Mongolia: Continuous education for children with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis

Though the COVID-19 crisis has had negative impacts on learning, in Mongolia it also brought opportunities to introduce new ways of teaching and learning to meet the needs of children with disabilities.

April 27, 2021 by Ch. Gantsetseg, Ministry of Education and Science, Mongolia, and Akiko Sugai, JICA Mongolia Office
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5 minutes read
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In Mongolia, inclusive education for children with disabilities aims for all children to learn together as well as from each other. Credit: JICA START Project
In Mongolia, inclusive education for children with disabilities aims for all children to learn together as well as from each other.
Credit: JICA START Project

In Mongolia, all schools have been closed as preventive measures against COVID-19 since January 2020. Though schools reopened in September 2020, due to the spread of the virus, all schools and kindergartens were closed again from November 2020 up to now, impacting more than 900,000 students. One of the biggest concerns is to ensure continuity of education for all children during the closures.

The Ministry of Education and Science (MES), Government of Mongolia, and other development partners have implemented various activities and projects to secure health and education for children during this time, such as distance learning, a guidebook to support home-based learning, and the provision of materials for disinfection following the Contingency plan. A GPE grant of USD 70,000 in 2020 supported the related activities.

While the government and education stakeholders turned to online classes to ensure continued learning, some children were left behind: children with disabilities, from herder communities in rural areas, ethnic minorities and those who don’t speak the Mongolian language. They don’t have access to internet connections, devices and learning materials tailored to their specific needs during the pandemic.

Ensuring access to education for all children, regardless of their development level and geographical location, is one of the objectives of the Education Sector Mid-term Development Plan (2021-2030). To achieve this objective, equal and inclusive education services are actively promoted by all actors such as the government, development partners, and non-governmental organizations.

To cope with the challenges vulnerable children face, education actors have further strengthened their collaboration and various types of support have been provided. One of them is a new initiative to support children with disabilities in distance learning.

Using technology to support visually impaired children

In Mongolia, there are about 6,300 children with disabilities studying in primary and secondary schools. During school closures, children's learning has mainly depended on TV lessons broadcasted by the government.

All TV lessons were designed with sign language for deaf children, and lessons for children with intellectual disabilities were also created. While it was expected that visually impaired children were able to learn by listening to the TV lessons, many couldn’t keep up.

The MES and teachers of special school for visually impaired children suggested the adoption of the “Digital Accessible Information System (DAISY)” to improve the learning environment for those children. DAISY is a world-wide standard for digital talking books for people who are visually impaired or have a print disability.

Since most textbooks for all grades and subjects (except mathematics and science) are digitally published in Mongolia, just by introducing a digital player designated for DAISY were visually impaired students able to read textbooks by themselves anytime and anywhere.

In collaboration between the MES and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), 160 DAISY players equipped with 70 digital textbooks were provided to all students and teachers of the Special School for visually impaired children. Usage of DAISY in school and home-based learning were promptly adopted under the strong leadership of the management of the school.

A new experience for teachers and students

Visually impaired students began to use DAISY players for the first time when schools were temporarily re-opened in September 2020. It was a new experience for them and their teachers. With the smartphone-sized DAISY player in which textbooks are installed, students can read textbooks anywhere even without a connection to the internet.

They can select and play the part of the textbook they want to read at the touch of a button, and they can also adjust the reading speed. With Internet access, users can send and receive any digital documents to the player.

Though all schools were closed again in November 2020, fortunately students were able to take the players home with them and continue to study with the textbooks and other materials provided by teachers.

Teacher Amarzaya shares her best practice in utilizing the DAISY player: "I install all assignments and reference materials into the player on a daily basis. Then, I can give a clear instruction of daily requirements to students that enhance their accountability for the assignment."

A positive change in teachers’ activities and attitudes has been observed.

A teacher says, “the time and effort of creating teaching materials in Braille has been significantly reduced, and more time can be devoted to individual and direct instruction to children at school. In addition to textbooks, we are now able to provide materials that children want to read through DAISY players.”

Another positive impact brought by DAISY players are self-confidence and intellectual curiosity of students. Before, they always needed support from caregivers to do homework, but now they can study by themselves.

Their reading materials are not limited to the textbooks. With the player, they can search the Internet and select what they want to hear depending on topics and subjects they are interested in.

Students who like English can hear English audio by native speakers, and one who likes music can listen to it. Also, students have more interaction and communication with friends with or without disabilities on shared topics and hobbies than before. Studying by themselves and opening new worlds thorough DAISY players contributed to increasing their confidence and joy of learning.

Of course, there are some challenges: for example, it is difficult to study science and mathematics because they include symbols, graphs, and formulas that cannot be clearly understood only by audio.

It takes more time for children, especially in the lower grades, to learn how to operate the player. Nevertheless, DAISY has greatly broadened the world of visually impaired children, enabling them to ensure continuity of learning during school closures.

A way forward

The COVID-19 crisis has had negative impacts on learning in school. But it also brought opportunities to search and introduce new ways of teaching and learning, meeting the needs of children with disabilities.

In the MES, we recognized a high-risk for children with disabilities to get behind in their studies, and DAISY players and e-textbooks have functioned to avoid such a risk. Now, with DAISY, teachers and visually impaired children can learn together even in distance in a shorter time.

We hope that these positive changes in teaching and learning brought by this new device will lead to the academic development of children with disabilities in the future.

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East Asia and Pacific: Mongolia

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