifted from a one-party state to a market economy, there was a sharp decline in educational opportunities. However, with support from international organizations, the government set to restructure the education system by introducing laws such as free and compulsory education for children up to age 16, and increased the budgets for school system expansion, human resources development and adult non-formal education programmes. As a result of higher school attendance, literacy rates increased significantly in 2000s.

However, despite the recent improvements in literacy rates, there are still restrictions in terms of access of education for isolated nomadic communities living and moving in remote areas. This lack of access to education can be attributed to a number of socio-economic factors including limited state budget for rural schools and lack of public awareness. In addition to these, the nomadic lifestyle of herder families makes the children, particularly the boys,drop out of school to assist the family. Currently, more than 15,000 children and adolescents are out of school and still more adult Mongolians are non-literate or semi-literate due to missed educational opportunities during the transition to democracy.

To provide education for these groups, the National Centre for Non-Formal and Distance Education (NFDE) was established under the Ministry of Education, Culture, and Science (MECS) to coordinate all the efforts done at the national level. Since 1997, on the local level, NFDE has been running Non-formal Education/Adult Learning and Education (NFE/ALE) learning centers, namely Enlightenment Centers whose main function is to provide literacy education and training for out-of school children and youth, as well as adults with little or no literacy skills. As of 2008, 349 NFE Enlightenment Centers were operating nationwide.

The Literacy Education project described here has been one of the recent successful programmes run by the NFDE center of MECS and implemented at the local level at NFE Enlightenment centers. The project was ongoing from 2008-2010 and as shown in the below map, was implemented in 23 soums of Bayan-Ulgii and Uvs aimags from the western region, Dornod and Khentii from the eastern region and Khentii aimag from the central region.


Programme Implementation: Approaches and Methodologies

The project kicked off with the publication of guidelines for the project implementation by NFDE and was followed by providing training for the teachers, as well as designing and publishing new learning materials and launching advocacy and awareness raising campaigns to encourage communities’ participation.

The literacy training was a combination of independent study by learners at home and face-to-face classes in schools and Enlightenment Centers. A total of six face-to face trainings - four in the formal classroom setting and two in non-classroom settings were organized in 23 soums. In addition some of the soums heldsummer literacy trainings..

The curriculum was developed taking into consideration different levels of learners and in close consultation with the local school administrators and teachers. The school administrators also had a key role in spreading the word, reaching out to the families and encouraging learners to join the training. In addition, it was through their support that accommodation in form of school dormitories along with free meals were provided to learners; the training venues were renovated and equipped and the teachers’ salaries during the literacy training was secured.

One of the innovative aspects of the project was the combination of literacy training with life skills. The majority of participants were adolescents and adults who had specific learning needs. For them the training was an opportunity to both improve their literacy skills and also acquire new vocational skills and learn simple income generation ideas which could be used to promote their livelihoods. Making coral ornaments, wool processing and felt handicrafts were among some of the techniques they learnt alongside the literacy training.

Teaching in the literacy training was not teacher-centred and one-way but it was done in an atmosphere of cooperation and mutual interaction. Teachers mainly tried to provide the opportunity for learners to take responsibility for their own learning and in fact “learn how to learn”. The independent nature of home studies and principles of self-directed learning also helped the learners to practice using their newly acquired knowledge in everyday life.

As the number of face-to-face group classes was limited, a lot of effort was made to ensure that learners’ independent study at home is regular and of a high quality. Self-study books and practice materials were carefully prepared by taking this fact into account. Teachers and physicians regularly visited the learners at home to check their homework, give advice and assist them in areas where they most needed help.

During the project implementation period, each soum organized four socialization activities some of which are illustrated here as examples:

Cultural and athletic events

Cultural and athletic competitions and events such as chess, sumo wrestling, rope pulling, basketball, group dance, and singing were organized to attract more people to the Enlightenment Centres and encourage future participation. During the events, information about the Enlightenment Centres, their activities and the literacy project was given to the participants and the audience.

Vocational skills training for promotion of the project

During socialization activity, certain types of short trainings were organized by learners for different target groups. The learners would display their newly acquired skills to the public and implicitly encouraged them to join the project.

Open day for Enlightenment Centres

Open days for Enlightenment Centres were organized and celebrated with the purpose of introducing the centers to the public and disseminating information about their activities and projects. In order to increase attendance in the open days, a combination of the above mentioned cultural and athletic events and competitions were held for the public.

Learning Material


One of the main purposes of the project was to organize training sessions with various contents and in different forms addressing learners’ different levels of literacy skills. To this end, specific training materials and handbooks suitable for different levels of learners had to be designed. Within the framework of the project, three main textbooks for elementary, intermediate and advanced level were prepared and 500 copies from each were published. In addition, 21 titles of handbooks were put together, each being published in 100-700 copies.

As discussed before the books aimed at increasing household income and providing life skills along with teaching literacy skills. In addition to the textbooks and handbooks, newspapers such as “University of Life” and “Future is Near”, and audio-visual materials were broadly used. The list of textbooks and handbooks used in the course of the training comes below:

 Name of training materials
1 Eyes of wisdom - 1
2 Eyes of wisdom - 2
3 Eyes of wisdom - 3
4 Expansion of intellect
5 Needs of life
6 Healthy food is more important than medicine
7 Search from within, not from others
8 Good cattleman’s herd is healthy
9 You are a lawyer, yourself
10 Anger suffers body...
11 Wool craft
12 Wool – white gold
13 Compounded ware
14 Grant your children with love
15 Your meal
16 “Monos” will blossom again
17 Preparation of compost
18 Is plastic bag a waste?
19 Exterminating the bugs and insects…
20 Is it possible to use waste again?
21 Barley flour is delicious …
22 Learning the correct knot…
23 Rules are salient
24 My inheritance is ours

Recruitment and Training of Teachers

Teachers of Enlightenment Centres took responsibility in implementing the project in their units. Almost all teachers had higher education and extensive years of working in the field of teaching. The majority were aged 26 to 42, while around 17 % of them were at the age of retirement. Almost half of them were part-time employees or had another job besides teaching.

In September 2008, a two-day training course was organized for the prospective teachers. The goal of the training was to enhance the teachers’ professional skills and to provide them with new information and knowledge about the training methodology. A total of 30 teachers participated in training, most of whom had just been appointed to work at NFDE.

The following were among the topics discussed in the training:


A total of 857 learners took part in the literacy trainings. In addition, around 100 people attended at least one of the various socialization activities organized in central soums and 80 people were involved in those which were organized in remote soums. According to the guideline, teachers from each soum selected learners using a literacy level evaluation test. 56% of learners were male and 44 % female. The fact that there were more male learners was linked to the higher dropout rate of male students as they leave school to help the family herds.

Pre-training evaluation of the literacy levels of learners by NFDE test showed that 38% of learners were illiterates, another 38% were semi-literate/neo-literate and 24% were literate. The term semi/neo literate refers to the group who had the highest tendency to lose their literacy skills if not practiced. The main goal for this group was to engage them in literacy training and help them become functional literates and use their literacy skills in everyday life.

Monitoring and Evaluation

Monitoring and evaluation was done both when the project was still in progress and after the completion.

In-progress Monitoring and Evaluation: To see the progress and to provide further support and advice to teachers, officials from the NFDE centre visited the sites in many of the soums. In-progress evaluation revealed that while progress in many of the soums was satisfactory, some were lagging behind and moving very slow in terms of their activities. In such cases, to increase attendance rates and increase the activities’ quality, measures such as full-time recruitment of teachers were taken. In addition, some of the people who were in charge of the HDL project on a local level were hired as facilitators and teachers of NFE’s enlightenment centers. The progress rate was slow at the beginning, but very soon these measures proved effective.

End-of-the-project Evaluation: In addition, NFDE also organized a survey at the end of the project in which one third of the learners participated. The results from the survey showed that most learners have found the project effective and successful. Learners stated that the training has not only increased their literacy skilled but has also improved their self-confidence, and decision-making skills. As a result, they feel more motivated to continue their further education.

Impact and Challenges


One of the conditions that influenced the project negatively was the poor support of teachers at NFE’s Enlightenment Centres. Issues such as lack of social and health care for teachers as well as inadequacy of salary, reward and bonus made a lot of teachers leave for other jobs at different points within the project. This high turnover rate of teaching staff then affected the programme in its own turn as more resources and time had to be spent on recruiting and training new personnel.

Another main challenge was the difficulties arising from lack of infrastructure such as transportation and regular communication. NFDE center at the Ministry had to work with the NFE Enlightenment Centres in the field to provide daily advice and directives, however, lack of well-developed infrastructures made communication and mailing services dysfunctional at times. In the same line, severe weather conditions, such as heavy snowfalls and blizzards as well as breakout of swine flu created problems in the smooth implementation of the projects and delayed some of the activities.


A total of 857 learners participated in the training. Of these 38 % were totally illiterate who by the end of the programme could read and write. The other 62 % used the training to enhance their literacy skills. After the training, around 5% of all learners transferred to formal secondary schools. Around 47.4% continued to receive elementary and secondary education through NFE’s equivalency program, and 4.2% were admitted to the national centre of occupational training and continued to study.

The end of the project evaluation showed that not only the literacy skills of a large number of participants have increased but also the learners’ attitude towards studying and learning has dramatically changed, and they were now more willing and interested in making decisions for their education. Through the project, local communities learnt how to express their learning needs to the NFE enlightenment centres and take an active role in their learning. The increase in the activism and enthusiasm of the public has been considered as one of the positive impacts of the project.

Some of the other side impacts of the project are also briefly referred to below:

Lessons learned

Below are some of the lessons that have emerged during the project:



Ms. Togtokhmaa Z.
Specialist of National Centre for Non-formal and Distance Education
Government Building 10, Barilgachdyn Talbai 2
Chingeltei District
Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
Tel: +976 11 325131