Mandhu College announces partnership with international universities

Mandhu College signed four Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) with foreign universities yesterday to enable students to transfer to UK degrees, becoming the first Maldivian higher education institute with direct credit transfer arrangements with international universities.

The private college said in a press release that MoUs were signed with Westminster International College, Brickfields Asia College, SG Academy, and MAHSA University. All four institutions are based in Malaysia.

“With these collaboration arrangements Mandhu College aims to provide a formalised pathway for credit transfer for students,” the press release explained.

“Furthermore, this collaboration aims to facilitate students to transfer to a higher level program at the respective universities, thereby reducing duplication of instruction and enhance earning of academic credits, which will ultimately lead to reduction of costs and time students have to spend to earn these qualifications.”

Last month, the education ministry evicted Mandhu College from its premises in the old Malé English School (MES) building following a protracted dispute.

The college has since reopened in a new three-storey building on Majeedhee Magu near the Reefside shop.

Under its partnership with Westminster International College – a division of London School of Commerce Groups of Colleges – the college explained that students who complete the Mandhu College Foundation for Degree Studies programme will be given entrance to complete their degrees in Malaysia and UK in the field of business studies.

Students who complete the Diploma in Business at Mandhu College will also be admitted into the second year of BA (Hons) Business Studies to complete their degrees in Malaysia and UK.

The Brickfields Asia College will meanwhile accept students who graduate from the Mandhu College Foundation for Degree Studies programme to complete their degree via UK degree transfer programme in the fields of mass communication, business studies, human resource management, business administration, accounting, finance and law.

The UK degree transfer programs are awarded by over 10 renowned universities in the UK, the college noted.

The partnership with with the SG Academy involves the exchange of expertise and knowledge in skill related programmes. “The five star rated institute by the Department of Skill Development of Malaysia awards qualifications from City and Guilds, UK,” the press release stated.

The MoU with the MAHSA University in Malaysia meanwhile “facilitates students graduating from Mandhu College Foundation for Degree Studies Program to gain entrance to degree programs in Nursing studies, biomedical sciences, environmental health and safety, medical imaging, physiotherapy, medicine and pharmacy studies.”

The college said its ‘Going Global’ initiative will “expand learning opportunities for students and at the same time it will enable to establish international education programs that will enhance student’s global engagement and diversify their thinking.”


Student loans provided to 258 applicants

Education Minister Dr Aishath Shiham presented award letters to 258 recipients under a tertiary student loan scheme yesterday (August 17).

According to the Ministry of Education, 313 prospective students applied for the loans in March to seek higher education in the Maldives and overseas.

The scheme would provide loans to 750 students, the ministry said, and would be financed out of the state budget through a revolving fund created in 2012.

In January, the Anti-Corruption Commission had asked the ministry to reevaluate the vetting procedure for awarding points to applicants.


MDP launches higher education policy, pledges raising enrolment rate to 40 percent

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) unveiled its higher education policy in simultaneous events across 19 islands and two cities on Friday (June 14), pledging to raise the enrolment rate from six percent of school leavers to 40 percent in the next five years.

Launching the policy in the island of Naifaru in Lhaviyani atoll, former President Mohamed Nasheed said that the MDP’s objective was to usher in “a golden age” for higher education in the Maldives.

“We cannot let students finish their education after they complete O’ Levels. A student who wants to pursue higher education, even if he barely passed, will have that opportunity,” the MDP presidential candidate said.

The government would allocate MVR 500 million (US$ 32.5 million) in five years to issue student loans, provide scholarships and conduct training programmes, Nasheed said.

He added that island councils would be tasked with assessing the types of scholarships and higher education opportunities most needed for development of the island.

The Maldives shares its six percent enrolment with Somalia and Bangladesh, while developed countries such as South Korea have a rate higher than 90 percent. Neighbouring Sri Lanka meanwhile has a 15 percent enrolment in post-secondary education.

The MDP proposes in its sixth “mini-manifesto” to introduce an education fund, provide student loans with long-term repayment schemes, open new universities, colleges and institutes with campuses across the country, and conduct skills training programmes.

The party’s policy targets include the construction of two hostels or dormitories in the Male’ region, improving the Islamic studies faculty, establishing an Information Technology College, and setting up institutes for boat building, maritime training, medicine, fisheries and sports under public-private partnership (PPP) projects.

Other targets include inaugurating an education savings scheme with the government to match deposits by parents, providing plots of land to private education institutes, giving grants for financially-disadvantaged students, securing opportunities for 2,000 students to study medicine, covering course fees for students with special needs and issuing MVR 118 million (US$ 7 million) worth of student loans from a development bank during the next five years.

According to the policy, the monthly repayment for the student loans would not exceed eight percent of a borrower’s monthly income.

Moreover, the policy proposes upgrading the polytechnic institute to ISO 900 standard and establishing new faculties at the National University.

In addition to the proposed higher education opportunities, the policy also includes special projects to train 300 science teachers, 300 Quran teachers, 500 nurses and 200 pharmacists as well as an MVR 80 million programme for the improvement of lecturers.

The ‘Hunaru‘ skills training programme meanwhile targets the creation of 17,350 jobs.

On the MDP’s achievements during its three years in government, the mini-manifesto noted that the country’s first national university was inaugurated in February 2011, the first national polytechnic institute was opened in April 2010, a research center was established in Faafu Magoodhoo in collaboration with Italy’s Milano-Bicaco University, a TIVET (technical and vocational education training) authority was set up, a ‘Hunaru’ programme was commenced to train 8,500 workers in late 2011 and four private colleges were registered.

In addition, the government resumed work on a new building for the National University’s hospitality faculty, opened a hostel at the Kulhudhufushi campus, issued student loans worth MVR 300 million, facilitated significant increases in the number of scholarships offered by friendly nations, secured more than 60 tuition-free scholarships from the Bangalore Garden City College and compiled a report with World Bank aid on proposals for providing opportunities for post-secondary education.

Last week, President Dr Mohamed Waheed pledged to establish a housing policy for the people of Male’ as part of his campaign for the upcoming presidential election.


Student protest shuts down school over teacher shortage

Students prevented teachers from entering Rathafandhoo Island School in Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll on Monday, shutting the school for the day in protest over a three month teacher shortage.

Tenth grade students have been without an accounting teacher since January, despite the school sending a request to the Ministry of Education immediately after the position became available.

“Half the tenth grade students created problems by preventing teachers from entering the school. They were demanding an accounting teacher to be provided,” Rathafandhoo School In-Charge and teacher Thasneema Shakir told Minivan News.

“We have been without an accounting teacher since the second week in January. The [education] ministry was informed in January; the documents requesting a new teacher were sent,” said Thasneema.

“They said the request was being processed. I think it’s a big process they have to undertake,” she added.

Thasneema explained that policy guidelines dictate each subject has to have a specific teacher, and so while the school has been waiting for an accountancy teacher, the class has been taught by commerce and economics teachers.

“They are doing their best, but are not qualified and are facing difficulties. Students have been complaining they cannot teach accounting well,” she stated.

According to Thasneema, the Education Ministry informed the school today (March 18) that a replacement accounting teacher would be sent tomorrow.

Systemic education shortcomings

Teacher shortages, lack of qualifications and training are some of the systemic education system problems former Education Minister Shifa Mohamed and former Education Minister Dr Musthafa Luthfee previously discussed with Minivan News.

“Even for basic education we are still struggling with the teachers at the middle school and secondary level,” Shifa stated.

“There are not enough local [Maldivian] teachers. Close to 70 percent of teachers from middle school onwards are Indian expatriates. The ministry spends a huge amount of money on these foreign teachers,” she added.

Shifa explained how the lack of training opportunities for local teachers negatively affects how the curriculum is taught and that it prevents students from developing critical thinking skills.

“Critical thinking skills are lacking generally. Creative thinking is very minimum within classrooms, because there is a very rigid form of teaching going on.

“Teachers are not very familiar with curriculum. The main thing is that there is no proper assistance given for teachers and opportunities for teachers to develop themselves,” Shifa said.

She also explained how these shortcomings are compounded by poor management and lack of community involvement.

“School middle management has a lot of influence and what they’re doing within the schools is something that has to be changed. They exert very strong control over what teachers are really teaching students from the curriculum during ‘coordination’ meetings.

“Instead of really looking at things at a broader angle and trying to help the kids, they simply talk about what going to do on which date, etc. They don’t concentrate on literacy, creative writing, and the things that need to be really focused on.

“The teachers blindly follow what middle management and leading teachers say. I don’t blame them because they don’t have required amount of training on some of the islands,” Shifa said.

The lack of parent involvement in school boards and parent teacher associations compounds these issues. School board guidelines were issued under Nasheed’s government as a broad way for parents to be involved in all aspects of their children’s education, however this opened the schools up to public criticism, according to Shifa.

“In a democratic country people should be more engaged and one method is through community involvement in schools.

“While some principals did a great job working cooperatively, others really violated whole thing and didn’t even nominate people.

“Some principals are really scared of opening up schools, because for them its their own secure territory. They can easily manipulate the community,” Shifa stated.

Shifa stated the education system reforms undertaken during former President Mohamed Nasheed’s government, as well as by her predecessor Dr Musthafa Luthfee, would be taking effect now if President Waheed Hassan Manik’s government had continued them.

She explained that in 2008 – following former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s 30-year autocratic rule – the government took responsibility for 323 schools.

“It was a good decision, but was a huge budgetary strain. The education system was decentralised, the province units were very effective, a huge amount of money was invested in infrastructure renovations to provide healthy water and toilets, and teachers were more closely observed.

“Unfortunately, Waheed’s government has doubled down and re-centralised,” Shifa claimed.

Luthfee echoed these sentiments in previous discussions with Minivan News.

“Maldives school education will continue to improve if the current administration goes along with the policy guidelines put in place by the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) government.

“When we were in the government we did several things to improve education. They included establishing single session schooling, providing service training for teachers, enhancing educational management, decentralization of education supporting private higher education and establishing Maldives National University (MNU),” said Luthfee.

Shifa further detailed how education problems were not discussed among the public, therefore they “don’t really grasp the huge implications this has on society”.

“For a long time during Gayoom’s 30 years everything was very quiet, because you cannot simply express yourself. When you don’t have the opportunity to express yourself, who cares to think about something you should not be thinking about.” Shifa said.

“Over the years political figures go to schools and promise certain resources. This has become both a means of getting something for the schools and a campaign tool. Prize giving day [for students] should not become a political thing.

“Under Gayoom and in the past governments have used this very well to manipulate and get the votes for each election,” she added.

Shifa emphasised that politicising education is an ongoing problem and the sweeping reforms put in place under the previous government would have addressed many of the systemic problems preventing students from receiving a quality education. However, she has not seen any of these programs continued.

Additional shortcomings

Shifa highlighted a number of other training and policy programs previously implemented to ensure that school quality standards were met, teacher training opportunities are provided as well as vocational and higher education opportunities existed for students.

The initiatives include a teacher licensing program through the College of Open Learning, the Excellent ‘Baraabaru’ Schools Program, and the Skills ‘Hunaru’ Training Program.

“These programs would have taken the budgetary strain off government and ensured local teachers are adequately trained to administer a diverse education,” stated Shifa.

“Under the Baraabaru Program, seven principles for evaluation must be met, so schools and teachers understand that their job is not only teaching, it is building good well-rounded, model people, of quality character.

“We gave 150 million for the Hunaru Program, which was the most huge amount of money we allocated for any program in the nation in many years. This talent program was totally for youth development, not infrastructure,” Shifa said.

She further explained the program would have provided higher educational and vocational training for youth in any sector, thereby minimizing the need for foreign workers, both skilled and semi-skilled.

Shifa emphasised she was “very concerned” with the assessment efforts made by teachers, primarily because their current focus is on exams.

“We need to change teachers’ perceptions to let them know assessments and exams are for the sake of learning, not a separate thing,” Shifa said.

She explained that the methodologies teachers are using – or lack thereof – are problematic because the curriculum is not being used as a tool for teachers to “change and teach”.

Shifa detailed how curriculum revisions – for preschool, primary and secondary school – were already occurring in 2008 and that one of Luthfee’s “highest priorities” was to continue this process. He commented on these issues as well.

“Current school curriculum is in two parts, namely local curriculum and up to grade 7 and Cambridge curriculum in secondary. Both curricula lacks the ability to provide critical thinking and civic skills,” said Luthfee.

“However we are hopeful that the local curriculum which is being developed would fill the gap unless undue influences are exerted by people with extremist views,” he added.

Shifa explained how some small schools will have only five or so children in a class, but still have to provide seven or eight teachers – one per subject – for the students to continue on to secondary school.

According to Shifa, one of the most important ways these problems can be solved is through multi-grade teaching, which would improve the quality of teaching on the islands and bring down expenses.

She discussed how Nasheed’s government was trying to introduce multi-grade teaching nationally “in a pattern whereby the public will accept it through smart school projects”. To this end, a pilot-program training center was being established on Kudafari island in Noonu atoll in June 2011.

“There was a lot of enthusiasm within the school to continue this. Therefore, we made the infrastructure for the school to go single session – and along with the help with the continuing center for education – and start off the multigrade teaching program,” Shifa said.

The lack of quality education and resources then puts students at a disadvantage to continue their education – A-level, higher education, and vocational training opportunities.

“So many students are getting good marks and completing grade 10 but are unable to take A- levels because the Maldives is lacking well-functioning centers. Except for Male’ and a few regional centers, options are few and far between,” stated Shifa.

Education Ministry

Education Minister Asim Ahmed spoke to Minivan News about some of these ongoing educational issues.

“The challenges of teacher training and development are addressed by this government in a very systematic way.

“Teacher shortages is not a systemic problem. This year there are more teachers in schools than during the past three years combined.

“The evidence of this is the record level O’Level pass rate this year. Students will not pass if there are no teachers.

Ahmed also highlighted that the government will conduct teacher development programmes, continue MNU training, and increase overseas training for teachers.

O’level results still withheld

Preliminary results for the 2012’s Cambridge O’Level examination have not been released due to “difficulties” in analysis, the Ministry of Education has said, despite claiming “one of the highest pass rates to date”.


Police looking to recruit 150 new staff

Maldives Police Service has said that 150 people are to be recruited to the force, with priority given to those with higher education, local media reported.

Head of Police Human Resource Department, Superintendent of Police Ismail Naveen told local media that opportunities now exist within forensics, bioscience, human resource management and judicial system.

Naveen was quoted as saying that individuals with certain qualifications will be awarded a rank suited to their level of education.

The minimum criteria to join the police, according to local media, is a C grade in Islam, Dhivehi and four additional subjects in the GCE and IGCSE exams.


“Government will not evict MNU students by force”: Housing Minister Muiz

Housing Minister Mohamed Muiz has said the government does not wish to forcefully evict Maldives National University (MNU) students out of the old Jamaaluddeen building, which houses the university’s faculty of Sharia and Law (FSL), Faculty of Arts (FA) and Centre for Continuing Education (CCED).

The Housing Minister had earlier sent a notice to the university giving a seven day ultimatum for it to vacate the building, which it claimed was too old and no longer safe for use.

Speaking to local newspaper Haveeru, the minister said that following the notice Chancellor of the Maldives National University Dr Zahir Hussain met with President Mohamed Waheed Hassan and raised his concern over the decision.

In response, the minister claimed the President had given his word to the chancellor that the government would not make a decision that would leave the students of MNU “homeless”.

Muiz however said that it was the mandate of his ministry to advise on the safety of government buildings and propose recommendations to the government.

He further said that the seven day notice was given in accordance with his responsibilities and repeated his claim that the building’s weakened structure posed a threat to those occupying it.

The minister claimed that technical experts had carried out analysis of the structure and recommended that it be vacated as soon as possible to avoid any unpleasant consequences.

“We will not forcefully drag the students or any staff out of the building. We will not go there with a court warrant and force the people out. It is not what we intend to do,” he said.

He further added that even the attorney general had advised not to take any legal action on the matter, but stressed that if something bad happened due to the condition of the building, he would be forced to take legal action against the university.

Housing Minister Muiz was not responding to calls at time of press.

The Maldives National University and the government have been at loggerheads over the ownership of the old Jamaaluddeen School building.

During a press conference, Muiz said the government “will not be responsible for any damages incurred by students, lecturers or anyone who uses the building”.

“We have told them to vacate the building and remove their property as well,” he said at the time.

Minister Muiz claimed that the government intended to demolish the building as soon as possible after the MNU vacated it.

However, Deputy Vice Chancellor of Maldives National University Dr Fayyaz Ali Manik told Minivan News that they could not vacate the building as government had not provided an alternate facility, despite repeated requests.

“We have not been given any other building. They never mentioned it,” he said at the time.

He further said that if the university was forced to move out, it would bring all the programs currently running to a standstill.

The Maldives National University was initially formed in 1998 as the Maldives College of Higher Education (MCHE). The institution was established to rationalise resources and assure the quality of all existing post-secondary government institutes.

In 2011 the MCHE went on to become the country’s first university, formed under the Maldives National University Act.

In November 2012, MNU announced that it would be launching the first PHD programs offered in country. The subjects offered include law and pedagogy. The university has also announced that it will also be launching programs on political science in 2013.


Maldives higher education enrollment ratio “about same as sub-Saharan Africa”: VP

The Education Ministry has appointed a special unit to provide financial support to 1000 students pursuing higher education. The unit will be overseen by a cabinet committee headed by Vice President Dr Mohamed Waheed.

The decision, based on findings by the National Higher Education Council, is expected to provide incentives for students to perform well in school as well as to reduce regional disparities and further engage the educated youth in their country’s development.

Speaking at the 2012 Australian Scholarship Awards earlier this week, VP Waheed said provision of higher education had improved, “but there is still a huge unmet need.”

O-level results in 2010 improved with a pass rate up three percent from 32 percent in 2009 and 27 percent in 2008. U-grade (ungraded) rate, previously a leading concern, has also been dropping since 2009.

Last week, the Education Ministry announced that of the 1,515 students who sat for their A-level examinations this year, 78 percent passed in three subjects and four students were awarded for achieving first place at the international level.

By contrast, statistics released by the Education Ministry in August showed that only six percent of Maldivian youth aged between 17 to 25 are pursuing higher education.

Dr Waheed pointed out that only 13 percent of students enrolled in O-level courses proceed to A-level courses. Although this represents a three-fold increase in the last decade, it still falls below the national requirement.

“Just imagine, you have 24,000 students completing lower secondary and only 300 students are entering national degree course. That’s like 1.25 percent. Although we are a middle income country, our higher education enrollment ratio is about same as countries in sub Saharan Africa.

“Compare this figure to other relevant social sector statistics. While 300 students start degree programs 3000 students await drug rehabilitation. Also last year there were 300 teen age pregnancies officially and about 600 young people entered prisons.”

“I suppose we can build more schools OR we can build more prisons.”

Currently, public and private higher education is provided by nine institutions on Male’ and in a few atolls, including Maldives National University, Maldives Polytechnic, and seven private institutions.

Dr Waheed listed inadequate or nonexistent training programs in certain areas of study, as well as weak financial assistance, as impediments to educational pursuit.

Among the factors preventing students from enrolling in university courses is the cost of living.

“Living in Male’ is expensive, and finding accommodation if you don’t have a family to host you is difficult,” said Maldives National University (MNU) Chancellor Dr Mustafa Luthfy, who called the ministry’s decision a “very encouraging development.”

Although some MNU courses are free, dormitory services are costly and limited and there is no space to expand in Male’. MNU Kulhudhufuushi and Addu campuses have hostels, he said, but most atoll students come to Male’ because they can receive support from family members. “We want to expand the other campuses,” he said.

Luthfy said another leading challenge is the quality of education, particularly English instruction. “English language is essential, as it is the language of instruction in the Maldives,” he said. “The Ministry of Education has recognised that English instruction is critical to academic achievement in the Maldives, and has invited native English speaking teachers to come here and work.”

“Most students are enrolled in secondary education, and we have been taking steps to improve the quality of education we provide,” said Luthfy. “We have seen positive results over the last three years, and we hope the improvement will continue in the future.”


Higher education will shape the future of Maldivian democracy: Vice President

The future of democracy in the Maldives is tied to the country’s embrace of higher education, according to Vice President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan.

Speaking at the Consultation Workshop on Future Higher Education in the Maldives, Dr Waheed said he doubted the Maldives could develop a thriving democracy “without a free and high quality education system”.

A higher education system would set what was built and developed at lower levels, he explained, and therefore it was vital to improve the “very weak liberal arts education foundation that we have today.”

“We need to broaden our understanding and our conception of needs of higher education in our country than merely filling vacant jobs,” Dr Waheed said.

The Consultation Workshop on Future Higher Education that was held yesterday was organised by the Department of Higher Education, with the assistance of the World Bank.

The main objective of the workshop was to consult with a wide audience of stakeholders in higher education, which would lead to the preparation of a master plan in higher education in the Maldives.


President Nasheed meets with Indian Prime Minister

President Mohamed Nasheed met with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh yesterday after the opening ceremony of the sixteenth South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Summit being held in Bhutan.

The heads of state spoke mainly of increasing cooperation in higher education between the two countries.

President Nasheed said the Maldives is facing a shortage of lecturers and sought Indian assistance on the matter.

Prime Minister Singh said India would assist in filling the gap and provide lecturers to the Maldives.

President Nasheed then briefed the Prime Minister on the Maldives’ financial restructuring programme as well as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) programme.

President Nasheed then moved on to business, saying many Indian companies have been expressing interest to invest in the Maldives, and many were already stargin projects. He said this was a great sign of cooperation between the two nations.

They also discussed issues like climate change, defence cooperation and counter-terrorism.