MALDIVES: Education Reforms Herald Digital Learning, Radical Changes

  • by Feizal Samath (malÉ)
  • Wednesday, June 30, 2010
  • Inter Press Service

Similar facilities inside the classrooms have sparked increased interest in learning among the students.

'Attention and interest (in their studies) has increased since we began digital learning,' notes Zushan Kamaldeen, the school’s deputy principal.

Since March the island nation on the Indian Ocean has gone a step further to improve the education system by experimenting with digital classrooms.

Majeediya, the country’s oldest school at 83 years, is the first digitalised or information technology (IT)-structured learning facility in the country. The Ministry of Education says it plans to replicate this pilot project in other schools.

Lessons are taught through multimedia in every classroom inside the 1,100- strong school, which has classes from Grades 8 to 10 (the General Certificate of Education-Ordinary Level or GCE OL).

'All attention is on the I-Board or Smart-Board, as the ‘white’ board in the classroom is called during lessons. Students are more interested (to learn) now,' says Kamaldeen.

Information that needs to be conveyed to the students’ parents is sent using IT such as through SMS (short message service) and sometimes e-mail as the school moves to becoming a complete IT zone of education. The entire school is a WIFI-enabled zone, where teachers often use laptops.

State minister of education Ahamed Ali Malik says the Maldives has done well in the sphere of education since it has achieved universal primary enrollment.

The Maldives, far ahead of its bigger neighbours — Sri Lanka and India — in achieving the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by the scheduled year of 2015, has reached universal access to primary education.

According to the ‘MDG Report’ of the U.N. Development Programme, the universal primary education 'has been achieved with high enrolment rates for boys and girls. A net enrolment ratio of 100 percent has been achieved for both girls and boys in the Maldives.'

Malik says all children at the secondary level are going to school as well, which means 'children have 10 years of education in the Maldives without any difficulty,' he tells IPS.

'Historically, the love for education (in the Maldives) is very great. People want their children to be educated. The national education budget has been high for a long time,' Malik says.

Deputy education minister Abdulla Nazeer says the government’s main focus now is on improving the quality of education across the country.

In fact, he says, the government has adopted the use of quality assurance indicators in teaching as part of measures to upgrade the standard of education in the country. 'The new framework is to maintain and control teacher standards,' he says.

The government is also vigorously enhancing teacher training programmes and recruiting more local teachers, he adds.

Another ambitious target is to steadily improve the pass rate at the GCE OL examination, which was pegged at 27 percent of some 8,000 students who took the test in 2008. It then rose to 32 percent in 2009 and is expected to hover around 40 percent this year.

The target is a 60 percent pass rate to be achieved over five years to 2013, which coincides with the term of President Mohamed Nasheed.

Plans are also afoot to increase the entry of students into the GCE Advanced Level (AL) — an entry requirement to university degree courses — to 60 percent from 20 percent of those who pass the OL examination. Another plan is to provide students who pass the OL but do not advance into the GCE (AL) with two years of vocational training and gradually build an educated and skilled workforce.

Yet, for all its achievements within the education sector, government is still looking for an effective solution to the incidence of school dropouts, especially among Maldivian youth who have completed the GCE (OL).

Deputy minister Nazeer says some 27,000 to 30,000 young people are idling in society without jobs, some of who have resorted to crime and drugs. These comprise around 1 percent of the Maldivian population of 300,000.

'We want to create an environment where we could keep back students who drop out after the OLs in vocational training courses, which would eventually help them to get jobs that expats have at the moment,' he adds.

There are around 80,000 expatriates in the Maldives working in the education, tourism, health and construction sectors, says Malik.

He admits some major education reforms have met with resistance from certain groups, particularly from the opposition parties, citing, for instance, the costs involved.

'We are going through new social change and some of the reforms are radical,' he says. 'It would take some time for people to realize the benefits and advantages.'

© Inter Press Service (2010) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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