STEM Education in the Far-flung and Vulnerable small islands of Maldives: Can the Work of Scientists be beneficially harnessed?
In the Maldives, there were 338,434 residents in 212 of the 1192 islands situated around 26 atolls. These islands are small, low-lying and remote from each other as such it is difficult for students and teachers to access resources even within each atoll.
The need for STEM education is urgent due to the extraordinary challenges faced due to climate and other changes. These challenges include sea-level rise and erosion, ocean warming and coral bleaching, marine biogeochemical change and its impacts on fisheries and the ecosystem, contamination of the groundwater supply due to pollution and salination, and the spread of infectious diseases such as dengue.
Challenges and Setting
The Foundation for Environment Climate and Technology (FECT) has also undertaken research on water scarcity, studies on dengue, and contributed to higher education (www.climate.mv) with the support of the National Academy of Sciences and USAID. We sought to capitalize on these resources to support STEM education for school students at a pilot scale. As our partner, the Small Island Research Centre has a research facility in Maathoda, we undertook work here and in neighboring Thinadhoo where, our other partner, the Maldives National University has a campus.
The approach taken was
- engaging with schools and community
- supplementing available laboratory facilities
- Installation of an automatic weather stations
- preparation of instructions videos
- bringing scientists to the schools
- customizing research reports for the students
- organizing educational material online and ensuring accessibility
- support for conducting workshops
- learning lessons for adapting elsewhere
The work programs were undertaken largely as planned albeit slowly. For the Thinadhoo school, the support provided was taken up for the extra-curricular activities led by the Nature Club, the Scouts and others. Those students were able to present at an inter school science fair September 2019.
Notwithstanding the challenges, we have been able to accomplish most of what we planned. The work of students were presented at the inter-school science fair. The setting up of the weather station in the islands helped engage the students. The setting up of the IT resources via a portal (stem.climate.mv) was valued.