Residents of Mongolia, whose capital, Ulan Bator, is the world’s coldest capital city, know very little about the EU. “They know about individual countries such as Germany, France and even Belgium, but the European institutions are almost unknown,” says VUB researcher and lecturer Gracienne Lauwers. To remedy this, Europe is funding MONEUL – Inclusive Digital Learning about the European Union, an Erasmus+ capacity building higher education project (CBHE) worth €399,749. Erasmus+ CBHE is the EU programme that supports education in third countries outside Europe.
Lauwers, who teaches urban education at VUB’s Multidisciplinary Institute for Teacher Training (MILO) and international law in Vilnius, Lithuania, will use the funds to lead trainee teachers in Mongolia through the labyrinth of the European institutions. “I’m working on the European side with the University of Bialystok in Poland, which develops activities aimed at improving the quality of initial teacher training. I will focus on the legal aspects of the EU, our history and the institutions. Our partners in Mongolia are the Mongolian National University of Education, the National University of Mongolia and the Graduate University of Mongolia. Particular attention is paid to departments in the remote regions of Mongolia, which border Kazakhstan, China and Russia. ”
The cooperation between partners is managed by the European Association for Education, Law and Policy (EduLAw), which is responsible for creating digital learning resources. The ultimate objective of MONEUL is to introduce EU courses in programmes at the three universities in Mongolia and their branches in the provinces. “Students in Mongolia will be introduced to the origins of the European Union, successive enlargements, the institutional structure, legal system, values and fundamental rights, the European educational area, and policy priorities such as the digital transformation, inclusion and environmental protection,” Lauwers says.
The project is a logistical challenge, given the distances in the rather inhospitable and vast country. “These days, it is not so bad, as for some years now there have been flights to Ulan Bator,” says Lauwers. “But travelling by car is often a nightmare. The living and working season for us in Mongolia is also extremely short, so we can only go there for a few months a year at most.” To remedy this, Lauwers is launching a programme with her Polish colleagues, in which Mongolian trainee teachers will visit European institutions. The first group is expected to arrive in March.
“It’s completely wrong to think that Mongolian students are unworldly and incapable,” Lauwers says. “They are polyglots, sometimes speaking six or seven languages. They have simply never been given the required information about Europe as a geographical and political entity. This will now change, through education.”
The cooperation with EduLAw and the University of Bialystok is the result of a long international collaboration with the Vrije Universiteit Brussel in the framework of a previous Erasmus+ project, which was initiated back in 2016.
Lauwers earned her PhD in law and holds a master’s degree in Slavic philology and East European studies.
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