Z.Altai: We have to provide online learning courses to teach the Mongolian language and culture to children abroad


Mongolia opened an embassy in Sweden in 2009 and former member of the parliament, and Ambassador of Mongolia to Sweden,  Z.Altai, who is the second person to be appointed as Ambassador to Sweden, gave an interview about what he learned there and his plans as the ambassador, during his brief visit to Ulaanbaatar.

-You have travelled to many countries to prepare your popular TV program, “Uurgevchtei Aylal” (Backpack Travel). Have you ever been to Scandinavian countries?

-I planned to take a backpack trip to Scandinavian countries someday, but I went to Sweden wearing a tie. I am Ambassador of Mongolia to not only Sweden, but also Denmark, Norway, Finland, as well as Estonia. They are considered to be the best places to live, according to international studies and rating agencies. I found Scandinavian people friendly, peaceful and mostly very tall.

Everything is eco-friendly in Scandinavian countries. The social structure that Mongolian is aiming for is there. Human rights are properly protected and their citizens are able to lead peaceful and healthy lifestyles.

Their hospital, school, university and kindergarten services are free. But their citizens do not feel obliged to obtain a higher education even if universities do not charge fees. Only those who qualify for the criteria enter universities, and others mostly attend vocational training centers.

It seems they do not pursue money that much. The more money you make, your tax payable increases by up to 70 percent. Who would want to give away 70 percent of the money that have worked hard to earn. Their people are neither rich nor poor, but have average livelihoods.

-I am sure that you have gained many experiences and ideas from Sweden for potential programs in Mongolia. Have you formed pacts with any countries or Scandinavian organizations to cooperate in joint projects in Mongolia?

-There are so many things that our nation should learn from. But it is impossible to strengthen bilateral ties in every sector. I think that we should follow two to three of their top successes in Sweden. As for Estonia, it is a leading country in cyber governance and shale processing technology in the world. There is no corruption or bureaucracy, thanks to cyber governance. Their registration and data structure is very well produced. Every citizen has a chip through which you can find out various information, such as what kind of illnesses they’ve suffered from and when, or their salary. You can find the information in the chip through their serial number issued by the state. Privacy is of course highly protected. I have met the President of Estonia to discuss possible cooperation in adopting the cyber governance in Mongolia as he is the founder of the system. He agreed to cooperate by training Mongolian officials to specialize in operating the cyber governance systems. Estonia established a school to train officials in the system, and started sharing its brilliant experiences with foreigners in September 2013. I have recently talked to the President’s Chief of Staff, P.Tsagaan, about this issue. I asked him to send in active and professional officials to the training instead of a few high ranking officials.

Estonia meets 95 percent of its power demand and over 60 percent of its fuel demand from shale alone. I have also discussed a partnership in the shale sector with Estonia, as the country has a lot of experience in this field.

-But lots of debate on shale usage and its environmental hazards have been going on lately. What do you think about the drawbacks of using shale?

-Estonia has been using shale for power generation and fuel supply for over 100 years. Yet its environment is well preserved even now. Therefore we shouldn’t be too cautious of its environmental hazards. Some people talk like a true nationalist without meaning it deep down, and interfere with others who are really pursuing the well being of our home country by pressuring them with fees. We have to correct this. Estonia’s development is advancing because of shale usage, which should be considered in Mongolia as well. Let’s get rid of our energy dependence. I have met the Estonian Minister of Economic Affairs and Communications on this issue, and agreed to work together.

Finland’s elementary education system is one of the finest in the world. The main principle of the country’s education system is to develop an individual. Training specialized personnel is considered secondary.

The education system and teachers of Mongolia are both lacking quality. Originally, only the most highly educated and experienced teachers were supposed to teach children in kindergartens and elementary schools. I have met and talked to the  Minister of Education and Science, L.Gantumur, about adopting Finland’s education system.

Finland is also famous for its winter tourism. Mongolia has been talking about ways to develop winter tourism for years without any remarkable success. Finland has crafted an Ice Town in one of its cities, which is attracting hundreds of tourists.

The country has a harsh climate and a large amount of snowfall during the winter, like Mongolia. We can learn from Finland’s tourism experience. I’ll talk about it with the Ulaanbaatar City Mayor, E.Bat-Uul. We can run outdoor ski and ice skating rinks at not only Khuvsgul River, but also on the Tuul River banks near the capital city. Reindeer and dog sledding activities can be operated around the rinks for both locals and tourists. If these kinds of tourism facilities are established, more tourists will visit Mongolia.

We can partner up with Denmark in dairy farming, as it is one of the leading countries when it comes to this sector. I came to Ulaanbaatar all the way from Sweden to introduce and talk about these great opportunities, and possible cooperation with related officials. I’m paying for my travel expense myself. When I send e-mails to Mongolian officials, nobody replies. It is time to act instead of just talking.

-How many Mongolian nationals are residing in the countries that you are appointed as ambassador to?

-Most of them are in Sweden. Over 5,000 Mongolian nationals work and study in Sweden, while around 300 Mongolians are in Norway. We conducted a renewed census last year. Over 500 children received official permits in Sweden from the Embassy of Mongolia to Sweden.

Approximately, 120 to 130 Mongolian children are born in Sweden every year and receive residential permits. But the saddest part is that although they have Mongolian blood and names, they are growing up without a clue about the Mongolian language and culture. There are a few Mongolians who teach free Mongolian language courses to children in Sweden, however, their reach is rather limited.

Therefore, we must prepare online lessons on Mongolian language and culture for children living abroad. Those children are the future of our country, and it is a pity that some of them can’t even understand their parents in Mongolian. I talked to Minister L.Gantumur. The average school fee is 10,000 EUR per academic year (two semesters), excluding other expenses for foreigners. But children growing up there can attend schools and universities for free and obtain a high quality education.  They must use this opportunity to the fullest.

Not only children, but adults living overseas for many years eventually forget their mother tongue and culture. Many adults make basic spelling mistakes or write with poor semantics in Mongolian. Online lessons should be dedicated for adults too.

- The embassy must have a tight schedule as it deals affairs in five countries. How many staff members does the embassy have?

-Apart from me, there is a consul, an advisor and a driver. In total, four people. Our consul normally manages tasks related to documents all day. There is a lot of work. For instance, issuing birth certificates and extending validation of passports. The consul is in charge of managing documents of the five countries. There are a lot of things to learn from them. My visit here has to be tightly scheduled.

-How is the embassy working to protect the rights and interests of Mongolians abroad? Do Mongolians get involved in offenses often in the five countries?

-If our citizens obey their laws and regulations, they can earn a good salary, lead a healthy lifestyle and their children will have access to high quality education. These countries do not regularly track down illegal immigrants like others.

Some of the Mongolians that have overstayed their visas sometimes pick a fight while under the influence of alchohol, get arrested and are deported. A Mongolian young man is serving a sentence in prison for murder. It is difficult to just call the police department and ask whether Mongolians were involved in any offenses. As these countries protect human rights highly, we will not know unless Mongolians involved in offenses agree to report it to the embassy. Sweden strengthened its laws related to immigrants, as offenses where immigrants are involved have been rising. If any Swedish organizations hire illegal immigrants and are discovered, they will be charged with a considerable fine and will be restricted from obtaining loans. Swedish organizations don’t hire them anymore because it could lead to even their directors being imprisoned. As a result, illegal immigrants are facing many problems.

Most of them go to Sweden by selling their property to pay 8,000 to 10,000 EUR for visa approvals. They often find themselves in a position where nobody can help them and without any accommodations or a job. I want to advise Mongolians to do a lot of thinking and consideration before moving to another country and leaving everything behind.

-The 50th anniversary of Mongolia-Sweden political relations will take place in 2014. What have you planned for the anniversary? I heard you have invited the King of Sweden to Mongolia. Did he accept the invitation?

-The President of Mongolia invited him. But he replied that he can’t promise a visit as the Swedish parliamentary elections are scheduled next year. Princess Victoria of Sweden was also invited.

As our 50 year relations have been successful, I’m planning to hold various arts and cultural events if the budget is approved. The youth in Mongolia are very supportive of my idea. If the government allocates additional funding, we will organize magnificent anniversary events. So far, the state hasn’t issued an anniversary budget.



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