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Only primary and secondary education, neither of which is compulsory, is offered in Maldives. Students seeking higher education must go abroad to a university. Maldives has three types of schools: Quranic schools, Dhivehi-language primary schools, and English-language primary and secondary schools. Schools in the last category are the only ones equipped to teach the standard curriculum. In 1992 approximately 20 percent of government revenues went to finance education, a significant increase over the 1982 expenditure of 8.5 percent. Part of the reason for this large expenditure results from recent increases in the construction of modern school facilities on many of the islands. In the late 1970s, faced with a great disparity between the quality of schooling offered in the islands and in Male, the government undertook an ambitious project to build one modern primary school in each of the nineteen administrative atolls. The government in Male directly controls the administration of these primary schools. Literacy is reportedly high; the claimed 1991 adult literacy rate of 98.2 percent would make Maldives the highest in South Asia and the Indian Ocean region.

In Maldives primary education comprises classes one through five, enrolling students in the corresponding ages six through ten. Secondary education is divided between classes six through ten, which represent overall secondary education, and classes eleven and twelve, which constitute higher secondary education. In 1992 Maldives had a total of 73,642 pupils in school: 32,475 in government schools and 41,167 in private schools.

Traditionally, education was the responsibility of religious leaders and institutions. Most learning centered on individual tutorials in religious teachings. In 1924 the first formal schools opened in Male. These schools were call edhuruge, and served as Quranic schools. Edhuruge were only established on two other islands at this time. The basic primary school on the islands in the 1990s is the makthab, dating from the 1940s. Primary schools of a slightly larger scale in terms of curriculum, enrollment, and number of teachers, are called madhrasaa. During the 1940s, a widespread government campaign was organized to bring formal schooling to as many of the inhabited islands as possible. Enthusiastically supported by the islanders, who contributed a daily allotment of the fish catch to support the schools, many one-room structures of coral and lime with thatched roofs were constructed. The makthab assumed the functions of the traditional edhuruge while also providing a basic curriculum in reading, writing, and arithmetic. But with the death of reformist president Didi and the restoration of the sultanate in the early 1950s, official interest in the development of education in the atolls waned.

Throughout the 1960s, attention to education focused mainly on the two government schools in Male. In 1960 the medium of instruction changed from Dhivehi to English, and the curriculum was reorganized according to the imported London General Certificate of Education. In the early 1990s, secondary education was available only in Male's English-medium schools, which had also preschool and primary-level offerings. Dhivehi-medium schools existed, but most were located in Male. These schools were private and charged a fee.

As of the early 1990s, education for the majority of Maldivian children continues to be provided by the makthab. In 1989 there were 211 community and private schools, and only fifty government schools. The results of a UN study of school enrollment in 1983 showed that the total number in the new government primary schools on the atolls was only 7,916, compared with 23,449 in private schools. In Male the number of students attending government schools was 5,892, with 5,341 in private schools. Throughout the 1980s, enrollment continued to rise as more government-sponsored schools were constructed in the atolls. In 1992 the first secondary school outside Male opened on Addu Atoll.

In 1975 the government, with international assistance, started vocational training at the Vocational Training Center in Male. The training covered electricity, engine repair and maintenance, machinery, welding, and refrigeration. Trainees were chosen from among fourth- and fifth-grade students. In the atolls, the Rural Youth Vocational Training Program provided training designed to meet local needs in engine repair and maintenance, tailoring, carpentry, and boat building. On the island of Mafuri on Male Atoll, a large juvenile reformatory also offered vocational training. Established by the Ministry of Home Affairs in 1979, the reformatory provided training courses in electrical and mechanical engineering, carpentry, welding, and tailoring, as well as a limited primary school academic curriculum.

International organizations enabled the creation of the Science Education Center in 1979 and an Arabic Islamic Education Center opened in 1989. Japanese aid enabled the founding of the Maldives Center for Social Education in 1991. In the latter half of 1993 work began on the Maldives Institute of Technical Education to help eliminate the shortage of skilled labor.

Data as of August 1994

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