Maldives is an independent country located southwest of India, northwest of Sri Lanka and south of Thailand. It is surrounded by the Indian Ocean and its economy depends heavily on tourism, fishing and construction. Maldives is a member of the United Nations, SAARC and Commonwealth. Its capital city is Male, which is also the national seat of government. The local currency is the rufiyaa and the official language is Dhivehi.
Before 1980, education in the islands was mostly focused on religious study and literacy. Children attended the homes of educated people for lessons, using a thin wooden board kept on their laps to write letters in both Dhivehi and Arabic.
The modern history of the Maldives was largely shaped by President Maumoon Gayoom, who ruled from 1978 until 2008. The year 2004 saw widespread human rights abuses and government crackdowns on pro-reform demonstrations after a massive tsunami devastated many of the low-lying islands.
In a popular referendum in 1968, Maldivians voted to abolish the sultanate and establish a presidential republic. Since then, the country has enjoyed a period of rapid economic growth, taking the focus off political wrangling.
The Maldivian state is governed by the 2008 Constitution, which established seven provinces and 20 atolls (administrative divisions covering one or more natural atolls) as well as a central government in Male. The president is elected for five years by direct national vote, and the legislature, the Majlis of Maldives, is unicameral with 87 members. The nation’s legal system is based on Sharia law.