Maldives comprises 1,191 islands in the Indian Ocean. The earliest settlers were probably from southern India. Indo-European speakers followed them from Sri Lanka in the fourth and fifth centuries BC. In the 12th century AD, sailors from East Africa and Arab countries came to the islands. Today, the Maldivian ethnic identity is a blend of these cultures, reinforced by religion and language.
Originally Buddhists, Maldivians were converted to Sunni Islam in the mid-12th century. Islam is the official religion of the entire population. Strict adherence to Islamic precepts and close community relationships have helped keep crime low and under control.
The official and common language is Dhivehi, an Indo-European language related to Sinhala, a language of Sri Lanka. The writing system is from right to left. English is used widely in commerce and increasingly as the medium of instruction in government schools.
Some social stratification exists on the islands. It is not rigid, since rank is based on varied factors, including occupation, wealth, perceived Islamic virtue, and family ties. Members of the social elite are concentrated in Male'.
The early history of the Maldives is obscure. According to Maldivian legend, a Sinhalese prince named KoiMale was stranded with his bride--daughter of the king of Sri Lanka--in a Maldivian lagoon and stayed on to rule as the first sultan.
Over the centuries, the islands have been visited and their development influenced by sailors from countries on the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean littorals. Mopla pirates from the Malabar Coast--present-day Kerala state in India--harassed the islands. In the 16th century, the Portuguese subjugated and ruled the islands for 15 years (1558-73) before being driven away by the warrior-patriot Muhammad Thakurufar Al-Azam.
Although governed as an independent Islamic sultanate for most of its history from 1153 to 1968, the Maldives was a British protectorate from 1887 until July 25, 1965. In 1953, there was a brief, abortive attempt at a republican form of government, after which the sultanate was re-imposed. Following independence from Britain in 1965, the sultanate continued to operate for another 3 years. On November 11, 1968, it was abolished and replaced by a republic, and the country assumed its present name.
There is growing concern about coral reef and marine life damage because of coral mining (used for building and jewelry making), sand dredging, and solid waste pollution. Mining of sand and coral have removed the natural coral reef that protected several important islands, making them highly susceptible to the erosive effects of the sea. The practices have recently been banned. In April 1987, high tides swept over the Maldives, inundating much of Male' and nearby islands. That event prompted high-level Maldivian interest in global climatic changes, as its highest point is about 8 feet above sea level. The Asian Brown Cloud, a U.S.-sized area of pollution over the Indian Ocean, has the potential of wreaking havoc on the tourism- and fishery-based Maldivian economy.
Investment in Education
The government expenditure for education was 18% of the budget in 2002. Both formal and nonformal education have made remarkable strides in the last decade. Unique to Maldives, modern and traditional schools exist side by side. The traditional schools are staffed by community-paid teachers without formal training and provide basic numeracy and literacy skills in addition to religious instruction.
The modern schools, run by both the government and private sector, provide primary and secondary education. As the modern English-medium school system expands, the traditional system is gradually being upgraded. By early 2003, every inhabited island was equipped to provide primary school education up through grade five. Fewer islands have secondary schools for grades 6 through 10, and the only high school (grades 11 and 12) in the Maldives is in Male'. Only around 5% of students go to high school, but literacy is high at 98%.
Seven post-secondary technical training institutes provide opportunities for youth to gain skills that are in demand. The World Bank has already committed $17 million for education development in 2000-04, and plans to commit further $15 million for human development and distance learning during this period. Over 2001-03, the Asian Development Bank (ADB)Ęcommitted $7 million to support post-secondary education development in Maldives.