December 3, 2022

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Traditional medicines, once banned, have regained favor. Government and health officials are endorsing them alongside COVID-19 vaccinations.
Steeping manjingarav, a local herb, in hot water in Orkhon province, Mongolia.
ERDENET, ORKHON PROVINCE, MONGOLIA — The water steams, then bubbles to a boil. Bayarjargal Togmid takes the pot off the stove and stirs in a bright yellow grass, known as manjingarav.
“This plant is excellent against coughing,” she says. “I drink it now and mix it with water so that my children often gargle their throats and mouths with it. It is far more effective than regular medicines.”
Bayarjargal grew up watching her mother harvest medicinal plants for her work as a botanist, but says she only began brewing cough syrup for her own family after the pandemic began. She and her husband got vaccinated last year, but she credits their use of traditional medicine — both homemade and supplied by a nearby clinic — for strengthening their immune systems. When her husband eventually contracted COVID-19, in February, he recovered within five days, she says.
Mongolia’s traditional medicine has 5,000 years of history, but nearly disappeared forever due to an official ban between 1922 and 1990. The pandemic has prompted a surge of new users seeking protection and relief from virus symptoms — and newfound popularity as a source of national pride and income opportunities.
“Our ancestors left us with a rich source of knowledge of traditional medicine,” says Dr. Bold Sharav, a professor of traditional medicine at the Mongolian International School of Medicine. “It is important that we use it in the right way.”
The Ministry of Health includes herbal teas and decoctions in its COVID-19 home care treatment packages, distributed to family health centers nationwide and provided free of charge to any adult diagnosed with the disease. Oyunchimeg Murdorj, a senior expert in charge of traditional medicine at the Ministry of Health, says the contents of the kits are based on recommendations from doctors and researchers.
“In the last two years, Mongolian scientists have experimentally validated more than 50 types of medicinal plants and started using them for medical treatments,” says L. Batkhuu, coordinator of foreign projects for the Institute of Traditional Medicine and Technology, a research center that also operates a hospital and pharmaceutical factory. The government should make greater investments in research, development and production to meet the growing demand, he says.
Oyunchimeg counters that the Ministry of Health has helped bolster traditional medicine practitioners through training and research centers. “Research in traditional medicine has improved in recent years,” she says. “Once the research is well developed and in line with international standards, the government will have a policy on exports.”
Tergel Munkhsaikhan, right, head of Sud-Pharm pharmacy in Orkhon province, explains the uses and effectiveness of traditional medicines to Oyu-Erdene Battumur.
Khorloo Khukhnokhoi
Mongolia’s doctors endorse traditional medicine — but in conjunction with modern medicine, not in place of it.
Dr. Gereltuya Surenkhorol, an infectious diseases specialist at Orkhon Regional Diagnostic and Treatment Center, says that recommended COVID-19 herbal treatments like Mana-4 and Norov-7 don’t fully cure the disease, but boost the human immune system and increase recovery speeds — and should only be used as directed.
“It is even likely that medicinal plants could be harmful, if one does not use a proper dose,” she says, warning that some plants could be poisonous.
Pharmacists across the country say they were not prepared for the pandemic-related surge in traditional medicine requests, and they expect the interest to outlive the virus itself. “Now, traditional Mongolian medicines, decoctions and preparations are most sold,” says Altantuya Sanduidorj, a pharmacist in Orkhon province.
Otgongerel Sukhbat, an economist in Orkhon province, says she had been vaccinated for COVID-19 and had begun drinking Mana-4 and Norov-7 teas when she got infected in April 2021 with the disease. She recovered within a week, and plans to continue to use the treatments along with modern medicine.
“Initially, it was hard to drink it, as it was quite bitter,” she says. “Now I am almost accustomed to it.”
Demand has been growing from international markets, including Japan, South Korea and the Netherlands, according to the Ministry of Health’s Department of Traditional Medicine. International research remains rare, but in a 2021 study by Mongolian researchers published by the Journal of Asian Medical Students’ Association, COVID-19 patients who used both Mongolian herbal medicine and Western treatments recovered 1.7 times faster — 42% of them within one week — than those who only used a single type of treatment.
Of the eight Mongolian manufacturers producing close to 400 traditional medicine products, only four are currently licensed for exporting. In 2017, Odi Tan became the first company to obtain this approval after a months-long process involving the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Environment and Tourism and the Specialized Inspection Agency.
“Since coronavirus broke out, pharmacies have started constantly reaching out to us, asking which medicines and preparations are recommended for colds and influenza and what kinds of products are available, further proposing to collaborate,” says Chantsaldulam Baatar, Odi Tan’s executive director.
The company has customers in other Asian countries, but doesn’t yet have the capacity to reach Europe and North America, Chantsaldulam says. So it has focused on growing its supply chain by paying families to cultivate ingredients like nettles, thyme and licorice.
“If the government supports us better and facilitates the opportunities for export, medicinal plants and herbs could contribute to the economy as much as coal export does,” she says.
The government is working with pharmaceutical companies to ensure that products meet national and international quality and safety standards, says Batkhuu, the foreign projects coordinator from the Institute of Traditional Medicine and Technology. His team is working on submitting a funding request for building a large factory that would have the capacity to process and produce raw materials.
“In the future, we will be able to fully meet our domestic consumption, and export,” says Bold, the traditional medicine professor.
More education also is needed to ensure that the booming interest among Mongolians doesn’t lead to harmful effects to people or the environment, says Bayarjargal, the Erdenet mother. “If you don’t pick natural herbs properly, there is a danger that the plants will not grow again,” she says. “It is also important to identify and pick the right non-toxic plants.”
Khorloo Khukhnokhoi is a Global Press Journal reporter based in Mongolia.
Translation note: Otgonbaatar Tsedendemberel, GPJ, translated this story from Mongolian.
Traditional medicines, once banned, have regained favor. Government and health officials are endorsing them alongside COVID-19 vaccinations.
Steeping manjingarav, a local herb, in hot water in Orkhon province, Mongolia.
ERDENET, ORKHON PROVINCE, MONGOLIA — The water steams, then bubbles to a boil. Bayarjargal Togmid takes the pot off the stove and stirs in a bright yellow grass, known as manjingarav.
“This plant is excellent against coughing,” she says. “I drink it now and mix it with water so that my children often gargle their throats and mouths with it. It is far more effective than regular medicines.”
Bayarjargal grew up watching her mother harvest medicinal plants for her work as a botanist, but says she only began brewing cough syrup for her own family after the pandemic began. She and her husband got vaccinated last year, but she credits their use of traditional medicine — both homemade and supplied by a nearby clinic — for strengthening their immune systems. When her husband eventually contracted COVID-19, in February, he recovered within five days, she says.
Mongolia’s traditional medicine has 5,000 years of history, but nearly disappeared forever due to an official ban between 1922 and 1990. The pandemic has prompted a surge of new users seeking protection and relief from virus symptoms — and newfound popularity as a source of national pride and income opportunities.
“Our ancestors left us with a rich source of knowledge of traditional medicine,” says Dr. Bold Sharav, a professor of traditional medicine at the Mongolian International School of Medicine. “It is important that we use it in the right way.”
The Ministry of Health includes herbal teas and decoctions in its COVID-19 home care treatment packages, distributed to family health centers nationwide and provided free of charge to any adult diagnosed with the disease. Oyunchimeg Murdorj, a senior expert in charge of traditional medicine at the Ministry of Health, says the contents of the kits are based on recommendations from doctors and researchers.
“In the last two years, Mongolian scientists have experimentally validated more than 50 types of medicinal plants and started using them for medical treatments,” says L. Batkhuu, coordinator of foreign projects for the Institute of Traditional Medicine and Technology, a research center that also operates a hospital and pharmaceutical factory. The government should make greater investments in research, development and production to meet the growing demand, he says.
Oyunchimeg counters that the Ministry of Health has helped bolster traditional medicine practitioners through training and research centers. “Research in traditional medicine has improved in recent years,” she says. “Once the research is well developed and in line with international standards, the government will have a policy on exports.”
Tergel Munkhsaikhan, right, head of Sud-Pharm pharmacy in Orkhon province, explains the uses and effectiveness of traditional medicines to Oyu-Erdene Battumur.
Khorloo Khukhnokhoi
Mongolia’s doctors endorse traditional medicine — but in conjunction with modern medicine, not in place of it.
Dr. Gereltuya Surenkhorol, an infectious diseases specialist at Orkhon Regional Diagnostic and Treatment Center, says that recommended COVID-19 herbal treatments like Mana-4 and Norov-7 don’t fully cure the disease, but boost the human immune system and increase recovery speeds — and should only be used as directed.
“It is even likely that medicinal plants could be harmful, if one does not use a proper dose,” she says, warning that some plants could be poisonous.
Pharmacists across the country say they were not prepared for the pandemic-related surge in traditional medicine requests, and they expect the interest to outlive the virus itself. “Now, traditional Mongolian medicines, decoctions and preparations are most sold,” says Altantuya Sanduidorj, a pharmacist in Orkhon province.
Otgongerel Sukhbat, an economist in Orkhon province, says she had been vaccinated for COVID-19 and had begun drinking Mana-4 and Norov-7 teas when she got infected in April 2021 with the disease. She recovered within a week, and plans to continue to use the treatments along with modern medicine.
“Initially, it was hard to drink it, as it was quite bitter,” she says. “Now I am almost accustomed to it.”
Demand has been growing from international markets, including Japan, South Korea and the Netherlands, according to the Ministry of Health’s Department of Traditional Medicine. International research remains rare, but in a 2021 study by Mongolian researchers published by the Journal of Asian Medical Students’ Association, COVID-19 patients who used both Mongolian herbal medicine and Western treatments recovered 1.7 times faster — 42% of them within one week — than those who only used a single type of treatment.
Of the eight Mongolian manufacturers producing close to 400 traditional medicine products, only four are currently licensed for exporting. In 2017, Odi Tan became the first company to obtain this approval after a months-long process involving the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Environment and Tourism and the Specialized Inspection Agency.
“Since coronavirus broke out, pharmacies have started constantly reaching out to us, asking which medicines and preparations are recommended for colds and influenza and what kinds of products are available, further proposing to collaborate,” says Chantsaldulam Baatar, Odi Tan’s executive director.
The company has customers in other Asian countries, but doesn’t yet have the capacity to reach Europe and North America, Chantsaldulam says. So it has focused on growing its supply chain by paying families to cultivate ingredients like nettles, thyme and licorice.
“If the government supports us better and facilitates the opportunities for export, medicinal plants and herbs could contribute to the economy as much as coal export does,” she says.
The government is working with pharmaceutical companies to ensure that products meet national and international quality and safety standards, says Batkhuu, the foreign projects coordinator from the Institute of Traditional Medicine and Technology. His team is working on submitting a funding request for building a large factory that would have the capacity to process and produce raw materials.
“In the future, we will be able to fully meet our domestic consumption, and export,” says Bold, the traditional medicine professor.
More education also is needed to ensure that the booming interest among Mongolians doesn’t lead to harmful effects to people or the environment, says Bayarjargal, the Erdenet mother. “If you don’t pick natural herbs properly, there is a danger that the plants will not grow again,” she says. “It is also important to identify and pick the right non-toxic plants.”
Khorloo Khukhnokhoi is a Global Press Journal reporter based in Mongolia.
Translation note: Otgonbaatar Tsedendemberel, GPJ, translated this story from Mongolian.
For years, Singapore has topped education rankings and inspired other school systems. Among the keys to its success is a playful approach to education and highly paid teachers. But many worry about the pressure the system places on children.
Students at Sri Mariamman Hindu temple in Singapore
SINGAPORE — Every year in mid-October, social networks are set ablaze in Singapore. Upset parents attack the Ministry of Education on Facebook, Twitter and other forums, accusing it of having organized tests that were too complicated for their children. They say their children came home from the math section of the PSLE – the Primary School Leaving Examination – in tears. The results come in late November.
In the Asian city-state, many families see this test as the exam of a lifetime. Performance on the PSLE can affect the quality of the course of study all the way through to university. In high school, children find themselves put in three different "streams," depending on their level.
Parents spend years preparing their children for these tests in math, science, and English. They give hours of homework help and spend fortunes on private tutoring.
According to the latest National Household Expenditure Survey conducted by the Department of Statistics, Singaporean families spend a total of more than $1 billion on private tuition each year, or almost $1 billion. "Nearly 70% of elementary school children now take private lessons," said Jason Tan, a professor at the city-state's National Institute of Education (NIE). In kindergarten, the ratio is now 40%.
In the Terry Chew Academy, in the city center, math tutoring is offered to children as young as 5 years old. Geometric shapes, basic calculations, number series recognition, introduction to cryptarithms… "Kindergarten math skills are the best indicator of your child's future academic success," warns the brochure, which also promises to introduce kindergarten children to the sense of competition. The cost is S$960 (€680) for 12 lessons of 90 minutes each in small groups of up to eight children.
Bills go up with age and when children get closer to the PSLE that they sit aged 12. By then, they have reached a much higher level than children of their age in other developed countries.
In each edition of the Pisa (Programme for International Student Assessment) study, organized every three years by the OECD among 15-year-old students, Singapore trumps all others. In the 2015 survey conducted in more than 70 countries, the small nation of 5.7 million people dominated the rankings in math, science and reading.

In 2019, it was relegated to second place behind China, but in a survey deemed unfair by experts. Chinese results were only compiled from selected schools in Beijing, Shanghai, Zhejiang and Jiangsu. "On a national scale, the performance of Chinese students in the Pisa tests is rather mediocre," notes an expert.
In the West, Singapore's performance is all the more impressive because it is achieved by an education system that is still very young. When Singapore declared its independence in 1965 after 140 years of British colonial rule, the political party in power, the PAP (People's Action Party) and its leader Lee Kuan Yew inherited a disorganized education system.
Education wasn’t universal and varied according to the different communities that have their own networks of schools operating either in English, Chinese, Malay or Tamil. Curricula, textbooks and exams often differed from one school to another, and no common objectives were defined. "One of Lee Kuan Yew's priority missions was to rebuild school to support national economic development and encourage social cohesion in this multi-ethnic and multi-religious population," says Jason Tan. "These two objectives are still at the heart of the system, even though many reforms have changed the organization of the education system."
Recentralized under the authority of the Ministry of Education, which in 2022 still has the second largest budget in the country, school quickly focused on English, math, and science skills to boost the international attractiveness of a country with no natural resources. Sixty years later, they remain key priorities in primary, secondary and pre-university grades.
Visitors select books during the 2015 Singapore Book Fair in Singapore
Bao Xuelin/Xinhua/ZUMA
In mathematics, Singaporean children have a much more concrete approach to problems than their European peers. Before approaching an operation with numbers, they will visualize, on their paper or on the board, a drawing with fruits, candies, or students, then a diagram with bars and blocks, in a rather playful approach. Each operation, whether it be addition, division, or fractions, will be presented in a concrete scenario before being transcribed into abstract mathematical language. This way, the child experiences multiplication before formulating it.
Throughout their school career up to "Primary 6" (age 12), they will almost systematically model their problems, even the more complex ones. Each stage of learning is then marked by rigorous classroom tests that progressively prepare for the PSLE.
In science, programs similarly encourage learning by doing or playing. Teachers attempt to raise questions by having their students work in pairs or teams on making or assembling concrete objects. They will use small robots equipped with batteries and diodes to understand, for example, the course on electricity.
In Singapore, teachers are very well paid. Recruited from the best universities, they receive very long initial training and are much better paid than their counterparts in Europe. A secondary school teacher will earn S$50,250 per year (€36,000) at the beginning of their career. On average, a primary school teacher with at least five years of experience can expect to earn 3,200 euros per month. They will also receive bonuses and enjoy a high level of respectability in Singaporean society.
In exchange for this recognition, they commit themselves to work hard, but not only in front of their students. As in other east Asian countries, which do well on the Pisa tests, Singaporean teachers manage very large classes (often 40 students) but have far fewer hours of instruction than Western teachers.
Instead, they spend almost half of their professional time communicating with parents via email or text messages, preparing their classrooms and evaluating lessons with their colleagues. They regularly observe each other's classes before exchanging best practices and receive nearly 100 hours of in-service training each year to adapt to the country's changing needs.
While it is held up as a model for other countries, particularly in Southeast Asia, Singapore's system is questioning its own shortcomings. The pressure on children to pass tests at a very young age that will affect their destiny. The hours spent in classes and tutoring to the detriment of extracurricular activities and free time.
The growing inequalities between wealthy families able to finance heavy private tutoring programs and poorer households, often from Tamil or Malay minorities, who can only rely on supplementary classes sometimes subsidized by the state.
"Our overall success tends to mask these inequalities," admits the NIE researcher. "And that highlights the elephant in the room. To what do we owe our performance in international rankings? To public school or private tutoring?" he asks. "More and more, our model based on meritocracy is being challenged by a form of parentocracy," worries Jason Tan.
For years, Singapore has topped education rankings and inspired other school systems. Among the keys to its success is a playful approach to education and highly paid teachers. But many worry about the pressure the system places on children.
Our Naples psychiatrist's view on unrealistic social media standards, feeling inadequate, and the price of happiness.

Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.
Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.
Then there is Mariupol, under siege and symbol of Putin’s cruelty. In the largest city on the Azov Sea, with a population of half a million people, Ukrainians make up slightly less than half of the city's population, and Mariupol's second-largest national ethnicity is Russians. As of 2001, when the last census was conducted, 89.5% of the city's population identified Russian as their mother tongue.
Between 2018 and 2019, I spent several months in Mariupol. It is a rugged but beautiful city dotted with Soviet-era architecture, featuring wide avenues and hillside parks, and an extensive industrial zone stretching along the shoreline. There was a vibrant youth culture and art scene, with students developing projects to turn their city into a regional cultural center with an international photography festival.
There were also many offices of international NGOs and human rights organizations, a consequence of the fact that Mariupol was the last major city before entering the occupied zone of Donbas. Many natives of the contested regions of Luhansk and Donetsk had moved there, taking jobs in restaurants and hospitals. I had fond memories of the welcoming from locals who were quicker to smile than in some other parts of Ukraine. All of this is gone.
According to the latest data from the local authorities, 80% of the port city has been destroyed by Russian bombs, artillery fire and missile attacks, with particularly egregious targeting of civilians, including a maternity hospital, a theater where more than 1,000 people had taken shelter and a school where some 400 others were hiding.
The official civilian death toll of Mariupol is estimated at more than 3,000. There are no language or ethnic-based statistics of the victims, but it’s likely the majority were Russian speakers.
So let’s be clear, Putin is bombing the very people he has claimed to want to rescue.
Putin’s Public Enemy No. 1, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, is a mother-tongue Russian speaker who’d made a successful acting and comedy career in Russian-language broadcasting, having extensively toured Russian cities for years.
Rescuers carry a person injured during a shelling by Russian troops of Kharkiv, northeastern Ukraine.
Vyacheslav Madiyevskyy/Ukrinform via ZUMA Press Wire
Yes, the official language of Ukraine is Ukrainian, and a 2019 law aimed to ensure that it is used in public discourse, but no one has ever sought to abolish the Russian language in everyday life. In none of the cities that are now being bombed by the Russian army to supposedly liberate them has the Russian language been suppressed or have the Russian-speaking population been discriminated against.
Sociologist Mikhail Mishchenko explains that studies have found that the vast majority of Ukrainians don’t consider language a political issue. For reasons of history, culture and the similarities of the two languages, Ukraine is effectively a bilingual nation.
"The overwhelming majority of the population speaks both languages, Russian and Ukrainian,” Mishchenko explains. “Those who say they understand Russian poorly and have difficulty communicating in it are just over 4% percent. Approximately the same number of people say the same about Ukrainian.”
In general, there is no problem of communication and understanding. Often there will be conversations where one person speaks Ukrainian, and the other responds in Russian. Geographically, the Russian language is more dominant in the eastern and central parts of Ukraine, and Ukrainian in the west.
Like most central Ukrainians I am perfectly bilingual: for me, Ukrainian and Russian are both native languages that I have used since childhood in Kyiv. My generation grew up on Russian rock, post-Soviet cinema, and translations of foreign literature into Russian. I communicate in Russian with my sister, and with my mother and daughter in Ukrainian. I write professionally in three languages: Ukrainian, Russian and English, and can also speak Polish, French, and a bit Japanese. My mother taught me that the more languages I know the more human I am.
At the same time, I am not Russian — nor British or Polish. I am Ukrainian. Ours is a nation with a long history and culture of its own, which has always included a multi-ethnic population: Russians, Belarusians, Moldovans, Crimean Tatars, Bulgarians, Romanians, Hungarians, Poles, Jews, Greeks. We all, they all, have found our place on Ukrainian soil. We speak different languages, pray in different churches, we have different traditions, clothes, and cuisine.
Like in other countries, these differences have been the source of conflict in our past. But it is who we are and will always be, and real progress has been made over the past three decades to embrace our multitudes. Our Jewish, Russian-speaking president is the most visible proof of that — and is in fact part of what our soldiers are fighting for.
Many in Moscow were convinced that Russian troops would be welcomed in Ukraine as liberating heroes by Russian speakers. Instead, young soldiers are forced to shoot at people who scream in their native language.
Starving people ina street of Kharkiv in 1933, during the famine
Diocesan Archive of Vienna (Diözesanarchiv Wien)/BA Innitzer
Putin has tried to rally the troops by warning that in Ukraine a “genocide” of ethnic Russians is being carried out by a government that must be “de-nazified.”
These are, of course, words with specific definitions that carry the full weight of history. The Ukrainian people know what genocide is not from books. In my hometown of Kyiv, German soldiers massacred Jews en masse. My grandfather survived the Buchenwald concentration camp, liberated by the U.S. army. My great-grandmother, who died at the age of 95, survived the 1932-33 famine when the Red Army carried out the genocide of the Ukrainian middle class, and her sister disappeared in the camps of Siberia, convicted for defying rationing to try to feed her children during the famine.
On Tuesday, came a notable report of one of the latest civilian deaths in the besieged Russian-speaking city of Kharkiv: a 96-year-old had been killed when shelling hit his apartment building. The victim’s name was Boris Romanchenko; he had survived Buchenwald and two other Nazi concentration camps during World War II. As President Zelensky noted: Hitler didn’t manage to kill him, but Putin did.
Genocide has returned to Ukraine, from Kharkiv to Kherson to Mariupol, as Vladimir Putin had warned. But it is his own genocide against the Russian-speaking population of Ukraine.

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