According to the Inclusive Education Policy (2013), inclusive education is education ‘where all children are included’. However, the document affirms that the policy mainly concerns children in the following categories: children who need additional learning support; children with special needs; and children under special circumstances.
Special education needs
‘Children with special needs’ are defined in the Inclusive Education Policy (2013) as ‘children who due to physical injury to bodily organs, mental impairment, physical or mental difficulties, or health conditions are not in a situation where they are able to function independently.’ In the Inclusive Education Policy, children with special needs are divided into categories according to the type of impairment and the degree of special need.
The Policy classifies ‘children who need additional learning support’ into the following categories:
- Children with learning disabilities (dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia)
- Gifted and talented children
- Children with learning difficulties
- Children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
- Children with various behavioural problems
‘Children under special circumstances’ are those facing various learning difficulties due to natural disaster, family problems, abuse, accident or health conditions or by being exposed to various crimes.
The Maldives has established special education units throughout the country. One of the basic targets of the Action Plan for children with disabilities (2008–2013) was to have one special education unit in every atoll by 2010 and to guarantee that each unit was operating as a resource centre for mainstream schools in other islands in the atoll by 2013.
The Inclusive Education Policy (2013) called for education for children with special education needs to be provided in accordance with the degree and type of special need. For example, as stated in the policy, ‘children with hearing impairments shall be educated by technical persons using hand signals and arrangements must be made to provide education for children with visual impairments with Braille.’ The Policy tried to identify children with special education needs at an early stage and established a system which would foster the talents of such children from an early age through early identification and early interventions. In addition, it established the need to provide equal learning opportunities without discrimination for children with special education needs to the maximum of their potential. The policy established that children capable of attending school should be brought to school and children unable to attend school should be engaged in community-based programmes.
For gifted and talented children, the Inclusive Education Policy determined that schools should establish a transition plan that would allow them to complete educational levels according to their gift and talent. Individual Education Plans (IEP) are to be developed for gifted and talented children, children with various learning disabilities and children who need additional learning support. IEPs are reviewed twice per year.
Schools must develop programmes to identify children with special education needs early on, to develop their skills at an early stage. Children who, after screening, are identified as having special education needs are referred to centres conducting early identification and early intervention programmes. The policy set out that children with special needs should be identified and inclusive education ‘must be introduced to these children.’
Finally, according to the Inclusive Education Policy, schools should identify children with special needs (SEN) who have the potential for receiving education in ‘mainstream’ classes. A special programme must be conducted for mainstreaming such children and they must be provided with the opportunity to receive mainstream education.
The figure of SEN coordinator was created. He or she is in charge of managing the matters related to schools that teach children with special education needs.
The Inclusive Education Policy developed by the Ministry of Education in 2013 was formulated for ‘the inclusion of all in education, including those who because of various reasons of teaching and learning achieve the national education criteria objectives at exceptional high speed and those children who are unable to achieve the objectives in the most desirable manner’. The policy sought to provide equal learning opportunities for all children within the formal education system based on the belief that every child has the right to learn. It committed to bringing about ‘all necessary modifications in teaching methods when achieving national criteria objectives’ and to establishing ‘an education system which would include all children when relevant equipment and resources are established’.
The Inclusive Education Policy established different approaches to the education of the three groups of children listed above. The policy also determined the responsibilities of the Ministry of Education to guarantee the right to education of these children. It established that the job of SEN coordinator must be created in every atoll of the Maldives for the coordination of matters related to children with special education needs and that the Ministry of Education should create a ‘Focal Point’ to monitor the management of schools providing education to children with special education needs.
Appendix 3 of the Inclusive Education Policy has specific guidelines on how to provide assistance for children with visual impairments and hearing impairments, methods that can be used to teach children with mental impairments, and matters to which attention must be paid to when teaching a child with cerebral palsy or a child with communication impairments or autism.
The Ministry of Education, in close collaboration with the Ministry of Higher Education, developed the Education Sector Plan 2019–2023. It presented as a cross-cutting policy pledge related to the education sector that the country will develop inclusive education and more closely attend to those with different abilities. The Education Sector Plan promotes an inclusive and holistic approach to equitable quality education and lifelong learning for all Maldivians.
The Action Plan for children with disabilities (2008–2013) sought to identify and help children with disabilities who were not receiving an education and to raise awareness of the importance of education for children with disabilities.
In order to achieve this goal, the plan sought to:
- Facilitate the provision of counselling and support services to families with experience of disability, including facilitating access to training for the whole family in the use of alternative methods of communication such as Braille or sign language where appropriate
- Expand home visits from social service workers to conduct initial assessments of children with disabilities
- Develop, together with the Ministry of Higher Education, Employment and Social Security, guides for parents of children with disabilities.
The Action Plan also sought to ensure that all children with disabilities have equal access to education either in a special unit or through the mainstream system and to promote a positive attitude towards inclusive education among parents, teachers and children.
The Gender Equality Act was approved in 2016. The act outlined the provisions to achieve gender equality in the Maldives, the policies to prohibit discrimination based on gender, and the duties and responsibilities of state institutions and other relevant parties to achieve gender equality in the country.
The Gender Equality Act established the following responsibilities of institutions in educational services:
- To promote the principle of equality between men and women through the educational curriculum and amongst all people and their entitlement to rights and opportunities without discrimination
- To provide equal opportunities to men and women in acquiring education, reaping the benefits of education, training, learning, acquiring skills, acquiring knowledge, reaping the benefits of subjects related to science and technology, and in invention and innovation
- To represent men and women equally in the curriculum and while teaching, without assigning particular roles to them, regardless of the biological differences between men and women.
People living in rural and remote areas
Islands in the Maldives are scattered across the ocean, making ensuring the quality of education difficult. 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.
According to UNICEF, the average pass rate at the lower secondary level is nearly 20% lower in the atolls when compared to Malé, the capital and largest city. Country-wide, the Ministry of Education found that 40% of students in fourth and seventh grade did not pass their exams. Many students migrate to Malé for education. The Assessment of the Situation of Students Who Migrate to Malé for Education and Strategies to Address Vulnerabilities found that children continue to migrate to Malé in large numbers (with our without their parents) to seek better education and other services.
A single-session schooling policy was created in 2009. Between the beginning of 2009 and the end of 2011, more than 45% of the government schools were made single-session or one-shift. In 2015, the Ministry reversed the single-session schools policy, deciding to change public schools in Malé back to two sessions a day due to lack of space and overcrowding.
The Hen’dhunuge Naasthaa school breakfast programme was launched in January 2019 as a pilot programme in 25 of the 213 state schools in the country. The programme is a collaborative effort by the Education Supervision and Quality Improvement Division, School Administration Division, Corporate Service Division, Finance Division and Procurement Division of the Ministry of Education. It aims to improve learning and increase attention by having well-nourished children in the classrooms.
The Maldives has a Ministry of Education and a Ministry of Higher Education. The Department of Inclusive Education coordinates the implementation of the Inclusive Education Policy in the islands.
The Ministry of Gender and Family designed the Action Plan for children with disabilities (2008–2013). That ministry, along with the Ministry of Higher Education, Employment and Social Security, worked on finalizing the first National Policy on Disability. The Action Plan sought to improve coordination between different ministries, the National Council on Disability, and people with disabilities and their families and to create an action plan implementation group.
Since the approval of the Decentralization Act in 2010, the Local Government Authority has had the responsibility for local governance through the councils, including three city councils (Malé, Addu, Fuvahmulah) and 187 lower-level island councils, accountable to one of the 19 atoll councils. One of the objectives of the Action Plan for children with disabilities (2008–2013) was to have one special education unit in every atoll by 2010 and to guarantee that each unit was operating as a resource centre for mainstream schools in other islands in the atoll by 2013.
According to the Action Plan for children with disabilities (2008–2013), new building codes and construction criteria formulated by the Ministry of Construction and Public Infrastructure would be applied to the special education units that were to be created in each atoll.
The Inclusive Education Policy (2013) sought to establish an education-facilitating environment and a school environment which are safe and appropriately designed and include all the necessary equipment and materials for the education of children with special needs. The policy also sought to enable transportation to allow children with special needs to receive education while being as close to home as possible. It set out that the school and classrooms must be designed in a way that would allow physically impaired children to enter and exit easily.
One of the objectives of the Education Sector Plan 2019–2023 was to build and upgrade education facilities that are child-, disability- and gender-sensitive and provide safe, nonviolent, inclusive and effective learning environments for all.
The Action Plan for children with disabilities (2008–2013) tried to ensure the new outcomes-based syllabus applies equally to children with disabilities and is suitable for use in special education units.
The National Institute of Education developed the Inclusive Education Guidelines and Adaptations to Support the Implementation of the National Curriculum. The guidelines allow the national curriculum to cater for learning needs of students with special education needs and provides recommendations on how to modify teaching and learning with a focus on specific adaptations in planning, teaching, assessment, environment and resources in relation to different disabilities.
According to UNICEF, the improved national school curriculum is difficult to implement and monitor because islands in the Maldives are scattered across the ocean.
The Gender Equality Act sought to represent men and women equally in the curriculum and to promote the principle of equality between men and women through the education curriculum.
The Action Plan for children with disabilities (2008–2013) sought to ensure that teachers have received the appropriate training on how to educate children with disabilities who have special educational needs and raise awareness amongst parents and teachers of the abilities of children with disabilities and the importance of their education.
The Inclusive Education Policy (2013) outlined the modifications needed in teaching methods, equipment and materials to provide formal education to the three groups of children mentioned above. It foresaw developing special teachers and other technical staff to provide education for gifted and talented children, children with various learning disabilities and children who need additional learning support. The policy established that teachers should be allocated such that there is one teacher for every six children with special education needs, and in special circumstances, in accordance with the degree of special need. To provide education for children with special education needs, teachers need to have at least a diploma in the area of special education, or have at least two years of teaching experience along with having completed Certificate 3 in Special Education. The policy also foresees the creation of a special teacher allowance for teachers of students with special education needs to provide relief from concerns and apprehensions that may arise while teaching.
In addition, according to the Inclusive Education Policy, the Ministry of Education shall identify local and international opportunities for increasing the technical capabilities of teachers of students with special education needs, and opportunities should be provided for classroom observation and experience sharing so that successful techniques used by teachers in the schools with children with special education needs can be shared with other schools.
To ensure equitable access to quality education for students with special education needs, the Education Sector Plan 2019–2023 promoted the development of a programme to conduct specialized teacher training and inclusive coaching on autism spectrum disorders, specific learning disabilities and assessment of children with special education needs.
Coaches also receive training on inclusive education. In 2019, a four-day workshop was inaugurated by the Ministry of Education with the purpose of providing training on inclusive education to teachers and coaches. In total, 25 teachers from 20 schools were trained throughout the workshop.
The Gender Equality Act sought to promote equality between men and women and to increase the participation of women in all institutions providing education and skills training programmes.
A Multigrade Teacher Policy was first implemented in 2016. The purpose of the policy was to set up classrooms in which one teacher teaches the grade-curriculum level of students in two or more consecutive grades.
The Educational Supervision and Quality Improvement Division (ASQID) of the Ministry of Education monitors the Inclusive Education Policy (2013). The ASQID:
- Ensures that the policy is implemented in accordance with the designated action plan for implementation
- Monitors the percentages of children and students included in the SEN unit and researches and monitors the students who complete education, their results and other aspects of their lives
- Researches the changes that are made to the registry of teachers and technical staff at support units
- Prepares guidelines for schools to measure the implementation of the Inclusive Education Policy
- Measures to what extent the policy is revised.
The Education Sector Plan 2019–2023 has as an objective to strengthen the Maldives Education Management Information System (MEMIS) for policy development and implementation to improve learning for all. As dictated in the Education Sector Plan, a Thematic Maldives Education Report (Education Statistics Yearbook, or ESY) will identify gaps and suggest potential measures to address such gaps. An annual thematic report will be produced by the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Higher Education.