Maldives education sector and schools lag in funding

The griping complaint by parents is the need to fund school activities and celebrations by them.

Minister of Education - Photo: PSM

Minister of Education - Photo: PSM

In Maldives, general education is delivered through a network of public and private schools across the country. According to data from the Ministry of Education (MOE), as of June 2022, there is a total 271 schools in the Maldives, of which 37 house 36,341 students in the Male’ region and 234 house 57,851 students in the remaining atolls. To cater to these students, the 2023 proposed budget for the MOE includes the following components:

  • Pre-Primary & Primary Education: MVR 1.2 billion
  • Secondary Education: MVR 941 million
  • Post-Secondary Nontertiary Education: MVR 83 million

Regrettably, this falls short to meet the burgeoning demands for the whole sector and thus for individual schools. Consequently, schools find themselves compelled to seek external funding, much to the disappointment of the parents of the enrolled students. This has sparked conversations surrounding the extent to which parents must contribute to the capital and recurrent spending of schools.

Children's Day Celebrations 2023

As dawn broke on the commencement of the children’s day celebration, pictures shared by parents and schools on various social media platforms illustrated the vibrant displays of festivities. Various themes adopted by schools showcased dressed-up children and enthusiastic staff. Spirited decorations adorn the school premises in a kaleidoscope of colors.

Yet, in the wake of the celebrations, the murmurs and whispers of dismay and discontent from parents poured out from social media pages to groups, eventually gaining traction and catching the attention of the media. At the heart of these discussions lies the extravagant nature of the celebrations, costing a hefty impact on the time and pockets of parents.

Budget or No Budget?

This has reignited the conversation regarding the financial strain parents have to endure for various events and celebrations at school. The harsh reality is schools are not self-sufficient. School managements are crippled in balancing the diverse needs of their key stakeholders within the constraints of their allocated budget. Subsequently, they are induced to seek alternative funding sources, unfortunately with a heavy reliance on parents.

Scouring through social media posts, conversations with parents, or through reading published articles – the griping complaint by parents is the need to fund school activities and celebrations. Exasperatingly, this spending is not limited to the said activities and celebrations, but to capital spending such as for infrastructure development or activities directly linked to teaching and learning. The range of expenses varies from constructing furniture such as cupboards and cubbies to acquiring appliances like fans and televisions. Additionally, there have been cases where funds have been collected to cover fees for external coaches or trainers as well.

No Celebrations?

Not at all! The consensus among both parents and schools is that they want to celebrate special days. After all, such celebrations enrich students' educational experiences and contribute to their holistic development. It offers students valuable learning opportunities to explore diverse cultures, historical events, and social issues, broadening their knowledge and understanding of the world. They also help to nurture community building by bringing together students, teachers, and staff, fostering relationships and a strong school spirit. It also contributes to students' social and emotional development, providing opportunities for creative expression and the development of crucial social skills such as empathy and cooperation. Additionally, these celebrations offer a refreshing break from the regular school routine, injecting excitement and creating a beautiful memory.

As for other investments, whether it is furniture for classes, plants for the compound, books for the library, or computer systems for the labs, these expenses are indispensable for the education of students and must be incurred.

What is the solution?

1.     Boosting public sector investment in the education sector  

The budgeting process for schools within the Maldivian system is far more complicated than one would imagine. Despite the reliance on student numbers and central allocation, the final budget schools receive falls significantly short. There is a pressing need to revise and revamp budgets allocated for schools. Accomplishing this requires macro-level reforms augmenting government funding for the whole education sector.

2.     Fundraising through grants, the private sector, and events

In light of the budgetary challenges, it is an undeniable reality that school budgets must be supplemented. While the avenues for this are limited, there are three viable options. The first option entails seeking grants from both international and local donors. Through the submission of proposals to bodies, schools in the past have secured funding for various projects. Another avenue is forging partnerships with the private sector. While schools have already benefited from generous donations and support from companies and resorts in the Maldives, further development is vital. However, this requires government intervention to systematically integrate corporate social responsibility (CSR) schemes into the education sector. Finally, despite potential scrutiny from some parents, fundraising activities organized by the school remain a crucial means for schools across the globe to generate additional funds.

3.     Reimagining celebrations

Amidst the proliferation of schools showcasing their activities on social media, there appears to be increasing pressure to outshine one another. This phenomenon has fostered an unhealthy culture of competition that extends beyond mere celebrations. More than ever, it has become crucial for MOE and schools to pause and reflect on the true purpose of commemorating special days. Thus, extravagant decorations, and adhering to a specific theme should not take precedence. Such celebrations should not serve as an opportunity to capture pictures to be shared on social media. Instead, students can simply wear their sports uniform and engage in a few hours of playing games or other activities relevant to the occasion within the school premises. Alternately, some teachers have even proposed simple enjoyable outings to the beach or park as well.

4.     MOE Intervention

Despite repeated publicly shared parental concerns, the absence of a response from the MOE is conspicuous. Even amidst the noise surrounding this year’s Children’s Day celebrations, MOE has not issued a public statement. While circulars from the Ministry in the past have cautioned schools to be mindful of their celebrations, the lack of explicit guidelines perpetuates the continuation of celebrations that result in excessive waste and extravagance. Therefore, it is not surprising that there is speculation that the ministry indirectly supports and encourages this culture due to the perceived necessity of publicly sharing pictures on social media, often with MOE tags. Some even go further to suggest a political undertone, with a perceived need to "showcase the achievements" under specific ministers or administrations.

5.     Walking the talk   

The need to reimagine events demands that schools align their actions with their principles. The curriculum itself emphasizes concepts like economizing, reducing, recycling, and reusing, among others. Therefore, it is crucial to extend these principles to celebrations as well. Stitching a dress only for a 2-day concert or buying fresh materials for decoration is not only a financial waste, but a waste of resources as well. Therefore, by embracing a mindset of resourcefulness and sustainability, schools can aim to reduce waste and optimize the utilization of resources. This requires exploring creative methods to repurpose materials and motivating students to engage in crafting decorations using recycled or reusable items. These practices not only uphold the core values of the curriculum but also demonstrate the practical application of the said values and concepts taught within the classroom.

Adequate funding for both capital and recurrent spending is crucial. This is important for both maintaining and developing school infrastructure while ensuring the necessary resources are available for effective teaching and learning. Yet, in the Maldivian context, the foreseeable future continues to highlight the reliance on parental funding. There truly is a pressing need for immediate and decisive actions to address these concerns at the earliest.

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