Having only spent five months teaching at a private university, I do not wish to judge the state of education in Mongolia until my stint here is done. Only then, I believe, will I have acquired enough experience to give an informed opinion.

In the meantime, feel free to peruse the articles below from The Mongol Messenger and The UB Post; they will give readers at least a small idea of what life is like for teachers and students, here.

State Schools Criticised for Not Pushing Children Academically
Teachers from the privately run Sant School have criticised state secondary schools. They say that state schools do not push their pupils hard enough academically, and have shortened lessons, not providing enough classes to cover the spectrum of subjects thoroughly.
The Sant School specialises in teaching mathematics and foreign languages, and believe that their students are more successful due to their superior curriculum. Apparently, their students often take first places in the national, city, and district mathematics Olympiads. “Mongolian children are used to a soft and easy training programme. Parents are afraid to enrol their children in more classes. There has not been any student that has been stressed out during the four academic years we’ve been operating, despite out more intensive programme,” said G. Zurgaanjin, director of the Sant School.
The school recently organised a mathematics Olympiad for students of grades one through five. Most of the gold-medal winners were students from Sant School.

Private Colleges Give Education a Bad Name
Of 172 universities and educational institutions in Mongolia, 134 are privately managed. Private colleges are often set up by business people who rent out a room furnished with the paraphernalia of a schoolroom: desks, chairs and blackboards. Teachers are hired, and students pay set fees.
On average, 17,000 to 20,000 students finish secondary school each year, with less than 50% of students going on to further education at state-run institutions.
A large number of students who enroll in private colleges do so having failed entrance exams to state colleges. Private colleges tend to offer popular subjects such as law, economics and languages, usually English. The number of students taking language classes represents about 50% of private colleges’ annual intake, proving the popularity of foreign language study and the desire of young people to be bilingual in order to further their careers, and study and work abroad.
Twenty-six out of 33 economic colleges are privately owned, as are 22 out of 27 law schools, whose lack of educational standards causes concern for the government, especially as 10% of the adult student population chose these institutes to take their degrees at. The Ministry of Education, Culture and Science has prohibited the establishment of private colleges within the next three years and closed down over 10 establishments, including ‘Tsambagarav’, ‘New Century’, and the ‘Registration and Statistical Institute’ because of the poor quality of their teaching.
Another concern for the government is the fact that only 10% of private schools are based in the countryside, which is leading to a mass influx of young people to Ulaanbaatar. The centralization of education in Ulaanbaatar encourages population centralization – the countryside population is depleted of its young people, who, having completed their course of study, tend to remain in Ulaanbaatar to seek a career in their chosen field.
Regional development and quality education in the aimag capitals would stem the flow of young people to the capital, the government believes. But they have not yet taken into account the lure of the ‘bright lights, bright city’ syndrome, which to some is as much an attraction as a three-year degree course.

Private Schools to Receive Government Funding
Mongolia’s private and secondary schools held their first forum on January 26. A. Tsanjid, the Minister for Education, Science and Culture, observed that the influx of private schools will provide a much-needed boost to improving teaching standards through increased competitiveness, although he admitted that private and state schools are currently unified by poor teaching standards.
The first private secondary school was founded in 1993; today. There are seventy-seven private schools, and 6.6% of all Mongolian students attend them. Private secondary schools charge students between T15,000 and T500,000 per annum, which is equivalent to the fees charged by higher education institutes. Yet the quality of their curriculum is often poor. There is a lack of teachers, and the schools generally don’t own their own buildings, which are usually rented out by the state. Meanwhile, state schools cannot cope with the number of pupils crammed into their dilapidated buildings.
The Minister of Education has announced that from now on, permission to establish a private school will not be given unless the organisation possesses its own building.
A survey of thirty private secondary schools found that subjects such as Mongolian language, literature, and music classes were taught between 10 and 100 hours less than is standard. Some classes were taught by unqualified teachers, and many did not have sufficient training materials, leading the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture to conclude that Ulaanbaatar’s private schools offer a sub-standard education when compared to local state schools.
The Ministry of Education, Science and Culture approved across the board teaching standards in 1998, but these are violated by private schools. The directors of private schools assert that they offer flexible teaching programmes and a lower pupil-to-teacher ratio, and that their teaching standards and programmes meet the expectations of parents and the requirements of students. Most private schools specialise in foreign languages, mathematics, music, and computer studies, to the detriment of other subjects. Unlike state primary schools, private primary schools teach foreign languages.
The government spends T64,000 per year on each state primary school student, T68,000 on each state secondary school student, and T72,000 on each state high-school student. Fifty-one percent (or T21 billion) of Ulaanbaatar’s budget is spent on the education sector. The amount allocated to each student is split between paying teachers’ salaries, books, and electricity.
P. Dorj, chairman of the Education Office of Ulaanbaatar, has said that they are considering funding those private schools that provide a sound state education and extra classes. Private schools currently do not receive any state funding. Dorj has also said that permission may be given to private schools so that they can build their own buildings.

[...] Educators often compromise their position through bribery. It is a sad indictment of the Mongolian education system when any individual can buy their way through school. To ensure a favourable assessment, students or their parents can offer a bribe to school or college officials. Furthermore, less academically inclined students can simply purchase the degree of their choice. The market price for a Master’s degree is around T50,000. This almost renders higher education worthless.
[...] Mongolia has the dubious honour of having 40% of its population crowned Doctors of Science. Dubious because a huge number of these were not earned, but bought. Thus, there is the peculiar situation where the most qualified academicians and professionals may not be able to explain the most basic aspects of their “education”. While this is largely a measure to gain professional prestige, it also entitles those most qualified to higher salaries.