A report by the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) into Lale Youth International School on Hulhumale has recommended that the Education Ministry terminate its contract with Maldives-registered company Biz Atoll Pvt Ltd to manage Lale Youth International School, “and hand over management as soon as possible to a qualified party.
The Commission’s investigation had found that students had been “physically and psychologically abused, discriminated against and bullied,” the report stated, recommending “that police should investigate the physical and psychological abuse going on at the school as an urgent concern,” and “separate those suspected of physical abuse from the school’s students until the police investigation is concluded.”
The report also questioned the educational standards of the private school, observing that despite the “high fees” charged for students to attend, the school “has no laboratory for students preparing for the IGCSE” in 2011, the library “does not have books that students need”, and most of the Turkish teachers “do not know English and are therefore unable to teach.”
The government-run Fareediyya School was handed to Biz Atoll and a group of philanthropic Turkish businessmen in 2008, under an agreement made between Biz Atoll and the Education Ministry during the former administration.
In May this year, Minivan News reported concerns raised by parents and staff that the school was being used as ‘a front’ for other activities, highlighting anomalies such as ‘phantom’ foreign teachers who were being paid but had never reported to work, students being charged an assortment of fees arbitrarily, teachers with missing or fraudulent qualifications, and significant pay discrepancies between Turkish and other foreign staff.
Shortly after the Minivan News report was published, (now former) Principal of Lale Serkan Akar attempted to leave the country, leading to the confiscation of his passport. On a second attempt to leave he was taken into police custody and is currently in the criminal court facing assault charges for allegedly strangling and whipping a child with a belt, charges he has denied.
Since the story was published, Minivan News has learned that website has been blocked the school’s web filter.
The HRCM report also recommended that the school move to “dismiss employees with criminal records” and amend the school’s child protection policy to ensure that “inappropriate persons” did not work with students, and amend employment contracts “to allow adequate disciplinary action” against those suspected of physical abuse.
HRCM further recommended that Biz Atoll immediately submit the credentials of foreign teachers to the Maldives Qualification Authority (MQA) for approval, and stipulate that foreign teachers present certification of English qualification such as IELTS or TOEFL – and dismiss those teachers who did not meet the criteria listed in regulations governing private schools.
HRCM also suggested that the school establish a laboratory and library as required in its agreement with the Education Ministry, and hire a full-time librarian. It should also “immediately cease the practice of giving the same examination paper to students until they pass” and “stop charging additional fees other than those set by the Ministry” while ensuring that those fees “are commensurate to the quality of education offered.”
The HRCM report also raised concerns about the school’s adherence to employment practices in the Maldives, noting “allegations of discrimination and mistreatment of Asian and Maldivian staff”. It recommended the school establish both a school board, as required by law, and a mechanism for teachers to resolve employment issues.
HRCM also recommended the school formulate a pay scheme in accordance with employment laws “to eliminate discrimination and ensure fairness and transparency”, as well as “reimburse employees if a deposit has been subtracted from their salaries to allow them to keep their passports.”
Furthermore, the Education Ministry should formulate regulations governing international schools “to ensure supervision and monitoring by the ministry as a regulatory body”, and “establish guidelines to conduct follow-ups to supervision reports.”
“As the school was not handed over to the proprietor in a transparent manner and because the Education Ministry has not undertaken adequate efforts to improve matters at the school, and since corruption has been noted, these cases should be investigated,” HRCM’s report concluded.
Managing Director of Biz Atoll, Abdulla Jameel, said the company had read the report “and are reviewing the necessary actions we have to take.”
“We will bring changes to the school,” he promised, noting that a new principal would be starting “quite soon”.
The arrangement with the Turkish funders of the school would “definitely” continue, he noted.
Regarding HRCM’s recommendation that the school be repossessed from Biz Atoll and given to “a qualified party”, Jameel said the decision was “up to the government”.
“I respect the professional work of HRCM, but at the same time I’m disappointed it has mentioned nothing positive about the school,” he said, noting its reputation for “academic excellence.”
“Given the opportunity, we will continue to manage the school and try our best to make it the number one school in the Maldives.”
Jameel would not comment on the child abuse case pending against the former principal Akar.
Deputy Minister of Education Dr Abdullah Nazeer said the Education Ministry “received the report on Thursday” and was now seeking legal advice from the Attorney General’s office concerning the repossession of the school.
“We don’t agree with all the findings [in the HRCM report] – there are certain issues we need to refute from the ministry’s side, and we have communicated this in writing,” he said. “It was very unfortunate the report was not amended [before it was released].”
“The word used repeatedly to describe the Education Ministry is ‘irresponsible’,” he said, “[but] we were the ones who first contacted police, and based on that HRCM investigated the school.”
Police had yet to find evidence to support any allegations of abuse, he claimed.
The report was critical of the ministry’s decision to review the contract with Biz Atoll during the investigation, Dr Nazeer noted.
“We added amendements to the earlier contract (requesting a new principal in three months and including a termination clause),” he explained.
There were only “very general written regulations” governing the ministry’s role in supervising privately-owned and operated schools, he noted. “The regulations do not specifically say the government should intervene,” he said.
The Education Ministry was already seeking to resolve the employment issues at the school Dr Nazeer said, and had sent a letter to Biz Atoll on the subject
“We also had a complaint from a parent that the former Principal [Serkan Akar] was still accessing the school grounds,” he said. “We also wrote a letter to Biz Atoll saying it was not appropriate for a person currently involved in a court case concerning child abuse to be accessing the school.”
Dr Nazeer also noted that a delegation of officials from the Turkish government and the business community, had arrived in the Maldives and was currently meeting members of parliament to discuss the matter together with the the Turkish Consular General in Male’.
“I can’t comment on the delegation as I am yet to have a meeting with them,” Dr Nazeer said. “I don’t know what they will discuss.”
“As far as we are concerned, we are waiting for the Attorney General’s office to determine the gravity of the findings in the report, and if they agree, provide advice for terminating the contract.”
Download the full HRCM investigation report (Dhivehi)