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Problems for Mongolian Learners In order to understand the problems of
In order to understand the problems of the modern Mongolian language learner, one must first examine the context of Mongolia today. In this paper I will examine the history of education, its current accessibility and trends, and social issues that contribute to the learning environment for students in Mongolia. They have had a century of dramatic changes which must first be known.
During most of the twentieth century Mongolia remained a Soviet communist state called the Mongolian People´s Republic. This stage spanned from 1924 through 1990 when the Democratic Revolution shifted Mongolia to independence and democracy. The education system has changed in reaction to political and economic national trends. At the onset of the twentieth century Mongolians were educated in monasteries. Buddhism and monastic culture flourished. Then about ten percent of the adult population at best were literate. However this part of culture was devastated by Russians who nearly completely purged Buddhist monks and institutions form the nation. In its place Russians introduced a universal education system. As a result an estimated 96% of the population had achieved literacy by 1990 (Christenson 169).
Trends in education since Mongolia´s Democratic beginning include both growth and setbacks. Education funding has been cut and the dropout level has increased. Poor public schools have emerged as a result of lowered government funding, but private schools have been replenishing the deficits (Christenson 169). The mobility and profession of many Mongolians as nomadic herders greatly impedes the accessibility of education to all young Mongolians. Even though education is provided for children ages seven to seventeen, many cannot take advantage of these ten provisioned years. This is caused by family financial pressures. From 1990 to 1995, the completion rate of these ten years of schooling dropped from 87 % to 57%. What is also alarming is the disproportionate dropout increase amongst males. By 1999, approximately 70% of enrolled university students were females (Hanson 115)! Is this mainly a result of family economic pressures where the family reaction is to retain boys at home to work or is it the result of greater value shifts or other societal problems' The true root cause is unknown at this point.
Educators are working to address the needs of nomadic herding families by providing free board for their children in town schools. This is necessary because under the Democratic government specific funds for subsidies, homes, health care, vacation and retirement money, and incentives for pregnant women and families have been depleted and cut. Survival has become more difficult in the harsh Mongolian climate, as families work to provide more for themselves where the state no longer aids (Hanson 116-117). Other distractions and problems on a societal scale include alcoholism (approximately one half of the adult population drinks excessively), domestic and family violence, and the rise in homeless street children (Hanson 117). These are interlinked problems, the last especially impedes this specific young population from getting an education because their basic needs far outweigh any desire and ability to learn. In addition with decreases in health care provisions infectious diseases rise especially with less access to clean drinking water. General life expectancy and health issues decrease quality of life and the focus on learning (Pang 86). Because education funds have decreased teachers are being paid less. Above we noted the increase in private institutions, however, in public institutions where teachers are paid less now, corruption has arisen. Now students bribe these weakened teachers for good grades (Hanson 116). This is a clear disadvantage for classroom learning, rapport is diminished amongst students and teacher-student relationships, trust decreases, and students do not equally receive fair and consistent teaching. In addition, in higher education, teachers´ salaries have been cut to pay for essentials like heating. As a result the cost of salaries has been deferred to students in the form of tuition fees (Christenson 170- 171). Therefore, students decreasingly continue through college education according to notes from 2005 (Peoples of Eastern Asia 104). Although, statistics from 1997, had recorded enrollment numbers in college at 36,000 (Christenson 170-171).
Finally there are specific differences in the Mongolian language itself which can present themselves as problems for language learners. Again, within the recent history of the past century Mongolian language has changed form frequently. The Russian directed government imposed a new Cyrillic alphabet on the Mongolian language system. However not all Mongolian sounds can be phonetically translated even with added letters. The Cyrillic alphabet is based on the Greek alphabet and hence bears some resemblance to the Roman alphabet. At present, Mongolians are making efforts to reintroduce their traditional Mongolian script back into the classroom. It reads from top down and does not use a Greek or Roman alphabet but rather a script that looks quite different (Pang 86). With focus on the script, attention would be shifted away from other foreign languages such as English for example. However, Mongolians do have a demonstrated history of language learning and a dynamic written language form. The structure of Mongolian language has some other key differences form English. Their sentence order places the verb at the end of a sentence. In addition suffixes are used to indicate different parts of speech i.e. subjects and objects (Christensen 186). These specifics make Mongolian language more similar to Korean, but may complicate the learning of English. In sum, the social, economic, and political upheavals even up through the past few decades have really impacted the lives of Mongolians, specifically Mongolian students. Accessibility to education has waxed and waned more recently, but as situations which have been crises become stable it should again increase in accessibility For example, as Mongolia becomes increasingly global in its relationships and as more funds can be allocated to education and other social needs education will become more available. However, while family problems continue whether resulting from poverty or abuse, inevitable difficulties arise for hopeful students. In addition, the structure of Mongolian language also proposes some difficulty for students attempting to learn English. It will require much emphasis on teaching receptive literacy skills. Although, as recent history records Mongolians have learned to value literacy and communication internationally, so the Mongolian learner should continue to progress.
Works Cited Christensen, Karen and Levinson, David, eds. Encyclopedia of Modern Asia. vol 4. New York: Thomson Gale, 2002. Hanson, Jennifer L. Nations in Transition: Mongolia. New York: Facts on File, 2004.
Pang, Guek-Cheng. Cultures of the World: Mongolia. New York: Marshall Cavendish, 1999.
Peoples of Eastern Asia. vol. 8. New York: Marshall Cavendish, 2005.