“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.


Women against drugs to provide vocational training for recovering addicts

Local drug prevention and rehabilitation NGO Society for Woman Against Drugs (SWAD) has today initiated a programme to provide vocational training for recovering female addicts in the Maldives.

This programme – conducted in collaboration with the German embassy to Sri Lanka and the Maldives – was launched today at the SWAD vocational training center by chief guests Ambassador Dr Juergen Morhard and Home Minister Umar Naseer.

Speaking at the ceremony, Umar Naseer thanked Dr Morhard for the generous contribution which has allowed the NGO to buy the necessary materials as well as noting his appreciation for SWAD’s extraordinary contribution to the fight against drugs.

“I am sure that every country is struggling in this fight against drugs and so is Maldives, but I am very hopeful that we will see progress in this fight with initiatives such as this vocational training by SWAD,” said Naseer.

In his speech, Dr Morhard stated that drug abuse and trade is the harsh reality of the current world from downtown Berlin to the beautiful beaches of the Maldives, and thanked SWAD for stepping up against drugs in the Maldives.

Speaking to Minivan News after the ceremony, SWAD Chairperson Fathimath Afiya said the aim of the training center is to provide skill building opportunities for recovering addicts in order to make the transition back into society easier.

“Participants will be taught a wide variety of skills such as sewing and carpet weaving which could be marketed towards tourists which would enable the participants to earn an income in a society where there is a lot of stigma towards former drug addicts preventing them from obtaining work,” said Afiya.

The NGO plans to make the project self-sustainable using the income generated by the sales of the goods and has aspirations to have the whole programme run by recovering addicts in the future.

A national drug use survey published in 2012 by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reported that 48 percent of drug users in the Maldives feel they are neglected and perceived as outcasts by the local community.

The stigmatisation of drug addicts leads to the creation of a cycle of addiction with recovering addicts relapsing back into drug abuse as an escape from perceived ‘disgrace’ they have brought upon themselves and their families.

Work done by NGOs such as SWAD and Journey – a support NGO for recovering addicts – seeks to break the the addiction cycle with recovering addicts having opportunities to successfully reintegrate into the society as useful and contributing citizens.

The UNODC survey reported that there were 7,496 drug users in the Maldives between the age of 15 and 64 in the Maldives and that 48% of drug users in the capital Malé were between the ages of 15 and 19 years.


Government to collect statistics on youth unemployment

The Ministry of Youth and Sports has announced it will collect statistics on youth unemployment as part of the government’s pledge to create 94,000 new jobs.

The ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) had pledged to provide vocational training, and help unemployed youth find jobs.

Former President Mohamed Nasheed had started a vocational training programme ‘Hunaru’ worth MVR 360 million (US$23 million) in 2011 to lead 8,500 youth to skilled employment in a variety of fields. However, the programme was stopped in February 2012 following Nasheed