The Wa­ter Cometh

Chil­dren in the Mal­dives must adapt to cli­mate change as part of a sus­tain­able pri­mary ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Fa­tima Si­raj

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.

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