|© UNICEF Maldives/2007/Kun Li|
|A third grader in the Maldives uses a ‘smart board’ during a science class at one of the broadband-enabled Teacher’s Resource Centres being launched this month with support from UNICEF.|
RASHDOO ISLAND, Maldives, 26 November 2007 – In a historical event for the Maldives today, the country is launching 20 broadband-enabled, child-friendly learning centres, which link 20 of the country's atolls.
Supported by UNICEF, the connected Teacher Resource Centres (TRCs) will create a virtual learning environment accessible throughout the Maldives.
Because this Indian Ocean archipelago is made of 1,200 small islands – 200 of which are inhabited – up to 80 per cent of teacher-training costs are related to transportation. As a result, many teachers remain untrained. The TRCs will greatly alleviate these logistical problems, reaching teachers and children that are otherwise hard to reach.
"It's down to basics. Transport is costly, making it expensive and often dangerous for children to travel between islands to get a better education and for teachers to upgrade their skills," said UNICEF Representative in the Maldives Ken Maskall.
‘A child-friendly teacher’
On remote Rashdoo Island, teacher Asina Ahmed connects to the Internet and uses a ‘smart board’ with a touch-sensitive screen to liven up a math class. The teacher invites Aishath Zayba Ismail, 8, to count the number of cherries in a fruit basket. Ismail approaches, places her hand over the images and glides each cherry across the white board. With a special pen she writes the words 'four cherries' on the screen.
Before the Internet and smart board arrived, there was no interactive learning in Rashdoo Island. Now, broadband connectivity across the atolls has enabled new learning methods to take off, making classrooms fun while fostering children's communications skills.
"The Internet and smart board have made me a child-friendly teacher," said Asina Ahmed. "The lessons are e-mailed each day and I can use the Internet to show children simple things – like what a cherry tree farm looks like – unlike a photograph in a text book."
Literacy rates in the Maldives exceed 90 per cent, with nearly all children receiving some form of primary education. However, the enrolment rate in secondary school drops sharply. UNICEF estimates that more than 30 per cent of Maldivian teachers are untrained; many islands have up to 100 pupils per trained primary-school teacher.
Even though some 70 per cent of the population live on islands far from the capital, the TRCs will make it possible for them to connect remotely. Rashdoo is just 1 of the 20 islands to be connected so far.
Rashdoo Island's chief, Mohamed Shafi, is a former teacher himself and believes that the new technology has reduced the frustration of learning for many students. "The smart board has brought the world to our children's feet," Mr. Shafi said.