A few years ago, I had written a piece based on data drawn from We Are Social detailing the landscape of Mongolia for mobile. I think of how mobile, and mobile learning, can accelerate development in an area that seems about poised to develop. And once again how to bridge a nomadic culture into a knowledge disseminating one (if that is indeed what they decide they want to do). How mobile can mitigate distance and the lack of population density. How to harness the knowledge potential of a highly literate society with a good pedagogical framework and, if the situation demands, a pinch of ICT. So why Mongolia? Technically it is classified as a transitioning economy and so falls a bit outside what you might have seen on this site so far. Yet, it remains one of the most sparsely populated countries on earth, approximately 2 people per square kilometre compared to the 516 per square kilometre from where I am writing you now, the Republic of Korea (World Bank, 2013). It is increasingly urbanized (the rural population has decreased 4.3% in a three year span from 2010-2013 (World Bank). And contrary to what many might think, rural populations are increasing in many parts of the developing world. Mongolia is gradually headed in the opposite direction.
This, at least for mobile learning or ICT based learning of any sort presents advantages. Greater access to existing technological infrastructure (primarily in the capital and largest city, Ulan Bator, which houses about half the total population of the country), greatest concentration of educational institutions to structure and accredit the learning, greater opportunity for networking and collaboration and student resiliency. Mongolia is currently a highly literate society (well over 97%) and a relatively educated one (access to education is almost guaranteed).
According to the We are Social data, and corroborated (approximately) in the years since then through other data sources (World Bank, UNICEF, etc.), many of the educational and technological data suggests are positive. We see elementary school participation at over 100% (possible as repeat students and students over a particular age are counted), secondary school participation at well above 70%, and even pre-primary school participation at well over 80%. There are some discrepancies between male and female access to education, but not as severe as one might see in many places. Technologically, there are over 100 mobile phones per 100 people, heavy investment in infrastructure (cloud investment primarily from China), limited internet user growth, all suggesting an environment with great potential for mobile.
Yet, there remains in Mongolia a persistent streak, both demographically and culturally, of nomadism. So, we see a highly literate, increasingly mobile, very young, and highly dispersed population. We see major technological investment (China) in supporting technologies for mobile and very little impetus for improving fixed line, bandwidth, or non-mobile connectivity due to both geographical distances and a sparse population. We see continued and considerable evidence of a nomadic populace, a populace presumably reasonably equipped with mobile technology.
Specifically for higher education (apologies, but this is my focus), there is also a very limited pool of universities, making mlearning certainly feasible in terms of scope and scale. Several of these are discipline oriented or considerably specialized. Further, you have one governing consortium for all the universities, the Consortium of Mongolian Universities and Colleges-CMUC), another natural conduit for funneling these activities through (ideally as it begins to scale out from one project). Some of the representative CMUC members include the following:
- Defense University of Mongolia
- Mongolia National University
- Mongolian University of Culture and Art
- Mongolia University of Education
- Mongolian Academy of Sciences
- Mongolian University of Science and Technology
- Mongolia International University
- Mongolian Technical University
- Mongolian Business Institute
- Construction Technology College
Essentially, you are working with a good combination of saturated technology (mobile), high literacy, a limited educational conduit to filter all pedagogy and learning environments through (higher education), and a highly dispersed and extremely young populace.
We are starting to see some mobile projects emerge from Mongolia as well that might have some bearing in developing nations. We see the Mongolian government distributing solar and mobile technology to nomadic peoples (emphasizing their ability to maintain their nomadic lifestyle), we see (physically) mobile kindergartens for nomadic children, mobile libraries (again, the material kind) and more suggesting a focus on reaching out to the nomadic populace. Mobile, again as the technology of greatest saturation, has potential to augment these efforts for learning and further development.