Our mission in Uuliastai was to hold a series of seminars for teachers in secondary and primary schools in the region. The trip was planned to coincide with the Olympics
, Mongolia's nation-wide academic competition. Each aimag center hosts contestants from surrounding suums for events that last several days. Because of the difficulty of travel, many from surrounding areas stay for the week, making it a good time to convince them to come in for some professional development.
There is motivation for these seminars for both teachers and presenters. Attendance at seminars is necessary to advance teachers' certification, which comes with additional salary. Those of us from the university who are presenting should see extra money in our pay checks—with two caveats.
The first is that the classes we are missing while away for a week will have to be made up before the semester ends. The second is more serious. If attendance at the seminars is so low that it doesn't pay for the thirty-six hours of Purgone travel we will incur, the travel expense will come out of our pay. So, we are at risk until we round up enough teachers to pay for our way. That, I learned, was the reason for so much concern when we arrived to find that less publicity had been raised than we hoped.
For me, an especially bright spot in the public education system here was the music program. Even though school was in recess for spring break, both music and art students were still working. At the primary school where we gave our workshops children raced between the building where their morin khoors
were being tuned by their very young teacher and an empty room where they were practicing. Next to the high school dorm where we were staying older students were practicing in a building that looked like it had just been renovated, demonstrating a Mongolian sense of priorities to the tradition of its native music.