Teachers Association condemn “overhauling of the academic calendar” for Ramadan

Following the government’s decision to close schools for grades 9 and under during Ramadan, the Teachers Association of Maldives had said the move will damage students academically.

“We cannot at all accept the way schools were shut down all of a sudden,” said President of the Teacher’s Association Athif Abdul Hakeem.

While teachers do not have a problem with the concept of closing schools for Ramadan, he said, the manner in which the decision was made had given rise to numerous problems.

“It would have been alright if it had been planned ahead and included in the academic calendar,” he said. “The excuse that the Education Ministry gave for closing schools is also unacceptable. If students in Grades 10 and above can understand lessons in three hours, so can those in grade 8. It’s illogical to claim otherwise.”

Hakeem also refuted the ministry’s claims that attendance was lower during Ramadan, adding that students will face disadvantages as a result of the sudden closure.

Earlier in June, the Education Ministry announced the decision, saying that the reduced three-hour days during the month of fasting were insufficient time in which to take lessons.

It further claimed that the decision had been made after holding discussions with those in the education sector and parents – a claim Hakeem has denied.

Parents and teachers

“It is a horrible decision,” said Mariyam Maanaa – mother of a Grade 8 student. “It is making children lethargic. How will they cope when they start working and have to go to office during Ramadan if they get used to this being a vacation?”

Civil service working hours – also the subject of some controversy prior to the start of the holy month – are between 10am and 2pm throughout Ramadan.

“This is the first time school has been closed during Ramadan and I see no reason why it had to be done,” she continued

Parent Rahima Ali, meanwhile, feels that it was a reasonable decision to not hold sessions for youngest of students.

“Perfectly understandable that school is closed for pre-schoolers. It might have been okay to close them even for Grades 1 to 5. But over that, they are not so young anymore. They must be able to concentrate on lessons even if fasting.

“Fasting is not meant to be a break from life when all you have to do is sleep through the day. The ministry’s decision is ruining our children’s discipline.”

Teacher Aishath Inas stated that while they had been asked to provide handouts to students for the holidays, teachers did not have sufficient time to effectively do so.

“It will also be extremely hard to try to cover a full month’s syllabus later. Many teachers are unhappy with the fact that we have to work through Ramadan even when students are not here, and while we will also need to come out to work on every Saturday for the rest of the year,” she said.

Extra classes

Despite the government’s decision, some schools – especially those in the islands – have begun to take sessions under the name of holding extra classes.

The Teacher’s Association was informed today that the ministry had notified those schools to stop holding such classes.

“The fact that schools are taking the initiative and holding classes shows just how concerned teachers are that we may not be able to complete the syllabus on time,” he said.

On July 3, the Ministry announced that the mid-term break would now be rescheduled to fit in into the last days of Ramadan.

Hakeem stated that this would once again pose problems as it may interfere with travel and other plans that parents may have already made in accordance with the annual academic calendar.

“The gist of the matter is we cannot accept the overhauling of the academic calendar in the middle of the year. There is no formula that will allow us to complete the syllabus on time now. As for working on Saturdays, it will be a burden on the state budget to have teachers work then as according to the law, teachers will need to be paid double the rate if they are working on an official holiday,” he continued.

Minivan News was unable to contact Ministry of Education Media Officer Maina Latheef at the time of press.


Government commence student health screening

The Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) has commenced their student health screening project as part of the governments pledges. Local media reported that the MNDF have so far screened up to 600 students.

This initiative is being carried out as part of a joint agreement between Education Ministry, Health Ministry and the MNDF.

Education Minister Dr Aishath Shiyam said that neglect of small health issues in children has led to obstructions in their studies and development, an issue that the government is trying to overcome.

“With the combined work of the health ministry and the education ministry, health screening shall be administered to all the first grade students in all the schools of Maldives. The health screening we have done so far proves how important a service this is for school students,” she said.


Guraidhoo Island Council stops ballot boxes inside schools citing “too much black magic”

The Guraidhoo Island Council has passed a motion against keeping any ballot boxes inside schools on the island after islanders complained about “too much black magic”, the President of the Island Council Hussain Yameen Mohamed has said.

Speaking to Minivan News today, Yameen said that the council have been receiving a lot of complaints from parents and local islanders regarding the issue.

“This time two parents and one man and a woman were affected by the black magic and had to be treated,’’ he said. “The islanders and parents are concerned that if the ballot boxes are kept inside the schools, the black magicians will target the schools and students will be affected.”

Yameen said that the council and the Elections Commission will discuss and decide upon a place to keep the ballot boxes for the second round of presidential election.

“Friday night there was unrest on this island where Maldivian Democratic Party [MDP] supporters confronted the police,’’ he said. “The MDP supporters thought that two spiritual healers on the island were casting spells on the island school and confronted them and police went to the area.”

He said that one person was arrested on charges of attacking a police officer at the scene but have been released now.

“The island council will try its best to make sure that the ballot boxes are not placed in any of the schools,” he added.

Voters on Guraidhoo were reported to have queued for over 17 hours in order to stand on the location of a black magic coconut, ensuring that all voters would choose the same candidate as the first in line.

Multiple reports of ‘fanditha’ (magic) have accompanied the election, ranging from cursed coconuts and witches to black magic dolls.

It was reported on social media today that police on Velidhoo Island, Noonu Atoll, were taking down MDP flags, alleging they had black magic symbols on them.

Minivan News has also learned of individuals in Male’ attempting to purchase conch shells – revered for their alleged magical properties – for large sums of money.

Spells and accusations cast

A MDP supporter on Guraidhoo, who spoke to Minivan News on condition of anonymity, said that the spiritual healers on the island were supporters of Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) and the MDP supporters went against him when they saw him spilling water around the island school.

“The MDP supporters tried to stop him and the police came and tried to stop the MDP supporters, and then there was a little confrontation between the police and MDP supporters,” he said.

He said that the spiritual healers had left the island the same night.

However, Yameen told Minivan News that the spiritual healers were on the island for a completely unrelated purpose.

“They were here to take pictures of some Quran books that were buried on the beach,” he said.

On September 4, Guraidhoo police station summoned a white magic practitioner to evaluate a young coconut believed to have been cursed by a black magic spell, after it was found near the Guraidhoo school, where the presidential election polling was set up.

In July this year, a Guraidhoo islander said parents of the island have been refusing – and raising their voices against – keeping ballot boxes inside island schools because black magicians were casting spells on the school for election and later it affects the students.

“After the local council election,  the school students started fainting inside the classrooms and this became a huge issue,” the islander told Minivan News at the time. “The parents knew this was related to something like this and called in a group of spiritual healers.’’

He said the spiritual healers forced the spirits to talk to them through the body of the possessed students, who told the healers that they were unable to leave the students as long as the products of sorcery remained inside the school grounds. The spirits reportedly told the healers the exact locations where the sorceress had placed the spells.

Last week, a police team were sent to search for black magic practitioners on Thakandhoo Island in Haa Alif Atoll after MDP supporters were accused of being responsible for the possession of four local children by evil spirits.


Police conduct witch hunt on Thakandhoo after children allegedly possessed by evil spirits

Additional reporting by Ahmed Nazeer

A police team have been searching for black magic practitioners on Thakandhoo Island in Haa Alif Atoll after some islanders “purposefully” contacted the Maldives Police Service (MPS) and claimed Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) supporters were responsible for the possession of four local children by evil spirits, according to an island council source.

The police arrived on the island around 10:00am yesterday morning and started inspecting houses. Their search is based on information police intelligence received, Thakandhoo Island Council Vice President Ibrahim Shaheed told local media.

The police team is inspecting individual houses under a court warrant, a police media official told Sun Online.

Four children from the same family began behaving strangely earlier this week, prompting islanders to call in ‘fanditha’ (magic) men who practice ‘ruqyah’ (Islamic exorcism) from the nearby island of Ihavandhoo, a Thakandhoo island council source told Minivan News today (September 12).

The MPS was called to investigate the black magic case after some of the islanders perceived the incident to be politically motivated, the island council source explained.

“Some of the islanders purposefully sent police officers to homes of MDP supporters on the island,” said the island council source. “The police came and gave them each documents that said their houses had to be searched regarding reports police intelligence received.”

“The documents also noted that police officers were unable to find anything related to the matter after searching their houses,’’ he added.

The Thakandhoo Island Council “wishes to get rid of this black magic issue forever and has asked the fanditha men to determine exactly who is responsible [for contacting the police],” the source noted.

Because the four children living in the same house on the island were believed to be possessed by evil spirits the islanders brought fanditha men to the island on Tuesday (September 10), and they immediately started reciting ‘maithiri’ (Quranic verses recited to end spiritual possession).

“When the recitation of maithiri started three days ago the kids situation got worse,’’ the island council source said. “But we were told by the fanditha men that it will be like that until the seventh day.”

The fanditha men also determined the general location of the buried black magic items and asked people to dig in the area.

They discovered the black magic objects buried in front of a gate located inside the Thakandhoo Island School, which leads to the playground outside school grounds.

‘’When we dug up the area we found these objects and now we have thrown them away,’’ said the island council source.

The black magic objects were reported to be clay tablets by local media.

Last night the island council met with the community to talk about this issue as people were feeling “scared and uncomfortable”, he added.

Police Spokesperson Chief Inspector Hassan Haneef was not responding to calls at time of press, however a police media official told Minivan News that the MPS was not revealing any information about the case as the investigation was ongoing.

Possessed children

“The police arrived yesterday and have been checking houses for black magic books, writing, or a witch – anything suspicious,” a Thakandhoo island resident told Minivan News.

“They checked three or four homes and are still here today, but are supposed to be leaving in the evening,” she added. “So far no one has been arrested, but they have taken some books into their possession.”

A 14 year-old girl, and boys aged 12,10, and nine – none of whom have had any previous behavioral problems – have been behaving very erratically and are difficult to control, the source explained.

“I’m not a believer [in black magic], I never have been, but it’s happening. And it’s so weird to see happening,” she said.

“It just started suddenly. The children began speaking and behaving in a very strange way. Their outbursts happen randomly – any time of day for the girl, but with the boys it happens mostly in the evenings,” she continued.

“The girl has been seeing black shadows, acting weird, complaining of ‘frozen’ hands and teeth, and saying strange things, ‘I’m going to kill you and somebody’s coming,’ and has fainted,” she explained. “She was admitted to the island’s health centre screaming uncontrollably not to remove the [clay] stones because it would kill her, and not to kill her.”

“[Additionally,] the 10 year-old boy has been continuously running super fast all over the island trying to get into the school and he also fainted,” she continued.

During the community meeting last night islanders had an opportunity to voice their concerns and were also instructed about how to be safe and what precautions to take against black magic, the island source noted.

“Everybody’s worried about the children and they’re concerned because there hasn’t been a black magic incident here for a long time, not since my grandmother was a child,” she said.

“We were advised to recite the Quran and for children not to go out after 6:00pm or go to isolated places unsupervised,” she added.

According to the source the island school has remained open, but some parents have not been sending their children to class for the past two days.

This prompted the school principal to tell parents attending the community meeting that “they should be sending their children to school because if we [islanders] don’t go out [of our homes] it will be more of a risk,” said the island source.

“People are not openly saying much about it because that will put them in danger as well,” she added.

In addition to reciting verses from the Quran, blessed water can also be used to conduct an exorcism, Spiritual Healers of the Maldives President and Exorcist, Ajnaadh Ali, explained Minivan News today.

He noted that the minimum period of treatment for those afflicted by black magic is seven days, but it can take up to one or two months depending on the case.

Thakandhoo islanders contacted the Spiritual Healers of the Maldives to assist with healing the possessed children, however because they are currently “taking treatment themselves”, the organisation has decided to conduct workshops on the island at a later date, added Ali.

Politics and black magic

This is the third island in two weeks to have reported black magic incidents related to political party rivalries.

Police were summoned to investigate an alleged black magic doll after it was discovered at the Shaviyani Atoll School polling station on Kanditheemu Island during the presidential election vote counting.

Coconuts with black magic spells were allegedly being used to sway voters’ political party allegiance and incite confrontations between MDP supporters and police on Fuvahmulah, ahead of the Presidential Election’s first round held September 7.

Additionally, police summoned a white magic practitioner to evaluate a young coconut believed to have been cursed by a black magic spell, after it was found near the Guraidhoo Island presidential election polling station.


Teachers forced to work overtime without pay: Teachers Association

The Teachers Association has voiced concern over claims that teachers are being forced to work overtime by certain schools without pay.

President of the Teachers Association, Athif Abdul Hakeen, told local media that teachers are only paid 8 hours worth of overtime regardless of the length of their extra working hours.

In accordance to Article 37 (b) of the Employment Act, Athif told local media that it is mandatory for all employers to pay their staff for the time spent working beyond scheduled working hours.

“I would like to tell all heads of schools to refrain from forcing any staff to work for more than 8 hours.

“If they are to work more than the mentioned 8 hours, they shall be paid for their overtime work, as mentioned by Article 60 of the Civil Service Act,” Athif was quoted as saying in SunOnline.

The Teachers Association president claimed that some schools have threatened teachers who refuse to work overtime, stating that ‘they might have to think twice’ about how they fill out their appraisal forms.

Education Minister Asim Ahmed told local media that claims by the Teachers Association regarding a lack of overtime payment are lies that have no basis.


MDP pickup seized by police

Police have seized a pickup truck used by Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) during today’s protest, local media reported.

The pickup, which is used by the party to play pro-MDP music through a loudspeaker, was removed after it began to disturb students at a nearby school.

Police had given orders to protesters to leave the area, eventually pushing the crowd up towards the Roashanee Building on Sosun Magu, local media reported.

Resulting clashes between police and demonstrators saw multiple arrests.


Project to improve Maldives’ education system launched

A project to review and improve the education system in the Maldives has been initiated by the National Institute for Education (NIE).

The ‘Longitudinal Study of the Impact of Curriculum Reform’ will be a seven year-long project to be carried out with the assistance of United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), local media reported.

Speaking at a ceremony to launch a baseline survey planned to be conducted under the project initiative, Deputy Minister for the Ministry of Education Azleen Ahmed said the survey is to understand the impact the newly planned syllabus will have on teaching and learning.

“The purpose of such an initiative, taken up with the support of UNICEF, is to understand the current situation of the education system in the Maldives, and to understand the impact the newly planned syllabus will have on the children.

“At the end of the survey, we will know the changes that we require to bring to the new syllabus, and also to the education system as a whole. We will also be able to identify the problems with the current education system, and also the difficulties faced by children while learning,” Azleen was quoted as saying in local media.

Data for the survey will be collected from children of grades 4, 7 and 9 from schools across the country, local media said.


CCHDC backs sex education in schools to combat rising sexual health problems

Age appropriate sexual and reproductive health education needs to taught in schools to combat the increasing “sexual health illnesses” in the Maldives, according to the Centre for Community Health and Disease Control (CCHDC).

CCHDC’s Public Health Programme Coordinator Nazeera Nazeeb revealed that studies have found high risk behaviors young people – including “unprotected sex, drug and alcohol abuse, homosexuality and prostitution” – are putting them at high risk of  sexually transmitted diseases and HIV risk.

During a rapid situation assessment of drug abuse in Maldives in 2003 conducted by the Narcotics Control Board it was found that as many as 75 percent of youth surveyed have had reported having at least one sexual experience by age 21. In 2005, a similar outcome was derived in a Youth Ministry survey, which showed  that 14 percent of males and five percent of females under the legal age of 18, admitted to being sexually active.

In both of the unpublished surveys many adolescents and youth reported their sexual encounters were “without condom use”, the basic defense against  sexually transmitted diseases (STI), HIV and unwanted pregnancies.

Meanwhile, in 2008 Biological and Behavioral Survey (BBS) conducted among the five most-at-risk groups – including seafarers, men having sex with men, adolescent youths commercial sex workers, and injecting drug users  – further highlighted the magnitude of vulnerability these group face.

The report noted that unprotected sex with multiple partners is prevalent among these high risk groups and that the sharing of unsteriled needle and syringes is common among drug users. This study also found risky behaviors among the 15-17 year olds and the older youth, including buying and selling of sex for money often to finance drug use habits, sex with non-regular partners, pre-marital sex, group sex and injecting drugs.

The first anticipated outcome of these high risk behaviors were recorded in a report releases by CCHDC in 2011, which states 18 HIV positive cases were detected and over 400 cases of STIs in 2010, of which 97 percent cases involved women.

Detected STIs included chlamydia and gonorrhea – both conditions that can cause infertility if left untreated.

In addition to the heightening figures on sexually transmitted diseases, Najeeb leading the reproductive health unit of CCHDC said that the centre is witnessing an alarming increase in cases of underage and unplanned pregnancies where some girls are getting pregnant “without even knowing it”.

“These unwanted pregnancies are subsequently resulting in more unsafe abortions, baby dumping or infanticide,” she noted.

In last two years, three newborns have been found dead and two alive. The dead infants included two fetuses, one hidden in a milk tin and the other at the bottom of Male’s municipal swimming pool, while another fully-developed baby was thrown into a park having apparently been strangled by the underwear tied around its neck. Two babies were found abandoned and alive, and have now been placed under state care.

During the five year anniversary of IGMH’sFamily Protection Unit (FPU) in 2010, the hospital officials revealed that a total of 121 unmarried pregnancies were reported to the unit involving several women and girls as young as 14.

Unless it is proved that the conception is the result of rape or that the pregnancy is a threat to the mother’s health, these mothers do not have the legal right to abortion and are forced to take extreme measures due to the  stigma of having a child out of marriage.

Speaking about the figures at the time, leading gynecologist at IGMH Dr Aseel Jaleel acknowledged that in such cases pregnant mothers often attempt self-induced abortions, which pose great  risks to the mother’s life and pose potential fertility problems later in life.

He reported that two women had died that year from unsafe abortions.

Meanwhile, Najeeb adds: “Not just that, sexual violence committed against girls such as sexual abuse and rapes, remain at alarmingly high levels. “In most cases, abused girls did not even know what happened them, because no one talks to them about it.”

FPU reported that the centre received 42 cases of rape over the five years, of which over half involved minors. Authorities observe that several more cases are likely to be under reported from the Male and especially from  the islands which accommodate two thirds of the Maldives’ 350,000 population.

In 2008 the Global School Based Student Health Survey (GSHS) conducted among 1516 students from secondary school signaled an astonishing amount of sexual violence: 17 percent students reported being “physically forced” to have sex.

Furthermore it found high rates of alcohol consumption (6.7 percent) and life time drug use (5.7 percent) while, almost 20 percent of students surveyed reported having suicidal tendencies.

FPU had reported that in cases of rape and abuse, victims often attempt suicide or suffer grave emotional trauma and found an evident connection between substance abuse and gender based violence.

Despite these eye-opening findings and anecdotal evidence on sexual health problems, Najeeb said that many parents feel reluctant to talk to their children about sex and drugs, while the current school curriculum provides little to no information about reproductive health, leaving adolescents and youth unguarded and vulnerable.

In an effort to provide such information, she said that Life Skill Education (LSE) program and the Youth Health Cafe’ program was initiated by the authorities, but over the years both remained active only on a small scale and had not been successful in expanding systemic outreach to vulnerable groups.

When asked whether incorporating compulsory sex education into Maldivian education system could be a solution, Najeeb responded that “adolescents must receive age appropriate reproductive health education in schools.”

She explained: “Students, except for those studying biology, have little to no information about their reproductive system. In school Islam lessons they teach students about marriage, divorce, cleansing, fornication. They are telling kids what is Haram [forbidden] and Halal [allowed]. But they are not teaching kids about the ramifications of those acts [sex] and reasons for it being forbidden.”

“Teenage years are a very explorative and experimental age. At that age, if the adolescents are not taught about the sexual and reproductive health and ramifications of high risk behaviors such as unprotected sex and drug abuse, they are likely to be more vulnerable and go astray,” Najeeb further noted.

She admitted that the suggested sex education programs in schools was a controversial subject, considering the religious and cultural background of Maldives, a 100 percent Muslim nation.

Therefore, she said authorities must together consult and come to a consensus on the subject of supporting adolescents and youth to protect their bodies and lives.

“We need to take action together. This is not a problem we can solve alone,” Najeeb concluded.

Meanwhile, in an interview to Minivan News, Former Minister for Gender and Family Aneesa Ahmed also echoed Najeeb’s suggestions: “If we can teach children about nose and ears, why can’t we teach them about their sex organs in an age appropriate manner? There is absolutely no shame in it. After all, it is also part of the human body.”

“Today the scale of of sexual abuse, unwanted and underage pregnancies, abortions and infanticide in the community has  gone to extreme levels. Everyone needs to take responsibility for this. Parents, schools and the society as a whole,” said Aneesa, recipient of this years’ US State Secretary’s Women of Courage Award.

Young girls and boys need to be educated about their responsibilities, and given means to guard their bodies and dignity, she added.

Before assuming office as Health Minister, Dr Ahmed Jamsheed, the former Director General of the CCHDC, also publicly stated his support for sex education in schools.

In a blog entry in 2010, he wrote that broader reproductive health should be taught in the schools, either incorporated to the curriculum or as a separate programme.

He wrote: “I believe that we should introduce a comprehensive sex education programme in an appropriate manner in the school. I understand that this is a sensitive terminology with a lot of misunderstanding and misconceptions associated with it. But such a programme would address vital reproductive health issues including abstinence, medically accurate and age/developmentally appropriate information about sexuality.”

Such a programme, he said, should include information on relationship, emotional relations, reproductive rights and responsibilities, decision-making, assertiveness, and skill building; empowering and enabling the youth to resist social or peer pressure and become responsible citizens with safer and healthier behaviors.

“Children should also be taught building their skills on avoiding experimentation on risky and harmful habits like smoking, using drugs, etc. I believe there is no better time to start interventions than in primary education and gradually go along the academic ladder in an age and culturally appropriate and sensitive manner.” he explained.

In the same post,Dr Jamsheed also called for all barriers to access contraceptives be removed: “I understand that some people would condemn this opinion, arguing that this will promote unlawful and out of wedlock sex. However, I don’t believe that the availability or non-availability of condom or contraceptives would ever be a factor determining whether two people who want to have sex will have it or not.”

However, since taking office Dr Jamsheed has not introduced any explicit policies on addressing the sexual health epidemic. “I will talk on the issue later”, he recently told Minivan News.

Minivan News meanwhile wrote  two months ago to the Education Ministry requesting it clarify the ministry’s stand on expanding sex education in schools under the ongoing curriculum review, but it had not responded at time of press.

However an official from the curriculum development unit anonymously confirmed that “every time sex education topic is raised in review meetings, some conservative individuals are blocking it, saying such a measure would increase promiscuity.”

UNFPA Assistant Representative Shadiya Ibrahim however argued that “sex education does not increase promiscuity”. Of 68 studies on family life and sex education in a scientific review, she observed, 65 studies found no associated increases in sexual behavior.

“Young people taking part in such programs had higher levels of abstinence, later start of sexual activity, higher use of contraceptives, fewer sexual partners and/or reduced rates of STDs and unplanned pregnancy,”  Ibrahim noted.

Four students and principal drown on school excursion

Almost two-thirds of Male’ attended the funeral on Friday for the principal of Hiriya School and four female students, who drowned off Huraa in Kaafu Atoll during a school fisheries science trip.

The bodies of grade nine students Nash-ath Saeed, Mariyam Naza, Aishath Saniha, Mariyam Shaiha and Hiriya Principal Ali Nazim were brought to Male’ in the afternoon.

The group of students left Hiriya School at 5:45am on Friday morning for a fisheries science field trip. A component of the trip involved snorkelling in an area used regularly by the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) for training exercises.

Students entered the sea around 9:30am, accompanied by the school principal.

Haveeru reported sources as saying that Nazim died trying to single-handedly rescue the students, who were allegedly unable to swim when they were caught in eight feet of water in a lagoon north-east of Huraa. The area is known for having very strong currents.

Sun Online reported that Nazim attempted to rescue eight students who found themselves in trouble, and was able to save four before he died.

Sources at the funeral told Minivan News that the panicked students grabbed the principal when he reached them and he was unable to rescue the remaining children.

Relatives who attended the funeral said that the students were not asked whether they knew how to swim, and blamed the school management. No life jackets were taken on the trip, one source claimed, although this was unverified.

Haveeru reported that eight teachers accompanied the school trip of 32 to Huraa, and staff had the necessary first aid requirements.

The bodies were brought to Male’ in a speedboat around 10:40 from nearby Four Seasons resort. Meanwhile, the rest of the students returned yesterday afternoon and parents were summoned to attend the school.

The bodies were first brought to Aasahara cemetery in Galolhu, but due to the large number of mourners attending the funeral, their bodies were moved to the Islamic Centre.

The bodies were scheduled to be laid to rest after Isha prayer at 7:30pm, but of the large numbers the faces of the deceased were only covered at 10:30pm.

Hiriya school principal Ali Nazim

News of the tragedy quickly spread around Male’ and had a profound impact on the city, with reports of many parents ringing their children and begging them not to go in the water.

President Mohamed Nasheed telephoned the families of the deceased, and later announced that the national flag would be flown at half mast for three days.

Education Minister Shifa Mohamed is returning early from her trip to Australia and is expected to arrive in Male’ tomorrow.

Police Commissioner Ahmed Faseeh said a joint investigation into the incident had been launched by the police and Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF).