Fathimath Hafsa who is currently the Headmistress and a ‘Critical Friend’ at Maradhu Fadhu School, Maldives shares her experience as a teacher. She talks on what motivates her, the unique teaching methodologies used by her, as well as the advancement of the education system in the Maldives. Ms. Hafsa has witnessed the evolution of education and what truly needs to be done to develop a child holistically. Her proposition coupled with her proficiency ensures the best for her students and manages to inspire education across borders. Let us take a look at what she has to share with the world.
1. It is believed that teachers who love teaching, teach children to love learning. Could you tell us how you came to love this profession and how you advanced in your career?
I started my teaching career in 1988 as a pre-school teacher in Male. Four years later, I got promoted as a Supervisor. In the year 2000, I was awarded a scholarship from the Ministry of Education, Maldives to do a course in Management. After the training, I got placed at Maradhu Fadhu School as a Headmistress where I was given a chance to work independently. It was here that I got the privilege to work as the ‘Critical Friend’ of the new curriculum, with a trial from NIE. We implemented this new curriculum three years ago and have been working on it since then. This is how my career took shape.
2. What does the new curriculum aim toward?
The new curriculum aims at preparing a ‘child for life’. It focuses on the complete and holistic development of children, equipping them to become self-reliant and independent individuals.
3. In terms of your personal vision and goal in teaching, what according to you needs to be prioritised in the education system?
According to me, we are on the right track at the moment. This is because the Ministry’s policy and focus is mainly on the holistic development of the child. It has been understood that every child might not be able to achieve academically, but each child is bound to have some skills and talents, and we can develop the child based on that. I would like to point out that every child is a needful child for the community. Earlier, most students dropped out of school after grade 10 due to the lack of a vision, aim or career and these dropouts were not prepared for life. This happens when schools focus only on academics rather than the holistic development of the child. However, in the last few years the Ministry has actively brought in a positive change in the system by focusing on the holistic development of each child by taking their individual skills and talents into consideration.
4. How do you assess the requirements of each child during the development years and how do you promote the same?
In grade 1, we do a risk assessment of the child. We believe in assessing the child at an early age in order to understand the key problem points and rectifying them during the course of study. In the risk assessment, we check the child’s home background, parents’ background and the overall condition of their home and family life. Upon assessment, immediate intervention is provided, and we begin to care for the child right when he or she enters the school premises.
5. Are there any challenges that you face as an educator, considering the current educational trends?
Time management is a great cause of concern as finding time for planning and implementing lessons is very important. Another major challenge would be effectively dealing with parents; they are academically oriented and focus solely on the scores of the child, rather than their overall development. In a bid to improve the academic scores of the child, they send them to tuitions outside the school, which leaves us with little time to develop the other skills of the child, based on their talents, interests, and skills. Another key challenge would be the improper use of technology. Students are increasingly exposed to technology but are not taught the positive ways to use it. Instead, they use it primarily for social media which can be an immense waste of time if not used properly.
6. Are there any effective classroom management skills that you are employing personally or in your school?
In my school, we practice the settling down process. We take admissions from LKG (Lower Kindergarten), and we as teachers ensure that each child has settled into the classroom before we take up formal lessons. Also, we lay down the expectations of the teacher as well as that of the school. We call them ‘expectations’ instead of ‘school rules’ as these words tend to make a considerable difference. Apart from this, since technology is very expensive, I take the help of governmental organisations such as NCIT, to help train my students in the basics of Microsoft Office and other basic tools. Students are also given a lot of projects and assignments that they need to complete with the help of technology.
7. Could you enlighten us about project-based learning method?
In 2015, we began rolling out the new curriculum and there have been a lot of outcomes and indicators. I noticed many similar outcomes in different subjects. I went through the syllabus outcomes and realised that they can be combined with the use of interdisciplinary models. I also noticed that the pedagogical and assessment document were mainly based on the 21st-century learning. I realised that a new approach could be implemented, and therefore made a trial for project-based learning which was very successful. The outcomes from various subjects are combined to make the project. It is extremely useful for the students as they are able to come up with their own innovative project, which is not influenced by the teacher or another adult.
For example, if they are doing a project under the theme of food and health, there are numerous outcomes for it in different subjects. They conduct inquiry that ranges from meeting with Doctors, the sick people in the island and understanding their experiences and points of view. They also look up the internet for additional information, which they then compile and analyze as they draw their own conclusions. Students then present this information to the teachers, parents, and peers.
8. What are the positive outcomes of the project-based learning method?
The most positive outcome in the above example was that students use this information to manage their own lifestyle, as to what exercises they must do, how much physical activity they must incorporate and what kind of diet they need to follow.
The other benefit of Project-based learning is that parents are made aware of various things. Children tend to become advocates for the parents. Also, the Project based learning methods have improved the confidence in children. Many children who were unable to score high grades could answer all the questions put forward to them during the exhibition proficiently. Project-based learning ensures self-development and helps the children to express themselves in an innovative and creative manner. This method also provides them with the understanding that they are progressing through academics and is very effective in the overall development of the child.
9. What makes the education system in Maldives different?
The education system in Maldives is different because it focuses on each individual child and the holistic development of that child. The main objective of our education system is that when a child graduates from the school, he or she must have a national certificate in the area of his or her interest.
We also follow a special attendance policy wherein if a student is absent from class for over 3 days without informing the school, or does not respond for a span of 5 days, stating the cause of absenteeism, the school sends two representatives from the school to find the reason behind the absenteeism. In case of emergency, the school ensures that adequate help and support is provided to these students. The Ministry actively intervenes when children fail to show up in the classroom, and they also demand an explanation for the absence of the child.
Our government has implemented another plan called ‘Vinavi’, where every child is under the control of the school until he/she attains the age of 18 years. Even after the child leaves the school, it is the duty of the school to find if the child is continuing education or has taken up a job. If the child seems to have a problem in attending any of this, the school intervenes and finds an effective solution. This helps even the Ministry to keep track of children until they are above the age of 18.
The Ministry has also implemented a ‘behaviour policy’ in which decisions are taken by involving the child, rather than punishing or taking action against the child in case of misconduct.
10. Can you enlighten us about the ‘No Child Left Behind’ initiative that has been implemented by the government of Maldives?
What we spoke so far is all part of the ‘No Child Left Behind’ initiative. This initiative is a theme, and it is around this theme that the Ministry has implemented all the programs. The initiative includes intervention, risk assessment and diagnosing the child. The child leaves the school with something they can take with them for life. They become self-reliant and independent individuals. The main focus of this initiative is for the Ministry to keep track of each child, from their database, they know when a child has moved from one school to another or has gone missing.
11. Is there any other issue that needs to be taken care of in the present education system?
Parent-teacher meeting, according to me, has become a great cause of concern. In most parent-teacher meetings we tend to victimize the child. In some scenarios, we blame the child for not completing the work or being inattentive, while at other times we praise the child for their hard work and dedication. We need to help the students who do not perform well in school instead of victimizing them. The blame game only makes the child reluctant to attend the parent-teacher meeting and they tend to avoid it. I have therefore changed the traditional parent-teacher meeting method. In our way of parent-teacher meeting, we focus on the child, instead of the adult.
In this new format, the child is encouraged to talk about their success and what he or she has learned during the term. They also speak of what goals they have set for the academic year and how they are going to achieve the same. Students also give constructive tips to the teachers and how they would like their parents to be involved in their day-to-day schedule. This has caused the student, teacher as well as the parent to look forward to parent-teacher meetings where they can seek professional guidance and appropriate feedback.
12. Any effective tips for teachers to empower themselves?
I do have a program for empowering teachers, in this method we share a topic and present it to the other teachers for further discussion. The problem could be a minor one, but it might need considerable improvement. The teachers are encouraged to research on the given topic and present it among other teachers. This provides teachers with an opportunity to become more confident as they are able to find solutions and discuss it.