The last month in Mongolia has been the hardest since I moved here. Why? Because the Government of Mongolia decided that our children should be protected from the dreaded H1N1 virus, better known as the swine flu. And the best way to do that, apparently, was to close schools for a month and inflict children on their parents.
There have been 24 confirmed deaths from swine flu in Mongolia. Granted, the H1N1 virus is a nasty piece of work. But you can't help but think that the threat was blown out of proportion in terms of public safety. Crossing the streets in Ulaanbaatar is much more dangerous, but you don't see the traffic police making any effort to make cars stop for people at crosswalks (or to keep pedestrians from running in front of moving vehicles). And I'd bet my left nut that more than 24 drunks freeze to death in the streets on any given weekend.
For parents, this has been a nightmare. To keep kids from slipping behind, the school sent classwork home. Not a bad idea in principle, but they tried to get parents to do everything. Very little of the work could be done without the support of an adult. Some of it was good stuff, like studying the breathing and circulatory systems, or learning the times tables. But some of it was torture. For example, we were expected to make our kids exercise, create dances, draw a picture of Mongolian nature (the children were threatened with a point off if they missed the deadline), and even create a "walking tour" of Ulaanbaatar. As if anyone would want to walk around the city in this bitter cold weather, breathing the choking smog.
Luckily, I had a really bad cold during the first week and stayed home. I was able to keep the kids on top of their schoolwork. My kids set up camp on the living room floor, which was soon covered in papers. I even made them do their exercises. But after I went back to work, it became too much. We cut back to the core material, and in the end, gave up. By the last week, the kids only did work they could do with minimal help.
That said, I have to give the teachers credit for heroic efforts. This has been tough on them too. Their teaching methods were disrupted, and there's no way to manage the learning process. One teacher told me she has no idea how much material the kids had actually learned. In some cases, parents did the homework for their kids to get it over with. In other cases, the kids got no help at all. It will be really hard for teachers to get the kids back on the same track after they stream back into school tomorrow.
For me, the stress level at home got to unbearable levels. I'm lucky my marriage survived. My kids are lucky they survived. Next time, I'd much rather be inflicted with the swine flu.