The political turmoil in the Maldives with the ousting of its president earlier this month reminded me of my recent visit to that beautiful island country while on a Fulbright Grant. I was conducting a research study on the influence of globalization on pre-primary and primary teacher education in South Asia.
The Maldives is an Islamic archipelago of 1,192 islands and about 400,000 people is not only a delicately balanced ecological system but was also experiencing the growing pains of a new democracy. An important development in the Maldives has been the new constitution written in 2008, and a president who came to power in 2008 after democratic elections were held for the first time in 30 years. This political change considerably influenced current educational practices. The Maldives was one of the countries included in my study. I have written about the beauty of the Maldivian sea and sky earlier in the blog. Here I want to describe one of the primary schools I visited. I am choosing to write about this particular school because of the student elections that were taking place during the time of my visit. Undoubtedly, the concept of elections and voting was new to Maldivian schools and society. The following excerpt is taken from field notes that I kept during my research:
"This is a government primary school that runs from Grades 1-8. The principal took us around on a guided tour. First thing that strikes you is how clean and neat the school environment is. The building is large, three storied, spacious open classrooms and open hallways, colorful, with lots of motivational and inspirational posters and slogans. Big emphasis on values: Fairness, Trustworthiness, Respect, Citizenship, Caring, Cleanliness, etc on staircases and hallway walls. Outside the school there is a large board with a proverb about thoughts and actions and character and destiny, which resembles other eastern philosophies such as Hinduism and Buddhism that I had encountered in other South Asian countries. The first grade classrooms are buzzing with two teachers and about 17-30 students each. There are four rooms and all of them are studying a unit on Family. Each classroom has a shoe shelf outside and all the students take their shoes off before entering the classroom. Their shoes and clean and polished, and their white uniforms are clean, washed and ironed. The students seem engaged and busy – both girls and boys. There are slogans for each grade level: The first grade slogan is Reading is Fun, the second grade slogan is Read to Lead; the third grade slogan is Dream Big, Learn More. The children in this grade level are grouped into groups named after sea creatures – lobsters, sea horse, jelly fish, etc. The medium of instruction in all schools is English but the local langauge, Dhivehi, is also used extensively.Elections for the school presidents (one boy and one girl) will be held tomorrow and there are 239 candidates in all. Students as well as teachers will be voting. Only one day is allowed for campaigning and today all the candidates have their poster and photo up on the hall-way walls. Since space is such a commodity in the Maldives and especially Male (about 100,000 people live on island which is less than 2 square kilometers in area) all schools have two-three shifts daily in order to accommodate all the children in the city. Since classrooms are shared by multiple groups each day, students cannot leave their books in their classroom and have to carry them to and fro between home and school each day".