Fathmath Nishan: Advocating for inclusive education in the Maldives
Posted: 5 September 2022
Australia Awards alumna Fathmath Nishan has been a strong advocate for inclusive education in the Maldives, with a focus on building community awareness, training teachers and providing support to parents of children with special needs. Nishan currently works as an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Education at the Maldives National University (MNU), where she teaches inclusive and special education, language and communication in special education needs, and research methods.
Nishan was always keen on pursuing higher education in the field of education management and hoped that she would have the opportunity to enhance her skills and knowledge in a developed country such as Australia. While working as a teacher at a school in the Maldives, she learnt about Australia Awards through a colleague and decided to apply. Her application was successful, and in 2008 she began a Master of Education at RMIT University, Melbourne, with the support of an Australia Awards Scholarship.
After completing her studies, Nishan returned home and began working as an Education Development Officer at the Maldives’ Ministry of Education. Two years later, she was appointed as the Deputy Principal of Ghiyasuddin International School in Malé. “Australia Awards paved my way to higher education. If it wasn’t for Australia Awards, I would not have had the opportunity to work in the middle management of schools and teach in colleges,” Nishan says.
In 2018, Nishan completed a PhD in Education with research in inclusive education from University Brunei Darussalam, Brunei.
“I strongly believe having a master’s degree from an Australian university also helped me to get a scholarship for my PhD studies in Inclusive Education,” says Nishan.
“Inclusive education was at an early stage in the Maldives at that time and having the first PhD in this field in the Maldives helped me gain knowledge and experience, leading to opportunities to contribute to teacher training and community development.”
Her research interests include educational management and leadership, teaching and learning, educational policy, online learning, and inclusive education. She has published various papers on inclusive education, higher education during the COVID-19 pandemic, and leadership and women.
Earlier this year, Nishan contributed to a chapter in the book Higher Education and the COVID-19 Pandemic: Cross-national Perspectives on the Challenges and Management of Higher Education in Crisis Times as part of a collaborative effort by MNU’s research team. She also received an Australia Awards small grant, with the support of which she developed three e-books for parents of students with special needs, to support them in home-schooling their children during the pandemic. The books (written in the local language, Dhivehi) focused on three main special needs topics: autism spectrum disorder, learning disabilities and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. After completing the e-books, she delivered them to the Ministry of Education’s Department of Inclusive Education for the department to make available on its website.
In addition to this, she co-wrote a research paper, ‘Emerging stronger: policy directions for COVID-19 and beyond for public schools in the Maldives’, in collaboration with Dr Ahmed Mohamed, a fellow Assistant Professor in MNU’s Faculty of Education. This was published in the Fulbright Review of Economics and Policy in late 2021.
Nishan regularly participates in alumni engagement initiatives and activities. In June, she attended the Australia Awards Regional Alumni Workshop in Kathmandu, Nepal, the theme of which was ‘Leading and Inspiring Meaningful Change’. There, she was able to network with alumni from South Asia and Mongolia and learn about initiatives they are implementing in their respective countries. During the workshop, 16 alumni delivered presentations about their development goals, challenges in their sectors and how they were tackling these challenges. Nishan’s presentation about her experience with inclusive education in the Maldives was voted by attendees as one of the three on which they most wanted to share ideas as a group.
In the future, Nishan plans to create professional links in the field of inclusive education with non-governmental organisations (local and international) and other universities. She also wants to take advantage of more professional development opportunities and work on community development programs through which she can make an impact in inclusive education.
“Getting an opportunity to study in and experience Australia made me very confident in myself. Since returning home, I have been able to contribute to the education sector at a larger scale, and get experience of managing education and teaching in higher education,” Nishan says. “I intend to keep using my skills and knowledge to make a difference in the Maldives.”
On International Literacy Day, Nishan’s message to her fellow alumni and others is, “Let us rethink and redesign our education spaces to ensure inclusive accessible learning is provided to all individuals to develop knowledge, skills and creativity by reimagining our ideas beyond words on a page. Wishing everyone a happy International Literacy Day.”