OneSky: Early Childhood Education in Mongolia
By Maya Bowen, Global Programs Coordinator, OneSky for all children
Due to mass migration and urbanization, the population in Ulaanbaatar, the capital city of Mongolia, has increased exponentially. With this rise in population has come a growing number of families in desperate need of child care services. Understanding the need for quality child care, the Mongolian government collaborated with OneSky for all children (OneSky) to support the training of nursery workers and bring our proven OneSky Approach to one of the three state-run nurseries in Ulaanbaatar, with the goal of helping at-risk children.
My mother, Jenny Bowen, founded OneSky over 20 years ago after she adopted me and saw the effect that quality care can have on children who had disadvantaged beginnings. Since then, OneSky’s impact on children’s lives has inspired me to step up, give back, and take part in the change. I am currently working at OneSky as the Global Programs Coordinator, supporting the quality of our programs by developing training material, researching, writing, and conducting evaluations. In October 2018, I accompanied our training team to Ulaanbaatar to set up our first pilot project in one of the three state-run nurseries. While half of our team began the first round of training, I assisted the other half of the team in conducting classroom observations to collect baseline data before intervention.
The nursery serves 1- to 2-year-old children from September to May; thereafter, children either attend public or private kindergartens or stay at home. Every day, families drop off their children at the nursery at around 8 a.m. In the winter, this drop-off time is particularly busy, as parents help remove the children’s layers of clothing that were necessary in the harsh environment outside. The children are then passed onto the nurses and caregivers and their day begins.
The routine includes constant movement. Children move in groups from toileting to play time to health treatments (if needed), to meal times and nap time; finally, they prepare to be picked up by their parents at 4:30 pm. With only two caregivers per classroom, the staff work tirelessly to ensure every child is cared for and the routine continues smoothly. They have little time in their schedule to sit down and interact with the children. As a result, the children often sit around waiting for caregivers to transition them to the next activity.
One nurse in bright pink scrubs caught my attention. Her name was Nurse Tumee, and I would see her at her desk jotting down notes, preparing meals, and rushing to get children their health treatments. As one of the head nurses, she had been working at the nursery for seven years. It was clear that she took her job quite seriously and cared for the children deeply. During one free-play session I observed, two children began fighting when one child stole the other’s toy. Nurse Tumee separated them and tried to comfort the crying child. However, the child's tears were relentless and Nurse Tumee was immediately needed elsewhere. The other child, who was desperately seeking attention and clearly had underdeveloped social-emotional skills from lack of child-adult interactions, had stolen a toy from another child. I watched as Nurse Tumee bounced from one child to the next, trying to comfort but unable to give the responsive individualized care that each child needed.
During our training sessions, Nurse Tumee was one of the most passionate learners, contributing to the discussions, participating in role plays, and asking questions. It was as if she became a child herself, hungrily soaking in all the new knowledge. Our trainers focused on teaching the caregivers to focus not only on the physical health of the children, but also on all other developmental areas. Topics of discussion included brain development, the responsive cycle, responsive actions, attachment, language development, importance of play, and the learning environment. The caregivers participated in a discussion for each topic and were able to apply the practice during classroom visits.
The entire OneSky early intervention included hiring 10 additional caregivers to lower the caregiver-to-child ratio; conducting a one-week training on responsive care for all staff; monitoring and providing ongoing, on-site support by the early child development (ECD) specialist; and conducting an evaluation for program improvement.
Following the week of training, we conducted another round of classroom observations to assess the program quality after the intervention. Upon entry into the classroom, we saw caregivers dispersed around the classroom giving individual responsive attention to small groups of children in different play corners. Nurse Tumee was sitting on the floor with a small group of children huddled around her. The children laughed and clapped their hands in pure joy while exploring the new books. She observed their excitement and responded by engaging them in a story. She was using the responsive cycle to promote language development! With all the positive interactions and stimulation from the caregivers, the children were happily occupied and tantrums for attention had ceased. The transformation after the OneSky training was amazing.
Twenty years ago, OneSky began its work in Chinese orphanages to provide nurturing responsive care, transforming the lives of hundreds of thousands of orphaned children. Through the years of working with the Chinese government, OneSky has learned how to reach children who have been neglected, abandoned, and abused in their early years and help them achieve their full potential. Today, OneSky focuses on the training of trainers, direct caregiver training, and demonstration of best practices through OneSky Early Learning Centers to help improve the lives of left-behind children. I feel fortunate to be able to take part in changing the lives of these at-risk children and to help bring OneSky’s years of experience and proven methodology to make a positive difference for the vulnerable children in Mongolia.