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Tsunami disaster – countries in crisis

Maldives: Preschools ‘built back better’ than before tsunami

© UNICEF Maldives/2005/McBride
Water becomes a tool for education during a session of ‘play-based learning’, a new type of teaching method being adopted across the Maldives.

By Rob McBride

LHAVIYANI ATOLL, Maldives, December 2005 - A ripple of excitement spread quickly through the little throng of 4- and 5-year-olds milling around the sandy school yard in the heat of the late morning. Their preschool teacher had picked up the hose pipe – and they knew what was coming. With a collective shriek, the water began to sprinkle down on them.

Here at the Nooraanee preschool on the island of Naifaru, an abundance of water at this time in the rainy season means that playing with hoses, buckets and bottles is the best part of the day for these children. 

“I like to fill up the water bottles and pour the water over me to cool me down,” said Nabhaan Mohamed, 5. “Then I throw the water over my friends,” he added with an impish smile.

Playing with water is very much in the spirit of ‘play-based learning’, a teaching method supported by UNICEF for children in preschool now gradually being adopted throughout the Maldives.

© UNICEF Maldives/2005/McBride
Nabhaan Mohamed, 5, is just one of the many children in the Maldives benefiting from new child-friendly changes taking place in local schools.

“The tsunami brought with it some opportunities as well,” said Unni Silkoset, UNICEF Assistant Programme Officer for nutrition and childcare. “One thing has been the increase in funds, not only for the reconstruction, but for the whole ‘build back better’ concept,” she added. She was referring to the strategy by which countries affected by tsunami will have infrastructure restored to a higher standard than that destroyed by the waves one year ago.

For the 137 preschools dispersed across this widely scattered archipelago this has meant a departure from the more traditional emphasis on academic learning.  Teaching is instead based on play, and schools themselves are being upgraded into a more child-friendly environment. 

“Parents see the positive effects of play-based learning on their children", said Ms. Silkoset, "and more and more parents are now asking for their preschool to change, which is very encouraging to us.” She was talking inside the drab interior of the Habashee preschool on the neighbouring island of Kurendhoo, which was still awaiting its makeover, the plain gray concrete walls badly in need of decoration.

With every island in the Maldives having been affected to some extent by the tsunami, a total of 35 preschools were severely damaged, while others lost valuable supplies and equipment. In the year since the disaster, the school system has already undergone a magical transformation, as witnessed by Sanae Mori, a Japanese Overseas Cooperation Volunteer, assigned as an assistant to the Nooraanee preschool.

“The teachers now understand what is important to the children,” she said. “And they encourage them. And that’s the biggest difference. The children have confidence to talk with their teacher, talk with friends.”

Behind Sanae the volume of squealing in the playground had risen once more. The 4- and 5-year-olds had finished their play session and had been collected by their parents. Now it was the turn of the class for 3-year-olds to jump with delight, as the welcoming shower from the hose pipe rained down from above.




UNICEF Correspondent Rob McBride reports on how preschools in the Maldives are being rebuilt and improved.

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