Mongolia's school feeding program: Investing across sectors to give children the nutrition they need

Efforts from GPE and development partners offer a comprehensive approach towards advancing school feeding in Mongolia.

June 27, 2023 by Ayurzana Bayarmaa, Save the Children Japan
4 minutes read
Practical training at the MUST laboratory. Credit: Ayurzana Bayarmaa
Practical training at the MUST laboratory.
Credit: Ayurzana Bayarmaa

GPE has allocated US$5 million to support the implementation of Mongolia's Education Sector Mid-term Plan for 2022 to 2025.

The “Enabling Equity to Advance Learning” project, implemented by the Ministry of Education and Science (MES) and with Save the Children as grant agent, focuses on 3 priority areas in the education sector: inclusive education, a school feeding program and blended learning that combines in-person teaching with online learning sessions.

The school feeding program targets 45 schools, reaching over 48,000 children.

As part of the initiative, a total of 36 school nutritionists are going to be trained. This complements KOICA’s (Korea International Cooperation Agency) and JICA's (Japan International Cooperation Agency) existing programs in Mongolia by improving the quality of food production and service in schools.

During the academic year 2022-2023, the National School Lunch Program feeds, on average, 382,000 children a day in Mongolia at a cost of MNT₮176.5 billion (US$52 million).

With so many children receiving as much as 45 - 50% of their daily caloric intake from school meals, it is vital that schools provide nutritious food alongside the best possible education to ensure student success.

Credit: Ayurzana Bayarmaa
Some of the food cooked during a 2-day training for cooks and nutritionists at 45 target schools.
Ayurzana Bayarmaa

The MESs in Mongolia has developed the following initiatives since the start of the project:

1. Nutritionist scholarship

Full funding for a short-term bachelor's degree in nutrition in collaboration with MES and the Mongolian University of Science and Technology (MUST) to address the country’s current lack of qualified nutritionists.

Every school should have a nutritionist according to a 2021 government resolution, but there are currently only 7 school-based nutritionists and 685 vacancies across Mongolia. The School of Industrial Technology at MUST will train a total of 36 nutritionists as part of this initiative, 27 of whom have accessed the scholarship.

The scholarship program enrolled a cohort of 14 students in the spring semester of 2021-2022, 8 in the fall semester of 2022-2023 and 5 in the spring semester of 2023.

L. Tsedevsuren, State Secretary of MES at the Scholarship  Award Ceremony.
L. Tsedevsuren, State Secretary of MES at the Scholarship Award Ceremony.
Ayurzana Bayarmaa

14 nutritionists graduated in January 2023, starting work at a contracted general education school.

Practical training at the MUST laboratory
Ayurzana Bayarmaa

2. Two-day training for cooks and nutritionists at 45 target schools

School meal staff from rural areas were trained at the MUST capacity building center to support school feeding human resources in Mongolia. 135 school administrators, cooks and nutritionists from 45 target schools participated.

The training aimed to educate cooks and food production staff on nutritious food menus, different technological approaches to cooking and food preparation, hygiene, manufacturing practices and equipment safety.

The training from MUST was highly beneficial as participants learned new skills like kitchen safety and gluten-free cookie-making. The training will continue to be offered to cooks, nutritionists and school meal staff over the next 2 years.

3. National Forum on School Lunch

Jointly organized by MES, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, the National Forum on School Lunch brought together over 1,200 participants including local-level representatives and members of Parliament, government and ministries.

The forum aimed to address challenges in children's food tied to nutritional quality and accessibility as well as how to reduce impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, and develop practical solutions. It also aimed to promote nutrition education and raise awareness about healthy school lunches.

The Forum focused on the following school lunch program outcome areas: nutritional quality, program costs, human capacity and access and integrity.

Main recommendations that resulted from discussions included: strengthening collaboration between government, parents, businesses and citizens for school lunches, food safety and nutrition; increasing funding and the available budget to improve food quality and accessibility; seeking international funding for school meals and developing new initiatives; and the promotion of accurate food consumption information and healthy behavioral changes.

The MES will further analyze the forum’s themes and provide recommendations for policy priorities, implementation options and timelines.

L. Enkh-Amgalan, Minister of Education and Science at the National Forum. Credit: Ayurzana Bayarmaa
L. Enkh-Amgalan, Minister of Education and Science at the National Forum.
Ayurzana Bayarmaa

Although still in its early days, Mongolia’s school feeding program shows the potential of combining initiatives that target different stakeholders so as to increase collaboration toward a common goal: quality nutrition for all children.

The nutritionist scholarship and training course reflect Mongolia’s commitment to investing in a qualified workforce for food health and preparation that is active in all of its schools. The forum has laid the foundation for a unified political and governmental approach to children’s nutrition.

The efforts of GPE and development partners are offering a comprehensive approach towards advancing school feeding in Mongolia.

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