Schools closed over dengue outbreak

Following an outbreak of dengue fever, the government has closed schools until further notice. At least two people have died from dengue this week.

Speaking at a press conference of a high-level task force formed to control the spread of the mosquito-borne disease, education minister Dr Aishath Shiham said schools are being shut down temporarily to ensure the safety of students.

Special classes will be organised for grade 10 students to prepare for their O’ Level exams in October.

A pregnant 18-year-old woman died of dengue fever at the Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital on Friday night while a migrant worker died in Gaaf Alif Kooddoo last week.

A seven-month old infant who showed symptoms of dengue-fever died at Baa Atoll Eydhafushi today.

Meanwhile, some 1900 people sought treatment for a flu this week alone. The symptoms of the flu include diarrhea and vomiting.

A relatively severe outbreak of dengue in 2011 saw a record high 12 deaths.

Health minister Iruthisham Adam told the press today that the government’s efforts were geared towards preventing an outbreak of similar proportions.

Compared to the 2011 outbreak, the health minister said the spread of the disease this year has been “manageable” due to proactive preventive measures.

In addition to mosquito fogging in Malé and the atolls, Iruthisham said the government is launching a nationwide clean-up programme, and appealed for participation at the household and community levels.

Arrangements have been made to provide treatment for dengue fever at the government-run Dhamana Veshi urban primary health centre, the police ‘Noosandha’ clinic, and the Senahiya military clinic, she said.

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) has meanwhile launched a 24-hour ‘dengue hotline’ and urged the public to call or text 7548221 for information.

Housing minister Dr Mohamed Muiz said the ministry is scaling up its cleaning efforts to eliminate mosquito breeding sites from construction sites.

An additional tug boat will begin operations today to improve waste management services in the capital, he added.

Home minister Umar Naseer appealed for cooperation from councils, clubs and communities in islands with the government’s programmes.

Earlier this month, HPA issued an alert warning of the spread of dengue and viral fever across the country and advised precautionary measures to control mosquito breeding during the rainy season.

The agency advised the public to empty stagnant water from containers, throw trash into dustbins, and keep containers sealed to prevent water from accumulating.

The HPA also advised wearing clothes that hide the skin, using mosquito repellants, and keeping doors and windows closed during dawn and dusk.

The agency has stressed the importance of cleanliness and hygiene to prevent the spread of the disease and advised seeking medical assistance if a fever persists for more than three days.

Symptoms of dengue fever include fever, headache, muscle and joint pains, and a characteristic skin rash.


Education Minister cuts short Raa Atoll trip amid protests

Education Minister Dr Aishath Shiham cut short a trip to Raa Atoll amid opposition protests over terrorism charges against former President Mohamed Nasheed.

When Dr Shiham arrived in Raa Atoll Ungoofaaru Island on March 13, Nasheed’s supporters staged a protest at the jetty calling for the opposition leader’s release.

According to Haveeru, a clash occurred between ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) supporters and Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) supporters. Police dispersed the protesters.

The former president was sentenced to 13 years in jail at 23:15 pm that night over the military detention of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed.

Dr Shiham spent the night in Ungoofaaru, but left to Malé the next day without visiting Hulhudhuffaru. Dhuvaafaru, Maakurathu and Rasmadhoo Islands.

The minister had visited ten islands to examine the education systems before her visit to Ungoofaaru.

The President of Hulhudhuffaru Island Council Aahir Hussain told Haveeru students and faculty were disappointed by Dr Shiham’s decision to cancel the trip.

“Students and parents stayed up late for weeks to prepare for the minister’s visit. So everyone is quite upset when she cancelled,” he said.


“Significant changes” brought to education sector, says minister

Education Minister Dr Aishath Shiham informed the press yesterday of “significant changes” brought to the education sector during the first year of the current administration, including introduction of Quran as a subject for grades one to seven, Arabic language in 20 schools, and vocational training.

“Historic work” has been done during the year under the ‘No Child Left Behind’ education policy, Dr Shiham said at yesterday’s press conference.

In addition to the science, business, and arts streams in secondary education, Dr Shiham said a new “vocational education stream” would be introduced next year.

A pilot programme has been conducted this year in eight schools in Malé with 188 students, and four schools in the atolls with 279 students, she said.

She noted that the ‘B-tech’ diploma level two certificate awarded for vocational training was of the same standard or qualification as the O’ Level certificate.

The number of students who fail O’ Levels – the pass rate for which was 46 percent in 2012 – and “get left behind” would be significantly reduced as a result, she added.

Moreover, 68 students from grades eight and nine were currently studying polytechnic courses for a level three certificate, she continued, which was also of the same standard as the O’ Level certificate.

The ‘Dhasvaaru’ programme launched this year meanwhile involved identifying disinterested or poor students, she explained, of which 180 students have started working in 30 private and government-owned companies.

Opposition concerns

In an open letter – signed by former education minister Dr Musthafa Luthfy – sent to the education ministry last week, the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) education committee expressed concern with students allegedly being deprived of secondary education in favour of vocational training.

Under the new policy, the MDP noted that certain students are “labelled” as poor at grade eight and taught only Dhivehi, Islam, Mathematics, and English without a plan or approved curriculum.

“And after teaching these four subjects at school, students are to be sent to private parties in the name of teaching work,” the letter stated, noting the absence of a curriculum or syllabus for training the students.

The education committee also contended that singling out certain students for “second class” vocational education would become an obstacle in the future to conducting programmes for all secondary school students.

Moreover, the state’s “discrimination” among students would create problems for social equality, peace, and stability in the future, the letter added.

Offering a “narrow” education to selected students from age 14 onward would also prevent schools from providing remedial or special assistance to bring the students up to the average standard, the education committee argued.

The letter also noted that vocational training was not reserved for students with low grades under the new education curriculum framework.


Education Minister Dr Shiham meanwhile referred to designating two schools – in Kulhudhufushi and Addu City – for Arabic medium instruction as a “very big achievement.”

Moreover, Dhivehi, Islam, and Quran were being taught to 417 Maldivian children in Sri Lanka while efforts were underway to provide the subjects to Maldivians residing in Trivandrum, India.

A volunteerism programme would also be conducted in all schools across the country next year, she continued, and life skills training has been offered in 180 schools this year after training 196 teachers.

Additionally, orientation programmes have been conducted to introduce civic education in 2015 and resource packs have been prepared.

Among other first year achievements listed in a document shared with the media yesterday included establishing five units in five islands for children with special needs and two early intervention centres in Kulhudhufushi and Fuvahmulah.

While MVR17 million (US$1.1 million) was spent this year to provide facilities such as furniture and computers to schools, 96 classrooms have been constructed and work was underway on constructing 128 further classrooms.

Additionally, MVR1.5 million (US$97,276) was spent to improve school laboratories and MVR1 million (US$64,850) was spent to purchase exercise equipment for schools.

Under an agreement signed with the health ministry in February, 5,792 grade one students have been screened so far and a child protection policy has been formulated.

While 16 school counsellors have completed a four-month online “solution focused brief therapy” course offered by the University of Wisconsin, a survey to assess physical and psychological health of students is expected to be completed on November 16.

More than 1,000 higher education opportunities have been offered this year as student loans and scholarships.

As part of preparations to roll out the new curriculum in 2015, 239 “curriculum ambassadors” and 1,820 principals and teachers have been trained.


Adhaalath Party objects to compulsory creative arts subject in new curriculum

The Adhaalath Party is working ceaselessly to ensure that music and dance are not taught as compulsory subjects with the introduction of the new education curriculum next year, Sheikh Imran Abdulla has declared.

“Adhaalath will take all necessary measures against this,” the religious conservative party’s president said on his Facebook page on Thursday (October 23).

Music and dance have reportedly been included in the new curriculum as part of a compulsory creative arts subject from pre-school to grade three.

Islamic Minister Dr Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed – a senior member of the Adhaalath Party – has also officially requested the education ministry to make the creative arts subject optional.

Asked about the issue at a press conference of the cabinet’s Social Council on Thursday (October 23), Education Minister Dr Aishath Shiham said the whole curriculum was based on Islamic values and codes of behaviour.

“There will not be anything that conflicts or differs with Islam anywhere in the curriculum,” she insisted.

Islamic Minister Dr Shaheem meanwhile criticised the media for reporting the issue in a way that prompts concern from the public.

Shaheem noted that Quran was included as a compulsory subject in the new curriculum and declared his support for efforts to “broaden Islamic education and Arabic language”.

“We value [the education ministry’s] efforts. Along with that, I believe that we can discuss together in a friendly manner to solve the [dispute over compulsory creative arts],” he said.

Shaheem added that he did not wish to comment further on the issue at present.

However, Shaheem told newspaper Haveeru last week that “hundreds of citizens” were concerned about plans to teach music and dance as compulsory subjects.

Shaheem also denied claims by State Minister for Education Adam Shareef’s that the cabinet has approved the new curriculum, which is currently being implemented in a few schools.

While the social council has discussed the curriculum, Shaheem said the issue has not been deliberated by the full cabinet.

He noted that former President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s administration had decided to make music and dance optional subjects.

Several religious NGOs have also objected to the creative arts subject, claiming that music is haram (prohibited) in Islam.

NGO Jamiyyathul Salaf put out a press statement last month describing the decision to make music and dance compulsory as an “insult to Islam”, contending that music is prohibited in Islam.

Shaheem meanwhile warned that forcing children of parents who consider music haram to study the subject could worsen extremism in society.

The education ministry should accept the Islamic ministry’s advice on the issue, he said, expressing confidence that President Abdulla Yameen would amicably resolve the dispute.


Dhivehi and Islam to be taught to Maldivians in Trivandrum

Arrangements are being made to teach Dhivehi and Islam to Maldivian children residing in Trivandrum, India, Education Minister Dr Aishath Shiham revealed today.

Speaking at the closing ceremony of a workshop for principals of schools in Shaviyani, Noonu, and Raa atolls, the minister reportedly said that efforts were underway to hire Dhivehi and Islam teachers for the approximately 300 Maldivian children in Trivandrum.

She noted that offering Dhivehi and Islamic education to Maldivian children living abroad was a campaign pledge of President Abdulla Yameen.

In January, the Maldives High Commission in Sri Lanka announced that it was seeking Dhivehi language, Islam, and Quran teachers for Maldivian children residing in the neighbouring country.