Quality Progress for Education in Maldives Requires Constant and Consistent changes
Maldivians believe that education has progressed but not in a direction that shapes future effective leaders. Some believe that education helps to keep the Maldivian communities united and at peace. While others think we have lost this through much political turmoil. Let me share my experience with this subject.
My grandmother did not get formal education. She did not go to school. She was home schooled by her parents, family and relatives. My mother did receive some formal education by actually going to a place to study Mathematics and English. By the time I was born there was a school for girls (Aminiya) and a school for boys (Majeediya – 83years, oldest school in Maldives) in the capital island Male'. There was also a Montessori School—a co-ed for the youngest children. These three public schools located in Male’ were taught by expatriate teachers using English language as a medium of instruction. I cannot remember a time when I was not attending school. I was fortunate to attend school because I knew education was not for all. I was privileged because my mother would not give up pushing for her children. The importance of education was reminded daily by my mother’s actions. She gave priority for school requirements and made sure we had a study table at home.
By the time I had my own children, Maldives have achieved universal access to primary education. My children enjoyed school and were taught mostly by local teachers. One day when my daughter was in year 5, asked me “What is coral brain?” I questioned her and found out that her English expatriate teacher called one of her class mates a 'coral brain'. Ah! I thought we have universal primary education but not all love children and teaching. Philosophy of teaching and teaching methodology is vastly different between the local and expatriate teachers. Teaching methods vary from teacher centred autocratic to anything goes styles. Students are passive receivers in the classroom. Students are not expected to ask questions. The key philosophical question of “who is responsible for the learning?” – the answers vary from students, parents and teachers. Some think it is a sole responsibility of the students while others think teachers and parents play a role in the learning process.
Primary education is available in each island in Maldives. This is regardless of how small the island population. Schools typically run in two sessions due to the large student population and lack of resources. This lack of teachers leads to large classes or poor results with their teaching. Often the teachers have poor skills and lack real motivation making the outcome less than desired.
Currently in the Primary Education sector there are enough local teachers. This has been a huge progress for the primary education. Maldives has also achieved the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of universal access to primary education. However, secondary or tertiary education in the Maldives is still limited to many children.
Local teachers who lack skills in delivering content prepare for their lessons and make the methodology interesting and child friendly. Expatriate teachers had higher qualifications but they lacked in suitable teaching methods and this lead to classroom management issues and children suffering for teacher inadequacies. Efforts are made to assist local and expatriate teachers to improve skills that in turn improve the performance of the students.
There are only a small number of local teachers employed in secondary education. About 70% of the secondary teachers are still expatriate teachers mainly from India.
Schooling is not an issue for Maldivian girls as in some other countries. UNDP (2010) reports that literacy rate for men and women and enrollment in the primary education is high for girls in Maldives. The difficulty is still in the limited secondary education opportunity for children. For many years secondary education up to year 12 was only available in the Capital island Male'. Even now only a few island schools have the opportunity to offer secondary education. For the children living in the outer islands there is limited opportunity for further education. For safety concerns, when parents cannot migrate to an island where secondary school is possible they choose to send their sons instead of daughters. Travelling to other islands and living away from family is still a challenge for the girls when they choose to complete their secondary education.
Often these children have faced abuse of different nature when they are away from their home island. Some children have been sexually abused by the people in the place where they live. Parents trust the hosts and often children suffer.
A national curriculum is followed in the primary education. However, foreign curriculum GCE O'level and A'level is followed in the secondary high schools. Due to limited local teachers trained for teaching in secondary education the curriculum offered is limited to the Science, Business and Commerce, Hospitality and Arts. Areas such a Visual arts and Performing Arts are not offered. Student often opt for Science, Business and Commerce, Hospitality and not Arts. In my opinion children do not have an opportunity to experience and develop their best capacities even with the limited curriculum.
With this limited curriculum only a small percent achieve an adequate level in the GCE O'level exam that allows them to move to higher secondary education. Also many students do not achieve a passing grade in the exams. Only 27% students passed 5 subjects with a C or above out of the 8000 students sat in the exam in 2008. There has been an improvement in the pass percentage with 35% student passing 5 subjects in 2010. However, this is a very low percentage.
The opportunity for Secondary High School (SHS) is still limited in the country. There are institutions in Male' offering further education. Children from outer islands migrate to Male' to seek further education. Male' is highly congested with increasing social issues and criminal activities with the heightened political turmoil. Division among the people between the political parties, idle youth and high corruption are key issues faced by Maldivians.
One positive example of progress is the Institute for Teacher Education (ITE) that provides training for primary teachers. Initially ITE offered a monetary incentive to the students who enrolled to become teachers. Youth joined ITE to be independent others to get a job after the training with a good salary. At the time, in 1980, monthly salaries for teachers after the training were handsome compared to the salaries of other government jobs. I am one of the teachers trained at ITE. I joined because most of my friends from school joined. The other choice was becoming a nurse which my mother thought was not suitable for me.
It was wonderful experience for me along with hard work and dedication. This opened doors to further education. As a teacher I embraced an ongoing learning career.
Those students who are fortunate enough to complete secondary school have better opportunities for further studies and often go to places like Sri Lanka, Singapore, Malaysia, Pakistan, India, UK, Australia and any other country that Maldivians can afford or get a scholarship to study.
There are many students who have completed undergraduate studies and postgraduate studies and completed Doctor of Philosophy in overseas universities as international students. This process of education leads to losing some brilliant minds in the Maldives as they do not return. They realise that they have limited opportunities in Maldives compared to the country they were studying.
Those who return do serve the country and work to improve the situation. Others who return to Maldives after their undergraduate studies and work in the Maldives for few years get frustrated with the challenging barriers and do not receive enough support to sustain their motivation. They find another opportunity to refresh themselves by doing a postgraduate course elsewhere and leave the Maldives once again.
I was fortunate to get a scholarship to study in UK in 1988. Upon return I got an opportunity to change my career from being a primary teacher to a teacher educator at ITE in 1991. I was supposed to train teachers after completing an Advanced Diploma in Education. It was a huge challenge. The students I taught were either a year or two younger than me or years older than me. ITE offered training in the local language (Dhivehi) and English language. For teachers who completed teacher training program in Dhivehi usually would be employed in the schools located on the islands. People who completed teacher training program in English teach all subjects in the primary schools and are located in schools on Male', the capital city. This created a challenge to translate content to local language. It was an amazing experience with loads of challenges.
I completed my undergraduate degree within an AusAID project that was implemented to develop people to offer secondary teaching courses. ITE progressed from offering only primary teacher training programs to secondary teacher education programs. More overseas and locally trained and qualified instructors joined ITE where higher level courses were offered. The institution became the Faculty of Education under the emerging Maldives College of Higher Education.
By 1998 I wanted a change in my career as I was not seeing improved performance in the primary schools. I was not feeling the satisfied with the results of my work. I requested the Ministry of Education to change me to become a school principal thinking I could affect more positive change through that role. However, the responsible party did not think I had the right qualification to be a head of a primary school. It was ironic as the school heads did not have any teaching experience nor an undergraduate degree or postgraduate degree. Some had Headmaster training certificate or diploma. I was really frustrated with the answer I got from the Rector of Maldives College of Education and was looking for a way out.
In 2000 I got an opportunity to get out of the country and completed my postgraduate studies in Australia. On return to Maldives I was determined to not go back to my old job as Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Education. I was frustrated with the answers I was getting whilst there and there was no justification in the responses. They dragged hoping I would give up and go back but I kept inquiring and contacting people to check on answers. In the end I was given a job as Senior Educational Supervisor in one of the sections in the Ministry of Education in 2001. I knew I could improve the performance of children in a primary school but now I face a nearly impossible challenge to improve the quality of education in a corrupt system. Not what I wanted but I at least a change of job with a learning opportunity. I had no clear job description or guidance. I was handed an assignment to implement projects funded by World Bank and by UNICEF. This was a huge challenge. I was fortunate to be assisted by one of most prominent Australian consultant, the late Emeritus Professor Niel Baumgart, in one of the projects which is National Assessment of Literacy and Numeracy for Primary Education. He was a great mentor.
In 2002, the first ever National Assessment of Literacy and Numeracy for children in the primary school year 4 and 7 was conducted under the Third Education Project funded by the World Bank. The outcome of it was staggering and painful. This information was reported to the Minister, shared with national curriculum developers, staff of the faculty of education, relevant stakeholders and individual reports were given to all schools who participated in the project. Also individual student assessment was give to these schools. The result showed there was a huge need to improve the literacy and numeracy level of the students in the primary schools. This information initiated to conduct a holistic assessment of the school to find out possible reasons for these outcomes. This holistic assessment of school performance is continued, now introducing schools to self evaluation.
During my service I was approached with a job offer to move to National Accreditation. I refused this offer, because I was not qualified nor had any experience in accrediting qualifications. Then I got moved to School Administration Section in the Ministry of Education in 2004. This was not an academic post it was totally administrative and political. I was not at all happy.
I took my annual leave in December 2004 for a camping trip planned for the year end school holidays. On 26 December 2004, a beautiful sunny day, I was travelling with my 2 kids and some close relatives to an uninhabited island we selected to camp for 10 days unaware of the tragic event. On Boxing Day, the Tsunami struck and devastated some of the islands in Maldives. This caused all sorts of difficulties, transport, communication and supplying resource and rebuilding schools. People from some islands were re-located to other closer islands that survived the Tsunami. There were unimaginable social, psychological issues and other issues related to coordinating and communication. With assistance from UNICEF, Red Cross, UNDP and local NGOs and with community assistance things were slowly progressing. I returned to work early and things were getting tough and challenging.
I was not happy with the political games. I was asked not to say what the truth was. I was given hard tasks to make employment decisions and provide further supporting evidence to the Presidents Office justifying my decision. I was getting very depressed and overworked. In this turmoil my daughter got her GCE O level results and 2005 she was hoping for further education. I sent her to Australia in hope to give her a better opportunity to accomplish her dreams. With my son I joined her in June 2005.
I visited Maldives in 2006 and in 2009. Every time I was shocked to see the increased population in the capital island. I met some friends and colleagues to catch up on what happened since I left. Education opportunities have become easier and at the same time worse challenges are apparent. Drugs are becoming an issue for the whole country. UNCEF (2007) estimates 1% (3000 people) of the population are addicted to drugs and it is believed that 10% of youth use drugs. I also learned that with the high population migrating to the capital Male' there were more social issues and also there were kids who are no longer going to school. Some of these children are dropping out of school idle and roaming around without any direction for life. It is also believed that those parents with fundamentalist views of Islam are not sending their kids to school.
In 2011 Maldives National University (MNU) was established. This was a dream of many people who worked in the educational development of Maldives. Continuous progress and constant changes are what Maldivians must believe and work united towards creating a generation of positive thinkers.
This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, which is providing rigorous web 2.0 and new media training for 30 emerging women leaders. We are speaking out for social change from some of the most unheard regions of the world.