MIL in Mongolia: The global digital schoolroom | Media and Information Literacy | DW | 22.04.2024
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MIL in Mongolia: The global digital schoolroom

Sixty percent of all Mongolians are under 30 years old and "digital natives." German and Mongolian experts worked together to lay the foundation for students and their teachers to address media literacy in the classroom.

One may call it a revolution when a single Facebook account can be a global mass medium, when 99 percent of school students own a smartphone, but only one in ten say they have ever flipped through a newspaper. UNESCO, the United Nations’ education agency, recognized the importance of this development by promoting Media and Information Literacy (MIL) as a new field of learning that aims to provide "an interrelated set of competencies that help people to maximize advantages and minimize harm in the new information, digital and communication landscapes."

How to avoid being bullied online. How to separate fake from fact. There are many lessons to learn for students, parents, teachers and older generations in particular who are struggling to keep up with the pace of change.

DW Akademie – joined by its national partners Mongolian Education Alliance (MEA), the Press Institute of Mongolia (PIM) and the Faro Foundation – started introducing MIL to Mongolian to classrooms back in 2019.

DW-Akademie in der Mongolei

Bajargal Bakhuyag, executive director of the Mongolian Education Alliance, a DW Akademie partner

In retrospect, the encounter between a group of German MIL experts and Batjargal Batkhuyag can be seen as the starting point of this story. As MEA's executive director, Batjargal also organizes state-certified training courses for active teachers in all parts of the country – a laborious and not very profitable business.

"At the time of our first discussions with DW Akademie's experts, MEA trainers used to spend days traveling across the steppe to qualify the staff of a single school," he said, recalling his colleagues' year-long business routines. Back then, school authorities reserved the privilege to decide training priorities and school principals determined the selection of training topics.

"At that time, there was very little room for innovative thinking," added Batjargal. "My biggest concern was to cover the cost of our basic service to the schools."

New MIL Allies

DW Akademie's cooperation offered something different: collaboration for creativity; group work in video meetings instead of lecture-style teaching; comics; a variety of visuals including digital pinboards and sticky notes; training for trainers on- and offline. 

As a project manager for DW Akademie in Mongolia, Dina Sielbeck can still picture the excitement of her Mongolian partners over the new digital learning tools and MIL ideas from Germany. This was even more evident after the group decided to publicly advertise MIL as a subject for school curriculum.

DW-Akademie in der Mongolei

DW Akademie project manager Dina Sielbeck

"It was clear to us that we had to get the teachers on our side in order to promote MIL as a school topic," said Sielbeck. "Not to mention the young people themselves who populate social media in large numbers but don't reflect on it critically." 

"MIL4Edu" (MIL for education) was the slogan of a social media campaign that MEA and DW Akademie designed together with the Faro Foundation – a private language school and technology agency specializing in educational topics. The joint initiative succeeded in inspiring prominent journalists and social media influencers to directly address the young target group. The campaign ended up receiving 1.5 million social media impressions and reached almost twenty percent of Mongolia’s population. 

"As an organization, we had long devoted our attention to youth matters," said Faro’s founder and CEO, Byambajargal Ayushjav. "Nevertheless, I was stunned by the momentum that the MIL issue has gained in Mongolia in such a short space of time. We were obviously there at the right time with the right message."

Mongolei | media information literacy

Byambajargal Ayushjav of the Faro Foundation as a panelist at Digital Nation 21 Expo organized by Ministry of Digital Development and Communication

MIL Booster during COVID

It may be seen as an ironic coincidence that Mongolia was also hit by the COVID pandemicin 2020. Schools had to close to prevent the spread of the virus. A TV studio became a substitute classroom where teachers found themselves acting in front of a camera deprived of any opportunity for interaction with their students.

The national state of emergency lasted for more than a year. The damage to the school kids’ learning progress cannot be fully assessed to this day. Yet, Sielbeck can take a lot of positives from the situation back then.

"The COVID crisis made us realize how crucial modern, interactive, digital learning concepts are for the success or failure of our schooling system – in Mongolia and in Germany," she said.

One can assume that similar considerations contributed to the Ministry of Education's decision to completely digitize in-service training for teachers at public schools. A new and centralized online platform has been operational since the end of 2023. For Batjargal, meanwhile, project achievements go way beyond numbers.

Mongolei | media information literacy

Ulziibuyan Otgonbayar, MIL trainer for the Faro Foundation, during an MIL training at a Mongolian school

"When our German colleagues introduced us to MIL as a subject for school education, it opened a completely new way of thinking as it derived teaching content from the young people's life reality," he said. "We could go even further and say that MIL is in itself a concept for critical thinking." 

Despite all his recent successes and decades of experience as an education worker, Batjargal is somewhat alienated from the image of a revolutionary and world-changer. "We have achieved what we have achieved primarily through cooperation and a healthy sense of purpose. And because we were actually looking for new ideas and concepts for our children's education."

Dina Sielbeck seconds this. "In 2024, we expect 1,000 teachers to individually opt in for MIL training. Five years ago, I would have considered this goal "crazy" myself. But that's exactly how it is likely to turn out."

This article was first published in "The Mongol Messenger," operated by the Mongolian MONTSAME National News Agency. It has been lightly edited.

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