Because every child deserves to learn
Context and challenges
When UNICEF first arrived in the Maldives, only 15 percent of children were enrolled in primary school. Today, that number has skyrocketed to over 96 percent, according to the Ministry of Education. Education is now seen as a human right – and because of this, the government provides free schooling for every child up to grade 12. Virtually all adolescents are literate in the Dhivehi language, and over 90 percent are literate in English. Such improvements cannot be understated, as they have sparked opportunities for countless children, adolescents and young people in the Maldives.
Even so, some children continue to fall through the cracks of the education system. The quality of education is a concern throughout the Maldives, and many adolescents lack access to higher secondary education. Though only 1.6 percent of children at the lower secondary level are not studying, only 45 percent of those children end up transitioning to the higher secondary level, according to the Ministry of Education. Higher secondary courses only exist in 59 out of 212 schools in the Maldives, making it impossible for some adolescents to continue their education unless they migrate to another island.
Only 45 percent of adolescents in the Maldives transition to the higher secondary level (grades 11 and 12), according to the Ministry of Education.
Quality of education and limited teacher capacity
Though primary school enrollment rates are extraordinarily high, school attendance is just half the battle to securing a decent education. Islands in the Maldives are scattered across the ocean, and because of that, the improved national school curriculum is difficult to implement and monitor. Studies have shown that students in certain atolls, such as Laamu in the south of the country, perform lower than others, illustrating a geographical divide in school performance and educational quality.
As such, the average pass rate at the lower-secondary level is nearly 20 percent lower in the atolls when compared to Malé, the capital and largest city. Country-wide, the Ministry of Education found that 40 percent of students in both fourth and seventh grade failed to pass their exams.
Though many teaching and learning materials are available in the classroom, still, some teachers continue to base their classes around memorization instead of comprehension and critical thinking. To ensure children are progressing at the proper rate, tighter linkages need to be established between teachers, students and the systems created to support them.
Crime, drugs and education
Though the number of out-of-school children is close to negligible for primary and lower secondary students, drop-out rates increase at age 16. The limited number of high schools restricts youths' opportunities to learn, and if they stop going to school, they also stop participating in school-based recreational events and activities. As a result, out-of-school youth are left without a safe, productive outlet to fill their time, and are more at-risk of joining gangs, getting involved in crime, and abusing drugs. In Malé, almost 95 percent of adolescents in conflict with the law are out of school.
Though lower secondary education is offered in all island schools, many only allow students to study arts. Schools in Malé offer more high-level courses, along with classes on business, commerce and other subjects. Hoping to dive into these topics, many adolescents move to the capital to continue their education with their families. However, migrating from one island to another is often wrought with challenges.
With some islands over 540 kilometers from the capital city, it can take half a day – and a great deal of money – just to reach Malé. There are no boarding schools in the country, and children who leave home to attend school may enter exploitative living situations. Of those attending school in the capital, 10 percent are not living with their parents. Without adult supervision and support, adolescents are again at-risk of falling into crime, gang violence and drug use.
In Malé, almost 95 percent of adolescents in conflict with the law are not in school.
Navigating the school system as a disabled child
Children with disabilities face additional challenges at school. In 2013, an inclusive education policy was implemented to support children with special needs. This has increased the number of special education interventions: education for children with disabilities has increased from 52 of 219 schools in 2014 to 178 of 212 schools in 2018. However, widespread social norms have continued to create high barriers for disabled children, as many parents assume those with a disability do not belong in the classroom. More must be done at the local level to prevent harmful social norms from keeping disabled children out of school.
Boosting the quality of education
UNICEF supports the Ministry of Education to strengthen children’s literacy skills in both English and Dhivehi. After noting a lack of quality literacy materials in schools, we supported the National Institute of Education to create packages for early grade Dhivehi learning. We also procured English learning materials for students, increasing their bilingual proficencies. Teachers are trained on developing their own literacy materials in Dhivehi, all of which are fact-checked before entering the classroom. To further support teachers, we convene teacher training sessions for the National Institute of Education, allowing the latter institution to address capacity issues and improve teacher training.
Building the Maldives Education Management Information System
To improve the quality of education in schools, UNICEF worked with the Ministry of Education to launch the Maldives Education Management Information System (MEMIS). MEMIS a real-time, student-based information system for tracking educational achievement. This system, which was launched in 2017, is helping ensure every student obtains a high quality of education. The innovation is the first of its kind in South Asia.
With the launch of MEMIS, teachers can better manage their students’ performance and classroom activities. They can also easily communicate students’ progress to both students and their families, providing real-time updates on a child’s educational status. By storing school records, issuing report cards, and tracking attendance of both teachers and school staff, the system is boosting accountability in schools across the country. The system also includes a way to track vulnerable youth who are at-risk of dropping out of school, triggering action to help these students when their grades and attendance fall short.
"The education system in the Maldives has expanded significantly in terms of enrollment, staffing and facilities over the years. [This] has led to increased demand for relevant, accurate and timely statistics to support educational planning, effective allocation of resources and making well informed and timely decisions." – former Minister of Education in Maldives, Dr. Aishath Shiham
Identifying gaps and providing solutions at the national level
UNICEF works with partners to conduct analyses of the Maldivian education sector, continuously providing data and proposing solutions to the Ministry of Education. In 2018, for example, we partnered with the Ministry of Education to coordinate an education sector analysis, which identified the achievements, gaps and weaknesses in the sector. These assessments guided the creation of the national Education Sector Plan for 2019-2022. In addition, we conduct large-scale analyses on the education curriculum, highlighting areas of strength and providing solutions to existing challenges. The results of these analyses are used to identify priorities for national curriculum reforms.
Providing support to the most vulnerable
To guide policy innovation and programming for children who migrate from the atolls into Malé, UNICEF conducts research into the realities these children face. We work with the Ministry of Education to assess the situation of children who migrate to the capital for education, and have proposed a series of recommendations and interventions to build support systems for these children. Such studies have sparked evidence-based policy dialogue with the Ministry of Education, which, in turn, led to the development of a framework for addressing these challenges. We also advocate for the establishment of support services in school and the value of a protective learning environment in the classroom.
In addition, UNICEF supports the Ministry of Education’s extra-curricular Life Skills Education (LSE) program for secondary school students and those who are out of school. We helped revise and update the LSE program, and have placed additional emphasis on the issues of drug use and child abuse in schools. To support children in conflict with the law – including those under house arrest and detention – we have worked with the Ministry of Education to build the capacity of social workers across the country. Social workers were provided with training on life skills to at-risk youth, leading to an increase in alternative education platforms for the most vulnerable.
Helping children with disabilities attend school
To expand children’s access to education, UNICEF works with partners to educate local island councils, parents, school staff and members of other institutions to promote disabled children’s right to education. These conversations have spurred dialogue around children’s capacity to learn and have built the confidence of families with a disabled child. MEMIS is also helping every school aged child – disabled or otherwise – to be identified, tracked and monitored for school attendance.