Education in the Maldives is generally behind regional neighbours such as Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, despite an 18 percent increase in the average number of years spent at school between 1990 and 2010.
The average Maldivian citizen had 4.7 years of schooling in 2010, compared with 3.9 years in 2005, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP’s) 2010 Human Development Report. This was almost a third of the country’s ‘expected level of schooling’ of 12.4 years.
Despite the recent improvement, the Maldives remains behind Bangladesh and Sri Lanka in terms of average schooling, which were ranked at 4.8 and 8.2 years respectively. UK and US students spend on average 9.5 and 12.4 years of their lives in education by comparison, according to the report’s findings.
The overall findings compiled by UNDP painted a mixed picture for human development in the Maldives, with a comparatively high life expectancy of 72.3 contrasting with concerns over education and gender equality in the country.
For 2010, the Maldives was ranked 107 out of 160 nations under the UNDP’s Human Development Index (HDI), which is used to measure long-term national achievements in providing citizens with “a long and healthy life, access to knowledge and a decent standard of life.” The Maldives has climbed four places since 2005.
Speaking at the launch of the report, Vice President Dr Mohamed Waheed said that failure to the current failure obtain parliamentary approval for cabinet members would not be a long term setback to the country’s development aspirations though.
“Development and democracy goals are generally accepted by all parties, but clearly there are difficulties,” he said. “I don’t believe the [cabinet controversy] will seriously affect the long-term human development objectives of this or a future government.”
Despite praising an increase in average life expectancy of six years in the last decade, Dr Waheed raised concerns over inequality across the nation’s atolls, particularly among women in terms of both education and politics.
“Women are not contesting in elections as much as we had hoped,” he said. “We hope February’s council elections will see much higher numbers [of female candidates].”
Dr Waheed claimed that in areas such as poverty reduction, the Maldives was doing “quite well”, though he added that economic recession in the last few years had been a setback to these goals.
UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative Andrew Cox said he agreed with the Vice President’s view of the report. Cox added that the latest UNDP figures showed the Maldives’ HDI was generally above the regional average for South Asia.
Posting an average life expectancy rate of 72.3 years of age, the Maldives was found to be ahead of other nearby nations such as Bangladesh (66.9 years) and Thailand (69.3 years), though behind Sri Lanka (74.4 years). Western nations like the UK and the US recorded average life expectancy rates of 79.8 and 79.6 years of age respectively.
In the area of gender equality, the report used a new index system that looked at a number of specific factors such as reproductive health, the gender share of parliamentary seats and educational achievements and economic activity to identify the possible disadvantages to women in a nation.
Using this Gender Inequality Index (GII), the Maldives was ranked 58 out of 138 countries based on data supplied from 2008. By comparison, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh were ranked 72 and 116 respectively under the same conditions.
In terms of education, 31 per cent of Maldivian females had obtained a secondary or higher level of education as opposed to 37 percent of Maldivian men. In addition, female participation in the labour market was found to stand at 58 percent, compared to 77 percent among males. Unemployment was 14.4 percent.
The report found that 23.5 of every 100 citizens had access to the internet.