Thesis by a Maldivian: Ahmed Ali Didi (2007)

School improvement : the route taken by an urban primary school in the Republic of Maldives : a thesis presented in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Education at Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand / Ahmed Ali Didi, 2007

A thesis presented in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Education

Abstract of the Thesis

The primary and secondary schools in the Maldives serve over one third of the total population. Having achieved universalization of primary education, one of the challenges of the education system now is to improve the quality of primary education. Studies done in the past, to explore quality in primary education, have been quantitative in nature, telling only part of the story when it comes to describing improvement efforts. Thus, the purpose of this study was to explore in detail how a primary school in an urban setting of the Maldives deals with school improvement efforts.

A qualitative case study, informed by the interpretivist research paradigm, was used to explore this issue. One of the primary schools in Male’ was purposefully selected for this study and 48 participants took part, of whom thirteen were students. Data were collected through in-depth interviews, participant observations, document reviews and administering of questionnaires.

The findings of this study suggest that there were three major dimensions or three interrelated, key concepts that together undergirded the improvement efforts in the school. They are change, leadership and culture. In action-oriented terms, these dimensions or concepts translated into managing change, attending to specific leader actions and influencing the school’s culture, respectively, reflecting six themes of school improvement. They are: a focus on change, a focus on students, a teaching learning focus, investing in staff, strong leadership by the head and school culture. In addition to these, it was noted that these themes emerged as having significance to the school’s improvement efforts against the backdrop of many stakeholder influences and contextual factors. In essence, the findings of this study portray the micro-level realities of the working of a school that is consciously and continuously striving for improving educational practice.

In conclusion to the study, research implications and areas for further research have been identified that would inform educational policy and practice in the Republic of Maldives.

The following are some selective, subjective snippets from the thesis.

Research Question

How does a primary school in an urban setting of the Maldives deal with school improvement efforts?

A review of related literature, … enabled the researcher to formulate the following sub questions:

  1. How does the principal effect and manage change in a Maldivian urban primary school?
  2. What are the internal conditions or major components or themes at work with regard to improvement efforts in a Maldivian urban primary school?
  3. How does the principal create and/or manipulate the necessary internal conditions within the school that would bring about lasting improvements?
  4. How do teachers perceive improvement efforts?
  5. What is the role of the central office (the MOE in this case) and, what other parties, besides the MOE, influence the school’s efforts to change and how do they influence?
  6. How does the school determine the worth of its school improvement programmes?



A qualitative case study design, informed by the interpretive paradigm, suited this study most, because the purpose of the study was to gain in-depth understanding of the phenomenon of interest, ‘school improvement’, where people were the participants and their perspectives were paramount in gaining such an understanding. Further, the case study method enabled the researcher to study a single case in-depth using a range of data collection methods. (p.8)

Positivists assume that there is an objective reality or truth or fact that exists independent of human perception (Gall, Gall & Borg, 1999); Hatch, 2002; Scott & Usher, 1999). And, through scientific methods, truth can be discovered. During the investigation, researcher bias is prevented from influencing the outcome… Most quantitative research is carried out by positivists whose main concern is to find out how representative their findings are to the larger population from which the sample was drawn (Gall, Gall & Borg, 1999). There data are mostly numeric in nature and statistical procedure are used to analyse them.

Interpretivists, on the other hand, assume that there is no absolute truth (Guba & Lincoln, 1994; Hatch, 2002) but reality is constructed (Gall, Gall & Borg, 1999; Hatch 2002; Scott & Usher, 1999) and, because different individuals view the world from different vantage points, there exists no single reality but multiple realities (Guba & Lincoln, 1994; Hatch, 2002). The researcher and the researched mutually interact in order to construct the subjective reality. Qualitative research is often carried out by interpretivists and they generalize their findings comparing it with similar cases (Gall, Gall & Borg, 1999) but not in a statistical sense. (p. 82)

A case study has been defined and classified in various ways. Yin (1994) defines a case study as “an empirical inquiry that investigates a contemporary phenomenon within its real-life context, especially when the boundaries between phenomenon and context are not clearly evident” (p.14). Berg (2001( adds more aspects and states that “case study methods involve systematically gathering enough information abotu a particular person, social setting even, or a group to permit the researcher to effectively understand how it operates or functions” (p.225). While Berg provides a practical perspective, Yin’s definition is more conceptual in nature. Further, Denscombe (1998) underscores the depth case studies offer and contends that “case studies focus on one instance (or a few instances) of a particular phenomenon with a view to providing an in-depth account of events, relationships, experience or processes occurring in that particular instance” (p.32). Thus, in the current study, the need to investigate a contemporary phenomenon (‘school improvement’) in depth, in one particular natural setting (one school), makes case study a suitable approach. (p. 84)

Contribution of the study

One of the most thorough reviews of education ever done in the Maldives was the Education master Plan (EMP) 1995-2006 (Ministry of Education, 1995). People from all walks of life were consulted and all the important documents available were examined. But the Plan’s reference list cites only one study that is related to quality improvement and this report is about secondary education.

Having had the benefit of working in the MOE’s section that handles all the important documents for the last five years, I have not being able to locate any research, especially a qualitative study, that has dealt with the topic of this study. One of the reasons why such studies are so limited in the Maldives is the fact that the country’s education system is very young and its tertiary level is in its infancy and, as such, a research culture has not yet developed (Didi, 1997; Lutfi, 2000). See also Qasim (2007), who has iterated the scarcity of research literature on the education system in general and, in particular, on schools in the Maldives. The fact that there were only ten masterates and six doctorates (Ministry of Education, 1995, p.51) in the country about fifteen years ago attests to this fact. According to Ministry of Higher Education, Employment and Social Security (MHES), Maldives, even today there are only 26 doctorates in the country (MHES, 2007). (p. 76. [emphasis added])

However, since the EMP of 1995, quite a number of studies (mainly at the Master’s level and some at PhD level) would have been done relating to quality improvement, in one way or another. But, as previously mentioned, even if they are done, getting access to them is difficult, especially in developing countries (O’Sullivan, 2006). There is no mechanism tha tassembels these studies or made provisions for their availability to research purposes. However it appears that the National Library has stepped towards this end lately. Nonetheless, through various informal contacts, I was able to locate three research studies done on schools [I would include reference to these three studies]. Yet, none of them were written about an urban primary school: two were about secondary schools and one was about Atoll (rural) schools. The one that had most relevance to my study has been discussed in the previous section. Thus, this study will make a contribution to the limited research in Maldives on school improvement and… (p.76 [emphasis added]).

As I wrote in my earlier post on Maldivian Thesis (LINK), when I read a paper, especially in the context of the Maldives, I end up scrutinizing the reference list more than anything else. The reference lists tells a story of its own, about the paper/thesis hitherto.

  • Didi, A.A. (1997). A proposal for the Introduction of a Staff Appraisal Scheme based on the Professional development Model of the Government Schools in the Atolls of the Republic of Maldives. Unpublished (post-graduate) dissertation, The University of Malta.
  • Maniku, A.A., Nadiya, F., & Riyaz, F. (2000). Iskandar School. (Report of a Management Review). Male’ Maldives: Ministry of Education.
  • Mohamed, A.M. (2000). School management review of Male’ English School: A case study. (Report of a Management Review). Male’ Maldives: Ministry of Education.
  • Qasim, M. (2007). Change management: Structural change — a case study in the Maldives. Unpublished master’s thesis, Massey University, Albany, New Zealand.

I am impressed with the overall thesis, but just wish the reference list had more from local authors. Education is one of the largest sector of the Maldives and many are educated in this area. I was writing my MPhil thesis in 2007/2008 and I had access to the following papers that I believe would contribute to some extent to the current thesis under review.

  • Latheef, M., & Gupta, A. (2007). Schooling in Maldives. In A. Gupta (Ed.), Going to school in South Asia (pp. 112-125). London: Greenwood.
  • Maniku, H. A. (1995). Learning in Maldives: A historical overview. In Report of the seminar on strategies for development of the National Library Maldives (pp. 20-24). Malé , Maldives: National Library.
  • Mohamed, Naashia. (2006a). An exploratory study of the interplay between teachers’ beliefs, instructional practices & professional development. PhD Thesis. University of Auckland. Retrieved September 19, 2007, from Australian Digital Thesis database.

The fact that not much research is evident to being carried out in the area of education, or the difficulty of having access to any studies undertaken is in fact a gap that needs to be filled. I would like to hope the National Library of Maldives would follow that up, or at least the National University Library.

Those interested in reading the full thesis by Ahmed Ali Didi, I accessed it through the website of Massey University, New Zealand. I also have a soft copy saved for my own archival purposes.


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I write as I think. I think as I write.

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