“Two points need to be addressed: parent awareness of school policies, and providing schools with basic safety equipment,” advised Maldives National University Chancellor Mustafa Luthfy today in an interview about physical education in the Maldives.
Last Friday, four students and the principal of Huriya School drowned during a snorkeling trip off of Huraa island. A review of school safety policies is underway.
“We are reviewing procedures and guidelines for schools to see what happened, and to see how we can prevent future tragic events,” said Deputy Education Minister Abdullah Nazeer.
The victims allegedly were not wearing life vests, and school officials who were chaperoning the trip did not know how to swim. The excursion took place in an area used by the Maldives National Defense Forces (MNDF) for training.
“It is a tragic accident, and I am deeply concerned,” said Luthfy.
Luthfy, formerly the Education Minister, said guidelines for water excursions had been circulated in the late 1900s. “I don’t know how well they were followed, if they had been followed this would have been avoided,” he said.
Luthfy said the physical education syllabus is one of the lowest priorities in Maldivian schools, along with practical arts.
Luthfy recommended improving parental involvement and safety equipment at schools. “Parents need to understand the rules, so they can be sure the schools are following them. Otherwise, they are difficult to enforce.” Luthfy observed that parents are engaged in school boards and activities, and have a lot of input.
In 2000, Luthfy spearheaded the Every Child Swims initiative after a scout drowned, he said. He said the program had three goals: to teach every primary school child to swim; to train instructors; and to institutionalize the program.
“The program ran until 2004, but then schools started separate swimming programs and instructors began teaching their own classes, so it wasn’t institutionalized” said Luthfy.
Luthfy said the program made a difference during its four years, but he was not sure if current programs continue have an impact.
In the Maldives, many people swim at the beach. Luthfy says that distinguishing between safe and unsafe sea waters is not a program component.
“That’s not for the students to understand,” he said. “According to the Ministry, students will go swimming with teachers and parents who are expected to know where their children can swim.”
Luthfy also said that although girls remain covered when swimming, physical education did not differentiate by gender. “Girls live in the same place as boys, they face the same situations. They have the same life, so schools do not and should not differentiate. Many schools have girls swimming teams,” he said.
Officials were unable to respond to Minivan’s inquiries about Hiriya school’s safety procedures. Nazeer said that the Education Ministry is working with police and the MNDF on investigative reports, which are due for release on Thursday.