The ministry of education has revealed that they are focusing on introducing vocational subjects into the syllabus at 101 schools in 2010.
The vocational subjectswill include trade-specific skills such as computer hardware, electrical wiring, cooking, baking and hospitality.
“We believe technical vocation subjects are important, and they have worked in other countries as well,” said Education Minister Dr Mustafa Luthufy.
“Some of the courses have a small fee because we need to bring in specialists from that particular area, but we are working to instill skills in the teachers so that they may take these classes,” he added.
Education standards in the country had slipped, he confessed, revealing that UNESCO would be conducting a one and a half year research project to find out the cause of the slip.
“Some of the things they will be looking into include how children are being taught, the relationship between teachers and parents and the teacher training syllabus,” Luthufy said.
He said the ministry also planned to “align the education system closer to Islam” by training more teachers in Islamic studies and the Quran, Luthufy said, in the hopes of “instilling religious spirit in students.”
Waning student interest in science was another concern, said Deputy Education Minister Dr Abdullah Nazeer.
“We want to introduce science education into the atoll schools to improve critical thinking,” he said.
“We want to expand the streams available to schools in the atolls, At the moment the O level and A level is dominated by the commerce stream.”
The ministry also announced plans to privatise more schools, introduce more foreign languages and train more Maldivian teachers.
The ministry of health has announced it has raised the H1N1 swine flu alert level from four to six.
Despite the counterintuitive increase, alert level six is when the danger of the disease goes down and the risk of it spreading also decreases.
Dr Ibrahim Yasir, director general of health services, said “The disease has not spread in the way we predicted it might. We expected the disease to spread [more] with the start of the academic year and people returning from abroad.”
He said the spread of the disease had been controlled by the hard work of people in the health sector, “the priority given to the pandemic by the government and the awareness of the public.
“Since we didn’t see an increase in the spread of the disease we decided it didn’t warrant a level five alert status,” he said.
The ministry announced that with the level six status many, of the H1N1 precautions would be lifted.
Dr Ahmed Jamsheed Mohamed from the Centre of Disease Control said “Our warnings about not to gather in public places have been lifted, and places like KudaKudhinge Bageecha (children’s park) can now be opened.
“Our swine flu clinic is closing as hardly anyone who goes there any more, and the 24-hour hotline is also being closed.”
Jamsheed said lifting the precautions “does not mean we have to stop being vigilant. There is still a possibility that the disease could spread.”
The ministry announced that it would now divert its resources towards preparing for the next outbreak.
“We have 120,000 people who have been classified as a prioirty group to receive swine flu vaccines,” Dr Yasir said.
According to the ministry, vaccine doses promised to the Maldives so far include 20,000 from Saudi Arabia, 30,000 from the World Health Organisation (WHO), 15,000 from China, 1500 from Singapore and 50,000 from the government’s own budget.
“The Chinese doses have not been approved by the WHO yet so we are keeping that on hold for the moment,” Jamsheed noted.
Parents have shut down the Shaviyani Feydhoo school for two days by refusing to send their children to school.
The school, which had around 170 students, was closed on Sunday and Monday because parents were unhappy that a principal had not been appointed despite the academic year having already started.
The previous principal, Mathew Varugees, returned to India at the end of last year.
Aishath Mohamed from the school’s parent teacher association said “The parents are not happy. The school is being run without a princiapal and it is affecting the studies of the children.”
“The old principal could not speak Dhivehi and many parents can’t speak English, so there was a major communication issue,” she said. “We had many issues to discuss but it was not possible and no one was happy with the situation. Even Mr Varugees agreed there was a communication problem – that is why he left, he said this school needed a Maldivian principal.”
Aishath said a senior teacher, Mohamed Shahid, had been running the school in the interim, “but he only agreed to stay until the start of the school year, when a new principal was promised.”
Parents have gone to the island office and demanded a new principal within the next two weeks.
Principal was arranged
Their story clashes with that of the Feydhoo councilor, Mohamed Mustafa Ismail.
“A principal was arranged for our school by the education ministry. Everything was ready including accommodation and transfer,” he said.
“But when the parents found he was not a Maldivian principal, they didn’t accept it. They gathered outside the island office and said not to bring the principal, because they would not let him set foot on the island.
“Obviously we had to let the ministry know that we could’t bring him here, and they have now said they can’t find a Maldivian for the position.”
Mustafa said while the parents had given the government two weeks to find a Maldivian principal, “it’s not like we can go to a shop and buy one. It’s hard to find Maldivians who are qualified for the job.”
He blamed the teachers for failing to show teamwork with foreign principals.
“Good teamwork is needed to work when working with foreign people, but the Maldivian teachers don’t like it and they tell the parents who then react this way,” he said
“By closing down the school the parents have got it wrong. It is not the solution.”
The movement of foreigners throughout the Maldives will be restricted, according to new rules implemented by the ministry of human resources, youth and sport.
All foreigners wishing to travel between islands from 1 February 2010 must present appropriate documents to the captain or person in charge of the vessel, the ministry revealed.
Speaking to Minivan News, Minister of Human Resources Hassan Latheef said the travel restrictions were being implemented to reduce the number of illegal expatriate workers travelling between islands.
“The problem of illegal workers in this country is huge, we have been getting many complaints from islands,” he said.
“An example is in Laamu atoll: illegal workers have become involved in agricultural business and are driving local farmers out of business.”
He acknowledged that “while we can’t deport everyone, I believe that stopping them from moving around is the first step towards solving this issue.”
From February all foreigners must carry one of three documents to be able to travel around the country: either a valid work permit, proper visa documents for visitors, or a special letter from the ministry allowing travel.
Any captain or vessel owner which transports foreigners without these documents will face legal action, the ministry said.
Asked how the community might react to such measures, Latheef said “There won’t be much difficulty in implementing these measures, because even now ships have to keep a log of all the passengers it carries. There will be no inconvenience at all, as most crews will be able to check documents very fast and efficiently.”
Asked about the impact on non-working foreigners in the country, Latheef said “All they have to do is provide a visa or document showing their purpose in the country.”
Tourists “may find this alarming,” admitted Ahmed Solih, permanent secretary of the tourism ministry.
“But if the situation is explained, they will understand,” he said.
One expatriate currently working in the country wasn’t so sure.
“As someone who travels on a daily basis does this mean I have to carry my documents with me in case they are checked? Having to carry around papers all the time feels very restrictive,” he said.
“It feels like there is a currently a bit of a witch-hunt against expatriates, with the retraction of the liquor licences and the difficulty getting work permits – is the government trying to drive out skill sets the country doesn’t have?”
Solih said the problem of illegal workers was a national issue, particularly for a relatively small community like the Maldives.
“These measures may seem dramatic but this decision has only been made after many other alternatives have failed. I am sure there will be measures in the rules to account for the tourism industry.”
An HIV positive paedophile has been sentenced to three years in prison for having sex with two underage girls.
Twenty-six year-old Irushaad Moosa of Meemu Mulaku was arrested in August 2009 after returning home to the Maldives around four years prior after working on a Maldivian ship. He reportedly contracted the HIV virus while he was overseas.
Residents on Meemu Mulaku soon started complaining about Irushaad’s relationship with the young girls of the island.
In August 2009 he was reported to police for having sex with two girls aged between 16 and 17. The island chief told Minivan News that islanders were very concerned about Irushaad remaining loose in the community, as he had allegedly told them “I will infect others before I die.”
The prosecutor general’s office stated that although the sentence appeared lenient, it was the maximum possible as the crimes were committed before the new, tougher laws against sex offenders were passed.
Those laws, ratified in November, carry penalties of up to 25 years for sexual abuse of a minor. When serial paedophile Hussain Fazeel was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment for 39 counts of child sexual abuse, it was the highest sentence for such a crime in the Maldives and widely regarded as a landmark decision for the country.
Aishath Velezinee, a human rights campaigner on the judicial service commission said the he three year sentence was the maximum under the applicable law “and I do not believe the judge has been irresponsible or lenient.”
“The fact is that the criminal act took place before the new harsher laws [were in place], and he cannot be penalised in retrospective.”
However, she said, “As there is no public sex offender registry, it is in the public’s interest for the media and civil society to report and monitor these convicts and their movements after their release, to ensure community safety. Paedophiles do not reform after a two year stint in jail.”
Asked if the island community was concerned about a criminal like Irushaad being released back into the community so soon, Hassan Zakaria, a social service officer formerly from the Meemu Mulaku said the case “was probably reported because the island community was aware of the situation.”
“I believe that there is a lower possibility of something like this happening [again] on the island.”
Excessive human interaction with whale sharks in South Ari Atoll could eventually lead to the species leaving the area permanently, the Maldives Whale Shark Research Project (MWSRP) has warned.
“We have reports of tourists touching and even attempting to ride the sharks,” said Adam Harman from the MWSRP.
In June last year the southern tip of the Ari Atoll region, a year long whale shark aggregation site, was declared a marine protected area (MPA). But recently there has been a large increase in the number of tourists visiting the area.
“The whale sharks have attracted more and more tourists to the area. Sometimes there are 25 boats and over 100 tourists swimming around one shark,” Harman said.
Interaction guidelines were implemented to protect whale sharks in 2008. According to these guidelines, only 12-13 swimmers from one boat are allowed around a shark at any given time, and even then there is to be no contact with the animals. However these guidelines are difficult to monitor since they are self regulated.
According to MWSRP, once a shark is spotted all the boats in the area converge around the shark, ‘caging’ it in. This endangers the animal in many ways and there is a huge possibility of propeller damage.
“If this keeps up we risk losing the sharks. They will move onto other preferential habitats” warned Harman.
“Currently we are getting three sightings a day. We used to have 39 encounters in the same three day period.
“Its hard to say what could happen, but if things don’t change by this time next year, the number of sharks in this area could go down.”
The threat of losing the whale sharks is very real, Harman emphasised. Similar cases have been recorded in Mexico and South Africa, where whale sharks have been known to leave their habitats.
This is not the first incident in South Ari Atoll where marine life have left to seek other preferential habitats. South Ari Atoll Madivaru, ‘Manta point’, was once a popularsite for manta rays.
“At one time you could spot almost 50. Today however, spotting even one is considered lucky,” Harman said.
The clash of ideas has led to hostile confrontations between operators and researchers. In one incident a knife was allegedly used by safari operators to threaten researchers.
Director of the Environmental Protection Agency, Ibrahim Naeem, confirmed the government had received reports of such confrontations.
“We have urged the researchers and operators to stay out of each others’ way,” he said. “We do get many complaints about people interfering with whale sharks, but since the law doesn’t say its illegal, people still do it,” he continued.
“Divers and safari operators argue that 12 swimmers per whale is not enough, while scientists say that more than 12 poses a risk to the animals. We are having talks with the people involved in the industry and are in the process of reviewing the guidelines.”
The MWSRP have been working closely with the evironment, fisheries and tourism ministries to find a solution to the problem.
Minister of Tourism Dr Ali Sawad said ” We have been working in coordination with the environment ministry, and we are looking for ways to increase awareness and work more closely with divers associations and safari operators.”
Police and the education ministry are investigating reports that pupils at Lale Youth International school in Hulhumale are being subjected to physical abuse, including by the school’s principal.
A concerned parent spoke to Minivan News about the abuse her 13 year old son was suffering.
“He would come home and tell me about the beatings. He told me it depended how angry the principal was – sometimes a leather belt was used.
“To discipline a child is one thing. I totally agree with that. But using physical force is not acceptable,” she said.
Another source linked with the school claimed the allegations were true.
” The principal and assistant principal of the school have been physically violent with boys in grades six, seven and eight,” the source said.
“[The violence] has only been towards the boys, but they have done it in front of the girls as well. Just recently a pupil was held by the neck and put up against the wall. Many pupils went home and told their parents they were so scared they nearly wet themselves.”
The principal of Lale Youth International School told Minivan News “there is no need to comment on this right now.”
The assistant principal has since gone home to Turkmenistan.
Deputy minister of education Abdulla Nazeer was unable to confirm the reports “as we have no solid evidence”, but said the ministry has “sent a supervision team and we have now submitted their report to the police.”
“We have been getting complaints and the ministry is concerned about the children. But it is important not to assume anything. Both sides have rights, and we must wait for the police to investigate,” he said.
Police spokesperson Ahmed Shiyam confirmed police were conducting an investigation at the school.
President of the Adhaalath Party Sheikh Hussain Rasheed Ahmed was attacked on Monday night in an incident he believes “was politically motivated.”
The attack occurred near Masjidhul Sulthaan Mohamed-bin-Abdulla at around 12.30 am.
Speaking to Minivan News, Rasheed said “I had just finished up at Television Maldives (TVM) and was on my motorbike on Ameenee Magu. It was the third night of the Torture Victims Association (TVA) rally but I didn’t attend it that night.
“Just as I neared the mosque, they came from behind me and someone grabbed my shoulder. I lost control of my motorbike and was flung off, while my bike crashed under a lorry.
“I think there was two of them on one motorbike. It happened so fast, I didn’t get to see it properly”
Aside from a bruised hand, lost spectacles and a wrecked motorbike, Sheikh Rasheed escaped the incident in good health.
Maldives police confirmed the attack had occurred but would not comment on whether it was random or politically or religiously motivated.
Rasheed responded: ” It’s because of my involvement in the Torture Victims Association rally. It’s a political issue – I haven’t been able to walk on streets lately because of the verbal abuse.”
“I don’t believe it was a random attack,” said the president’s press secretary Mohamed Zuhair, pointing out that Rasheed was the head of the Presidential Commission investigating the alleged embezzlement of state funds by the former government.
“It’s the same kind of thing that went on during elections,” Zuhair said. “It’s been alleged that this [attack] is linked to parties opposing the government.”
DRP member Mohamed ‘Mundhu’ Hussain Shareef told Minivan News: ” This is the first I have heard of the incident. I hope that [Rasheed] is safe and urge him to be cautious. Given the political situation even I have to walk around with body guards now. If us politicians get hurt, we can no longer provide our services to the people.”
In response to Zuhair’s speculation that the attacks were prompted by the opposition, Mundhu said “If the government is making such accusations, they should specify which party and who.”
“I believe that all these rumors are being spread to shift public focus from the real issues. The MDP is only being held together through its hatred for Maumoon. They have lost their popularity, people want their basic needs satisfied, and so now the government is using these rumors to shift the focus.”
Mundhu also mentioned that DRP members had also been attacked, such as Madd Saleem.
“I am not accusing the leadership of committing such acts of violence. Rather it is unruly elements within the party. It is important that the heads of the parties control these elements,” he said.