The Water Cometh
Children in the Maldives must adapt to climate change as part of a sustainable primary education system.
The Maldives is a country that has long been associated with idyllic islands and natural beauty. However, few people know that the country also boasts significant growth in human development in recent years. Having met more than half of its Millennium Development Goals even before 2015 had set in, the Maldives has gained the status of a ‘MDG plus’ country with high life expectancy, increased economic growth and an impressive 99% literacy rate. These remarkable statistics for a population that is spread over nearly 200 islands
is a huge increase from 70% in 1978, the year in which the United Nations decided to help establish a unified education program for the country.
Since 1978, UNICEF together with the Ministry of Education has worked under this program to bring about the change that is reflected in the rise of the literacy level. The unified education program has aimed to bring about a change in the education system by not only encouraging creative and participatory learning methodologies but also by involving parents and care givers in their children’s education. One of the program’s major objectives has also been to review the national curriculum in order to make it more aligned with the country’s development aspirations. However, the most important step taken as part of this program has been the creation of ‘Teacher Resource Centers’. These centers, which are twenty in number, are provided with high speed Internet and a customized website that gives the teachers access to online teaching and learning tools. Through these centers, island teachers can also interact with international learning communities that design and share best practices. In addition, the state of the art centers enable distance learning for students living in remote areas. This has helped solve the problems associated with educational inaccessibility to small, isolated sections of the scattered Maldivian population. The success of this pro-active, unified education program in reaching everyone is reflected in the nation’s primary school enrollment rate, which currently stands at a perfect 100%.
This focus on education can be greatly beneficial to the Maldives’ grave environmental concerns. The Maldives is made up of extremely vulnerable little islands that are dangerously low lying. This makes the country very susceptible to climate change and the natural disasters associated with them. Twelve of the Maldives’ islands have very high-risk levels on the multi hazard scale, which takes into account the risks associated with the impact of earthquakes, cyclones and tsunamis. Additionally, the rising sea levels pose a serious threat with more than 80% of the country’s land floating dangerously close to the mean sea level.
According to a UNICEF report, children will be hit hardest by the extreme weather conditions and flooding brought about by climate change. Children are prone to facing some of the worst impacts of this climate change as it has the potential to destroy educational infrastructure and disrupt schooling, which has a direct link to educational attainment. There are demand side effects of climate change as well. These have to do with people losing out on their coastal area based livelihoods, which affects parents’ ability to send their children to school. As primary education plays a key role in the development of standards of living, there is a pressing need for the Maldives to mitigate and adapt to climate change in an effort to achieve a sustainable primary education system.
And this starts with educating the children themselves. Since mitigation of climate change is directly linked to a reduction in the emission of green house gases, children will need to be equipped with the necessary scientific and technological knowledge required to achieve this end. Primary school children can even be taught how to adapt to climate change, an approach that will not only be cost-effective but one that will lead to a snowball effect. With the help of the well-equipped Teacher Resource Centers, dedicated teachers can act as forerunners in training young minds to acquire a resilient approach to climate change. These children will in turn disseminate information to their community members, which will be highly beneficial. This is because communities are often the sources of knowledge that play a key role in effectively dealing with natural disasters.
The primary school system of the Maldives seems to be on the right track at the moment. This is because the national curriculum, which was revised in 2011, places a lot of emphasis on the need to acquire environmental knowledge. According to this curriculum, environmental studies at the primary level are to be taught for one period every day, sharing the same number of weekly periods as Mathematics. In addition, UNICEF has taken the initiative to develop best practice guidelines for primary school teachers teaching environmental studies. The central theme around which the guidelines are formed pertains to getting
Children are prone to facing some of the worst impacts of this climate change.
children to proactively deal with the challenges posed by changes in the environment. Teachers are further advised to encourage their students to be aware of the environmental forces that can only be combated through a conscious community effort. Case study approaches and outdoor activities are suggested to get the students to relate theory with practice. Interdisciplinary teaching is also advised so that students can use aspects from technology, economics, science and business to help them practically solve environmental problems for a sustainable future.
Furthermore, action oriented and knowledge-based programs are emphasized on to inculcate a sense of solidarity and communitarianism in children. As part of the knowledgebased program, children would be given the chance to interact with locals and listen to stories about historical survival techniques. This will enable them to combine local insight with theory in coming up with actionable solutions to environmental problems. Similarly, the action-oriented program includes providing students with the chance to work on projects within the school and local community. These programs are vital in boosting selfconfidence and assuring the future leaders of the nation that they are capable of driving change. The many benefits of getting students to actively think about environmental problems makes primary school education an essential driving force in the quest towards combatting climate changes. The advent of the unified education program and the Teacher Resource Centers lends much needed strength to the cause, making the possibility of a sustainable future for the Maldives very real.