Acceptance of the latest technology is so high that in most of the schools in Maldives, internet based learning is promoted by the parents, with their own funding, they have provided TV, Smart-board, Computer etc. to schools says Dr Asim Ahmed, Minister of Education of Maldives in conversation with Mohd Ujaley.
Majority of South Asian countries are yet to address the problem of literacy, electricity and acceptance of new technology, in such a scenario where do you see ICT in education?
Using information technology to enhance the quality of the education and also teaching it as a subject in the classroom is very important. Many countries including Maldives have introduced information technology as a subject in the classroom. I agree, there are many challenges related to infrastructure, however, we are fortunate that Maldives has electricity in the all the areas, has good internet connectivity, some remote area may have little difficulty with regard to speed of the internet connection, but basic connectivity is there, or can be enhanced without so much additional investment. As far as mass acceptance of the new technology is concerned, in Maldives, it is very high, it is so high that in most of the schools in Maldives internet based learning is promoted by the parents, with their own funding, they have provided TV, Smart-board, Computer etc. to schools.
Government does not have the capacity to provide all the modern facilities to all the schools. Government provides the minimum basic facilities to all the schools such as good infrastructure, quality teachers, text book, and other essential elements to the school. It is the parents who have taken the initiative in promoting ICT based education in schools.
In last few years, gross enrolment ratio across South Asia has improved but not the quality. How do you look at Maldives in that context?
In the case of Maldives, we have 100% enrolment, so all the kids who are supposed to be in the school, are in the school, but today the issue is the quality of the education. In Maldives, we prepare for Cambridge O level examination, and also for Edexcel A level examination, so our syllabus is geared towards English medium education. Majority of the students study in English medium education, prepare for these external examination, for them passing these examination is very crucial, and that can only be done if the quality of the education is high.
Quality of education crucially depends on quality of teachers, so to improve the quality of education first thing we should do is to improve the quality of the teachers. We have initiated many teachers development programme for both in service teachers and also for those who want to enter into the profession. Now universities and colleges are offering degree level training for educated professionals. This will gradually improve the quality and will reflect upon the performance of the students.
In Maldives, most of the teachers at the primary level are Maldivians now, at secondary level, we still depend on expatriate teachers. Government has improved the infrastructure hugely in last couple of years to enhance the capacity of the schools. Most of the schools are have a single session. This has greatly improved the quality of the education, because now students are able to have more time, outside schools hours to indulge in various other educational activities.
In 2000, Government introduced Maldives Accreditation Board (MAB) to standardise the quality of education across the board, are you happy with outcome of MAB?
So far, we are happy with the outcome. The main purpose of the MAB was to improve the standard of education especially at post-secondary level. Especially, this has been very important for the private sector. In Maldives, higher education is largely dominated by private sector. Government is not investing very heavily in higher education. Government has a National University apart from that much of the higher education is provided by private organisations. MAB has helped us in monitoring and providing uniform standard to all these organisations. MAB has set various parameters for the private organisations to get accredited, this also translates into international acceptance.
Traditionally, most of the Maldivians have gone abroad for higher education, what is the present scenario of higher education in Maldives?
It is true, traditionally, most of the Maldivians have gone abroad for higher education, but with establishment of the higher education institutes in the country, many students are able to obtain higher education in the country for the fraction of the cost they will pay abroad, but this is only for the courses which are available in Maldives. Many of the courses are still not available, so for those people still have to go to abroad, now the private sector in that sense is competing with regional centre, such as Malaysia where majority of Maldivians go for higher education. So now most of the private institutes are having twining arrangements with Malaysian university or with other university that also helps in improving the quality.
Maldives National University has grown up and now it is fully an independent university, they provide education and training in all areas of social science. In science education, we still have to work very hard, still, a long way to go.
Centre for Continuing Education and Education Development Centre have been merged to become the National Institute of Education. It will continue to provide curriculum, research and other activity and most importantly now they will provide the diploma level courses to the teachers who are in the services by using the existing infrastructure. We have teacher resource centre, some of them will now act as training centre for NIE. So, a good many development works in higher education in Maldives is in progress.
You mentioned about social science and science education in Maldives, but how do you look at Arabic education given the fact very recently you visited Madhrasathul Arabiyyathul Islaamiyya?
Madhrasathul Arabiyyathul Islaamiyya has gone through various changes, it has shifted to new campus with modern facilities. Although, some work are unfinished but still we see a record enrolment in Arabiyya schools. It is so high that we have to take schools in two sessions; this shows how parents are interested in Arabic education because it is the only school that provides education in Arabic medium, according to Al-Azhar syllabus. Much of the enrolment has increased from grade one, so a large number of new students have entered the school, so definitely down the line we will find flourishing Arabic education in the Maldives.
Fishing is considered as the lifeblood of Maldives, it is the second main industry of Maldives. Do you have any plan or roadmap to educate and train the local fishermen?
I am happy that you asked this question, vocational education is the one area which we want to promote within the general education system. Right now we are focusing on O level and A level education. Some schools in the rural areas have vocational streams but we do not have enough infrastructure. Recently I had the discussion with the Fisheries and Agriculture minister on this very issue. We want to develop vocational course both in fisheries and agriculture. Our schools will introduce these courses and Department of Fisheries and Agriculture would provide the assistance in teaching these subjects because they have experts whom we can train to provide the teaching. We will plan the syllabus together and then decide a certificate standard; this is one development which we hope to see furthering very fast and yielding good results.
Right now, there seems to be little strain in relationship between India and Maldives. What is your sense of India’s relationship with Maldives?
India is not only the close friend of the Maldives; it is like a close relative and brother of Maldives. Historically, culturally, diplomatically and socially we have had strong relationship with India so we cannot afford to have relation strained with India. A lot of Maldivians come to India to get medical treatment, to obtain education, and a lot of the Maldivians are settled in sudden India to get education for their children, so these are very important relation and we cannot really afford to have anything which disrupts this tie.
I hope that we will be able to work out any difference that we have. I believe India is very matured democracy and similarly Maldives is very old country. I personally feel these relationships will not be disrupted because of the issues we face that have some immediate impact. Long standing relation will be strong, I believe foundation is still very strong, individual issues might disrupt temporarily but relationship is very strong, I envision a bright and prosperous relationship between the two nations.