2006: Bringing libraries to every classroom, and mobile telephones and internet to every town, in rural Mongolia

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Today we look at 2006, the 16th year of the 25 year partnership between Mongolia and the World Bank. The economy continued to grow, checking in at 8.6% for the year, as did industry’s share of GDP which peaked that year at 43%. 

The year 2006 was a banner year for the World Bank’s program in Mongolia, with several iconic projects approved that year, starting with one in rural education. 

An institutional and governance review of budget expenditure for education found that the pupil-per-teacher ratio is higher in urban schools. Among other findings, the Public Expenditure Tracking Survey (PETS), on which the report was based, illustrated that students in rural schools obtained significantly lower test scores than those from urban schools, consistent with “a pattern where the more disadvantaged — and therefore lower-performing students — systematically fail to advance their schooling and drop out at a younger age in the rural areas.”  The need to provide rural children better education opportunities, which had been a theme for years, had further evidence.

The Rural Education and Development (READ) Project aimed, first, to help enhance education quality in rural primary school grades 1-5 by increasing the amount of learning materials available to students and teachers while supporting teachers and their school networks in the use of learning materials. The project established classroom libraries and promoted reading through professional development, professional teacher networks, and a public reading campaign. The project also strove to strengthen the government's capacity to monitor student learning through participation in national and international assessments. The project was expanded over the years and by its completion, the READ project had helped set up classroom libraries in all 383 primary schools in rural Mongolia, and kick-started a book publishing industry in the process.  Primary school children were encouraged to create small books to tell stories about their lives, an exercise that has improved their literacy. (Video here.)  The project’s completion report noted that “simple innovative project designs that focus on quality, when administered well, can have substantial impact.” Indeed, a randomized control trial incorporated into the design of the project provided strong evidence on the project’s impact of both books and teacher training on student achievement.

Mongolia’s economy was growing and demand for ICT services was keeping pace—the ICT market grew over 25% annually in the early 2000s. In the most sparsely populated country in the world, however, such growth of the ICT infrastructure was only seen to be cost-effective in urban areas.  In the countryside, only about one in one hundred people had a telephone connection in 2005.  The Information and Communications Infrastructure Development Project used a public-private-partnership approach to demonstrate the viability of connecting rural areas.  Between 2005 and 2013, all 360 soum centers (villages) in Mongolia gained access to modern phone and Internet services, and 34 soum centers have access to high speed Internet.  The number of telephone minutes originating in soum centers expanded more than 40-fold, and the number of Internet users in soum centers increased from only 300 in 2006 to 12,000 in 2013.  The project also “improved the policy and regulatory environment and promoted investments in ICT in rural areas, which ensured the continued additional annual investment in the ICT sector of the country – annual investment increased from $37.6 million in 2005 to $395 million in 2013.”  What difference would such an expansion of ICT to rural areas make for the lives of people? Watch this video or this one.

While these two projects focused on rural areas, the needs of the cities were also expanding.  With the large rural-urban migration and concomitant expansion of ger areas, sanitation was a growing concern.  A community dialogue tool kit for ger areas “provides the different illustrated materials as an accompanying set of ‘information education communication’ (IEC) to be used during the conduct of the community dialogue for the promotion of hygiene and sanitation. The guidelines on how to use the community dialogue tool kit is included in the manual on promotion of hygiene and sanitation.”

In the year 2006, the World Bank also maintained its long-standing support for the areas of public finance and poverty measurement.  The Governance Assistance Project (GAP), building on earlier projects, aimed to strengthen public financial management in Mongolia.  The project improved the efficiency and effectiveness of management of the public finance framework, notably in the areas of debt management, the rollout of the Government Financial Management Information System (GFMIS) to all soums, better control over budget execution and the single treasury account. The project helped the Government of Mongolia improve human resources expenditure management, improve the system of tax administration, and expand the transparency of fiscal information. The GAP also helped make the Computerized Mining Cadaster System, used to record and manage all mineral licenses, fully functional.

A new Poverty Assessment was published, examining trends in monetary and nonmonetary aspects of poverty.  It also established baseline poverty information based on the first nationally representative household survey and analyzed poverty related issues in selected sectors — livestock, education, and energy.  The assessment concluded that “Both monetary and non-money-metric poverty has fallen in recent years. Monetary and non-monetary indicators from household surveys, as well as external sources of data, indicate that poverty fell by about 7 percentage points from 43 percent to 36 percent between 1998 and 2002.* Between 2002 and 2005, estimates indicate that poverty reduction has continued though, in the absence of household surveys during the last four years, this result should be interpreted with caution.  During the period 1998-2003, living standards rose markedly—access to electricity and water rose by 50 percent, and ownership of selected consumer durables doubled. Primary and secondary enrollment rates rose by 10 percentage points.”

A recurring theme in this series of the 25 years since Mongolia joined the World Bank has been Mongolia’s use of universal transfers, or categorically targeted transfers, rather than focusing on poverty.  In 2006, a detailed assessment of the Child Money Program and the properties of its targeting methodology raised concerns on the rapid growth, and large coverage of the CMP and its implications in terms of its fiscal sustainability.

Next we look at 2007, the year of the solar ger.
 
*As poverty thresholds are adjusted periodically, these measures are not comparable to the poverty estimates published more recently.

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