Reversing the previous government’s single-session schools policy, the education ministry has decided to change public schools in Malé back to two sessions a day, citing lack of space and overcrowding.
State Minister for Education Dr Abdulla Nazeer told the press yesterday that the ministry has been discussing shifting schools back to double sessions for the past two months.
“Malé school buildings are old and lack space. We have added space with extensions as much as we can. As students increase each year, it’s getting harder to accommodate them. Even in case of an emergency, it would extremely hard to evacuate all students from the building,” he said.
Shifting all public schools to a single session was a key policy objective of the ousted Maldivian Democratic Party government.
Speaking to The Maldives Independent, former Education Minister Dr Mustafa Lutfy criticised the move and called it a “step backward” from what he called the MDP government’s policy of developing a holistic education system.
“We promoted a well-rounded education system with literary and extra-curricular activities. It is simply not possible to implement a well-rounded education with double sessions,” he said.
Lutfy argued that a double session system is unsuited to the Maldives.
“Ideally, schools should be run in single sessions. We had double sessions before because our economy was weak. But now we have a middle-class economy, and it simply is not acceptable,” he said.
Lutfy also dismissed the ministry’s justification of overcrowding, calling it part of the government’s push towards centralisation.
“As students enroll in pre-schools each year, graduates leave the school each year. The population of Maldives is not increasing at such a high rate. This is a deliberate plan by the government to centralize the population as well as education to Malé,” he contended.
In the past three decades, thousands of Maldivians have migrated to the capital in search of jobs as well as better education and healthcare facilities unavailable in most inhabited islands.
A UNDP Human Development Index released last year highlighted regional disparities and inequalities in the Maldives as a “major challenge” towards human development.
“Where one is born within the Maldives determines many of the opportunities and choices available to a person,” the report concluded.
Deputy Minister Shereena Abdul Samad meanwhile said at yesterday’s press conference that more than 800 students from the atolls will transfer to schools in Malé and its suburbs Hulhumalé and Vilimalé in 2016.
Ahead of the start of the academic year, many parents appear desperate to secure placements for their children. One parent has offered a reward of MVR40,000 for a placement at Iskandhar School.
Asked about the issue, Samad said the ministry has always tried to secure placements for parents moving to the capital for their children’s education.
“We have noticed such posts on social media as well. Their actions defame the work we are doing to manage transfers,” she said.
Lutfy meanwhile claimed that the policy of concentrating students in Malé schools is not an “education policy but a political move” to reverse the MDP’s policy of decentralisation.
“The idea and culture of a decentralized system takes time to be embedded. No one wants to let go of the powers and authority centralized in the ministry,” he said.
Earlier this month, a deputy principal from the Haa Dhaal Atoll Education Center was brought before the ministry’s disciplinary committee and suspended over a dispute about uniform changes without permission.
Public schools, especially in the outer atolls, often lack autonomy to make administrative decisions.
A former principal in a school who had faced disciplinary action multiple times explained the issue: “As the staff of the ministry, principals also have to abide by the ministry’s regulations and policies while working for the development of the school.
“The centralized nature makes it hard, especially since it takes time in communicating through the ministry to get things done.”