Fleeing principal trapped as Lale International School investigated

Lale Youth International School is under investigation as a front for an international tax and visa racket operating out of Turkey, Minivan News understands, after weeks of investigation and dozens of interviews with concerned staff, parents and government agencies.

Today police requested that Maldives immigration hold the passport of Principal Serkan Akar, after he attempted to flee the country this morning. Minivan News understands the investigation relates to matters concerning child abuse at the school, and potentially fraudulent qualifications.

The school is also currently being investigated by the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM), following complaints from parents. A team from the commission has already interviewed staff and management, and is reportedly in the process of reviewing two conference-tables worth of documents.

Minivan News understands the investigation is now examining visa issues relating to the school, and possible human trafficking.

President of HRCM Ahmed Saleem said the Lale case was “very strange” and a “high priority” for the commission.

“A lot of government institutions have  investigated the school: the Labour Ministry, police… the strange thing is that no action has been taken,” he said. HRCM’s investigation is ongoing but is expected to be resolved next week.

Serkan Akar said he did not wish to comment on the status of his passport and promptly hung up when the subject of Lale was raised.

Deputy Principal Suleyman Atayev said Akar was trying to escort two children to an Information Communications Technology (ICT) Olympiad when police stopped him at the airport

“He had a return ticket for May 20,” Atayev said, adding that he was confident any allegations against the Principal would be proven false.

“Serkan has been told he cannot leave for seven days while the investigation is in progress. His passport is being held by police,” he said.

A teacher familiar with the matter said if Akar was escorting children to an ICT Olympiad, “then why didn’t he tell anyone, and why did he pack up his apartment?”

Atayev was also critical of HRCM’s investigation: “They are refusing to tell us the nature of the complaints they are investigating. They are supposed be about human rights but they are not respecting ours.”

“We are grateful you are seeking the truth,” he added.

I. Biz Atoll

The former government-managed Fareediyya School was converted to an international school and renamed Lale Youth International School in 2008, under an agreement made with the former government, and was officially opened by President Mohamed Nasheed in May 2009.

The agreement to run the school was made between the Education Ministry and a local Maldivan company called Biz Atoll Pvt Ltd, which operates out of an unmarked fifth floor residence in a large, nondescript apartment block on Buruzu Magu. The Biz Atoll paperwork is signed by a Turkish individual called ‘Cengiz Canta’.

Education Minister Dr Musthafa Luthfy told Minivan News last week that the Ministry was thinking about the school’s future “very carefully”, and had amended its agreement with Biz Atoll to include a requirement for a new principal “within three months”, together with minimum qualifications. The Ministry also included “termination clauses”, he said, adding that while it preferred to minimise disruption to the school and students, it was prepared to go through a six month process of re-tendering if necessary.

Regarding the allegations of child abuse, he noted that it was very difficult to prove first hand “because when the supervisory team is there these things don’t occur.”

“We are still receiving complaints. Parents are not very happy with the school and we are not happy about what has happened – we look first to the welfare of the children,” Dr Luthfy said.

Biz Atoll declined to comment on this story “due to an ongoing investigation.”

Atayev said that Biz Atoll was “continuing to advise us.”

II. A ‘cardboard school’

Lale’s school fees are somewhat arbitrary. Most students pay a monthly tuition fee of US$150. Others pay a combination of other fees including a ‘registration fee’ of US$240, an ‘admission fee’ of US$50, and in some cases an ‘annual enrolment fee’ of up to US$300-465. Yet other students receive discounts on these amounts ranging between 5-50 percent.

The school, which was provided to Biz Atoll free by the government, reportedly receives 50 percent of its funding from a group of Turkish businessmen who pour charity funds into schools in several developing countries, including Sri Lanka, Burma, Indonesia and Cambodia.

Asked who these individuals funding the school were, Lufthy said “I don’t think anyone is sure.”

Atayev confirmed the school was funded by Turkish businessmen through a Turkish organisation called Tuskon, ‘The Turkish Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists’, and its subsidiary.

But despite the apparent presence of an income, Lale teachers report being denied clocks and light bulbs for their classrooms because of budgetary constraints, while the school’s science labs have no water or electricity and the chemistry lab no gas connection, preventing students from completing coursework necessary for their IGCSE exams in 2011.

In addition, the school has no librarian after he was dismissed last year and not been replaced.

“It’s like they are intentionally trying to keep the school small,” a teacher remarked to Minivan News.

“Last December they gave the same exam to a student four times. Afterwards the teacher was advised to give the student more marks, and he passed. Multiple teachers have said they have failed half their classes, but still their students still move up.”

Another staff member told Minivan News that one of the greatest sources of angst among staff was “the situation with money.”

“It is commonly accepted among the foreign staff that Turkish teachers are getting higher wages, and that much of the money being brought into the school is not being directed in the appropriate manner. Indian and local teachers are at a huge disadvantage, with many of them receiving very low wages, and even gaining contracts minus basic privileges that other foreign staff get, such as rent allowances,” he said.

Atayev told Minivan News that a local teacher earned Rf10,000, while a Turkish teacher earned “maybe Rf10,200” out of which they paid their own accommodation.

“We don’t have accommodation at the school,” he explained. “A teacher who because of his position and responsibility might get 10,400-10,500 still has to pay US$800-900 rent from his salary.”

When a foreign staff member queried the salary situation, a Turkish staff member reportedly replied: ‘I don’t know, we get paid differently to you.’

Yet another staff member reported sighting “bundles” of Rf 500 notes being given to Turkish staff.

Meanwhile, a parent told Minivan News that he had spoken to one of the Turkish businessmen involved with the school, who had boasted that if his business donated money to the school, under Turkish taxation law he did not have to pay taxes on it.

A teacher told Minivan News that “Turkish teachers escort Turkish businessmen around the school on a weekly basis, and regularly make trips to Turkey. We certainly couldn’t afford to go to Turkey on our salaries, and this is a school that can’t afford clocks or light bulbs.”

“A lot of money is going somewhere,” another suggested. Atayev, on the other hand, claimed that no Turkish teacher worked at the school for the money, but rather “for the benefit of humankind.”

“Even Bangladeshi staff are given an airfare home once a year,” he claimed.

Parents who become inquisitive are reportedly offered scholarships, often by Serkan himself. A parent who had become concerned about the situation told Minivan News that Serkan offered her daughter a scholarship to Turkey even though only her son attended the school.

III. Lacking qualifications

A common complaint among both Maldivian and expatriate staff at the school is that many of the Turkish teachers are unable to speak English sufficiently to communicate, let alone teach.

Instead, students are reportedly taught five sessions of Turkish a week (compared with two in Islam). Several teachers have even offered English lessons to the Turkish teachers, and expressed surprise at the apparent lack of interest.

“The level of the Turkish staff’s English is a real concern, with many foreign teachers unable to even have an open conversation with some of the Turkish staff,” a Lale teacher told Minivan News. “They have been offered English lessons by two staff members, to which they have been lacklustre contributors.”

One Turkish teacher explained that it was “not important for [another Turkish teacher] to be fluent”, and that he would only use English “when he has to”.

Atayev said it was unnecessary for those teachers teaching Turkish to speak English, “but the chemistry and maths teachers are fluent.”

Many staff complained in particular about the Physical Education teacher, whose “demeanour both around students and staff has been the subject of discussions for some weeks now,'” according to one teacher.

The principal Serkan Akar was criticised for lacking both professionalism and any apparent qualifications in education or management. A source told Minivan News that when pressured over his qualifications, Akar had produced certification “still warm from the printer.”

“The Turkish teachers treat the school like their playground – their kids are here for 24 hours, and they even do their laundry and cooking on the grounds,” a teacher commented.

After HRCM demanded documentation from the school, including codes of conduct and school disciplinary procedures, foreign teachers were locked out of the school’s printing and photocopy room.

Minivan News understands that two large conference tables at HRCM are now straining under the weight of Lale School documents. A copy of Lale school’s disciplinary procedures, sighted by Minivan News, contains a category called ‘unsafe behaviour’ under which is included “throwing snowballs”.

Gambling is also prohibited “because it disrupts the learning environment”, as is “pulling the fire alarm”, despite the fact that Lale does not possess one.

IV. Visa discrepancies

Initial recruitment of teachers was performed by Biz Atoll. An early job advertisement sought nearly 138 staff, including eight mathematics teachers, eight biology teachers, six Russian teachers, five PE teachers and six chemistry teachers for Rf 10,000 apiece. Specific qualifications sought included “at least three years of experience” and “Should have good communication skill”(sic).

Despite the high numbers of teachers sought, the school currently has over 200 students, around 60 of whom are in the preschool headed by Serkan’s wife, Saliha Akar.

Sources in the Labour and Immigration Ministries have confirmed that the school’s work permit quota for foreign staff stands at 97, however the school only employs 26 expatriates (Atayev noted that 18 of these were foreign teachers).

However figures from the Immigration Department show that Biz Atoll has brought 30 workers into the country on Lale’s behalf, and there have been scattered but unconfirmed reports of Lale’s work permit cards turning up in several construction sites around the Maldives. One immigration official, appearing confused, commented to Minivan News that Biz Atoll “might be a manpower agency.”

In one instance last year a work permit was reportedly issued to an Australian teacher called ‘Christopher John Wright’. Immigration records purportedly show that Wright entered the country, however no one of that name has ever worked at the school.

Moreover, staff members familiar with matter have revealed that ‘phantom teachers’ not working at the school are being paid salaries, “and there are other instances in which teachers who have departed are still being paid.”

The school counsellor, who also works as a chemistry teacher and has ‘English teacher’ on his work permit, “can’t speak English and doesn’t even know what psychology is”, according to another teacher.

“Meanwhile, the music teacher has a degree in psychology, and while there is no business teacher, a teacher with a degree in business and tourism is teaching Japanese.”

During an investigation of the school last year, the Department of Labour Relations in the Human Resources Ministry told Minivan News that some employees at Lale were working “in positions that were different to those specified on their visa.”

Further complaints regarding the qualifications of teachers from private parties prompted the Labour Ministry to write a letter to HRCM and the Education Ministry, to review teachers’ qualifications and academic accreditation.

Moments before leaving the office to be interviewed by HRCM regarding the case, Deputy Education Minister Dr Abdulla Nazeer confirmed that checking the qualifications of foreign teachers was the responsibility of an accreditation board that answered to the Ministry, and was charged with ensuring authenticity and comparison of credentials to their Maldivian equivalents.

“There will be substantial changes to the board from July, and in the future all teachers will be registered,” Dr Nazeer said, adding that several schools, “and not just Lale”, would be subject to “an ongoing monitoring program.”

“The ministry will not sit back to see a school mismanaged by private parties, without intervening,” he promised.

He said he had met a man who he understood was the school’s new principal, “and according to certificates submitted to the Ministry he has a masters degree and eight years experience at management level.”

V. Past abuse of students

Minivan News reported on January 14 that parents had made allegations that Serkan Akar and then-Deputy Principal Guvanchmyrat Hezretov were using physical force to discipline children.

“[The violence] has only been towards the boys, but they have done it in front of the girls as well,” a parent told Minivan News at the time. “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 parent of a 13 year-old boy told Minivan News that her son “would come home and tell me about the beatings. He told me it depended on how angry the principal was – sometimes a leather belt was used.”

Students were reportedly threatened that if they told their parents they would receive worse punishments.

Minivan News understands that Hezretov later fled to Sri Lanka after police obtained a warrant for his arrest. A supervision team sent by the Education Ministry to the school meanwhile interviewed parents and students about abuse at the school, and collected sufficient evidence to merit forwarding the case to police.

However, the case subsequently lapsed due to lack of evidence. Atayev emphasised that “there has never been corporal punishment at the school and there never will be,” and said he was not sure why the school was under attack.

“There were reports that some students were abused, but there was not much evidence,” said Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam from the Maldives Police Service, adding that since this incident, police had only received further complaints from one parent and child. “If child abuse [is occurring] there should be more than one,” he suggested. The investigation was unfinished, he emphasised.

Minivan News was sent a list of allegations in April by a distraught parent, who claimed that while the beatings had stopped following the intervention of the Education Ministry, “students who were abused then are now being abused verbally.”

“The principal uses filth and vulgar words when addressing [the students] and for any mischief done by any student, these students are blamed and given suspensions.”

A teacher at Lale told Minivan News that incidents of corporal punishment were believed to have disappeared following the departure of Hezretov.

“It’s important to note that the school has had a huge turnover of staff from 2009 to 2010, and from accounts of staff that were here last year, the environment of the school is much more positive and supportive on a number of levels,” he said.

“Several past teachers, including the previous vice-principal, are spoken about very openly as being over-aggressive and harsh disciplinarians. They have left the school, but unfortunately misrepresentations in the past have contributed to the current staff being dragged through the mud.”

A core group of teachers, he said, remained “extremely dedicated, hard working and flexible, and are working overtime to make the school successful.”

Other teachers noted that the mismanagement had forged a “strong rapport” between teachers and their students.

“They are clearly not running a school,” one teacher said of the school’s senior management.

“But they made the mistake of bringing in good teachers to try and make them look good to the outside world.”


66 thoughts on “Fleeing principal trapped as Lale International School investigated”

  1. yaseen childrens day faahaga kuree patents laari dheegen ethaa ulhey dhivehi teachers.dhe emeehun sponser hodhee school in ehves kame nukodhey sarkan emmena letter fonuvaafa bunee baiverivaaka beynume noono.thurukee meehun bunee childrens day akee emeehun faahaga kuraa dhuvahe noono.mihurihaakame kuree parents n teachers management aa dhekolha.beyrun fenna gothaka nooney kanthatha vaany ehen v ma dhenves angathalhaairu balaafa angathalhaa thikala meehunaa hedhi ey mithan mi halaaku vany.

    mr.sarkan,no metter how much u want to be shahuruk khan u cant hehehheh poh

    meehama kantha ingigen vaahaka dhakaa parent eh

  2. Hey TheGladman! Are you sure that this school is the same way you describe it to be? Sure, the school has smart boards, but that doesn't mean that the technology is any better than other schools. just because you can write with a pen that doesn't need the cap to be open doesn't mean that it has better qualities! i think that this school has good teachers but they don't know how to manage this school! even a 16 year old could do better than these people! just by writing "international" on the school name board doesn't make it a international school!

  3. i would like to verify some of the pointed noted in some of the comments. first of all n most importantly " not all turkish teachers are bad " im happy to say that some of the teachers at lale youth international skul are great n are like by not a group but every single one of the students. the problems is with few who take childish n irresponsible decisions with discrimination.

    i would like to also add some points abt the resources. lets say lale youth international school has smart or active board. important question is does dhivehi n islam classes have those things?? no they dont does the turkish class have this?? yea they do... while islam n dhivehi are subjects that must be studyd n turkish is just an extra language turkish class gets internet smart board n a class room with tiles. on the other hand dhivehi n islam classes dsnt have smart boards n in the class we study maths n science we dnt even have internet or tiles. shocking as it seems they demand we r making false accusations abt discrimination. clearly thay give more attention to trukish then other stuff. a nother point i would like to note is about teachers from different nationalities. few attention is given to them n nothing is done to promote there skills. this is realy a sad things bcuz only due to sum decisions made by sum childish people the skul we love n care abt are being humiliated. steps are being taken n things are being improved with the help of parents n students n sum other parties but there is much to do n i believe if we all work together we can make this skul a better place. but i dnt see shuting the school down as a solutions. thank you

  4. In my opinion this is just a scenario to ruin reputation of the school and ties between muslims(Turks-Maldivians) generated by foreign journalists. Because all the things are claimed such things that can be understood whether it is ture or not by very strong proofs and i don't think that any claimers have any evidences to prove it.As a socialist view Dhivehi Raajje People can easily believe anything just they had heard from any resource. This is the mistake by doing all of the public.

  5. hi ,wanted to inform the angry so called parents..u have not taken your responsibilities in making your kids, i would say "behaved: kids,if u have taken care of your kids u wouldn't have to run after a school.if they create problem in class and make other students life miserable than their behavior must be changed. and if you really love your kids u would have changed your kids to a better school perhaps and see how they perform there.so furiously running after a school to shut down the school...just might not be the solution.. and talking about the rights...shows that u have something fishy in your minds..you wonder how many types of discrimination occur in Maldivian schools.u cant bear to listen to their language go to a classroom of......,who is responsible??,who has the right to sack students if they are low achievers??? who is responsible.... when the class dustbins r in fire...still teaching and learning goes on.....but did any one of u considered this.....loyalty respecting and honesty might be just ....i don't know but sad to say that its the parents behavior that leads children to behave like the way they do..perhaps true perhaps not ..god know better...insha allah there will be a day that everything will be in justice...good deeds counts good deeds counts....

  6. i visited the school and collected enough information by talking to parents,students, as well as reading all articles above.

    there is no only one school in the world such things happening, most of the time unhappy ex-staff create problem , try to blame school authority unnecessarily
    because they feel that they were the best for that job and now they are fired...

    About the article of J.J. Robinson, I think J. J. belongs to Police department of the country where he belongs to.. because this is not like a news/article at all...this looks like a CIA-FBI report about something...long-detailed - without taliking to one of the school authority... names are used with correct spelling...??? a scenario has been started by some people who want to be powerful in the country by mean of Education...If you check the news about Turkish Schools in the world, you will see/understand ...Dear maldivians , visit the school, it is not far form where we live...just some minutes...go talk to them, talk to parents,talk to students..and visit minivan office, see how many of them are from us???....

  7. Hi all, I wonder if anyone of the commenting people here been to school to check the qualifications of teachers, especially Turkish teachers since they are under the spotlight. If you haven't done so please stop blurting and try to see the truth behind all what happening? How many students have been abused there? Does anyone have a solid evidence? It seems police are investigating about the matter for a long time and the result? Nothing...I claim that all the Turkish teachers working there have their diplomas and degrees. If anyone have guts we can go to school and see them ourselves.

  8. if the turkish ppl had those qualifications they shud kno how to speak fluent english....anyways i can gurantee most not all turish teachers doesnt hav that kind of degrees n diplomas!

  9. We send our kids to school for a certain reason. It is to gain knowledge, learn facts of life, become aware of the world and learn the proper social etiquette. If there are professionals handling a school, we, the parents do not have to tell the school management that this is what we need. But as it happens, Professional Crooks from Turkey are handling the school and this is the outcome of it. Just because some parents of this school have been getting and are still getting material goods and financial gifts doesn’t mean that they have the right to take away the rights of all the children who are studying there. The former Chairperson of the PTA at Lale, Mr. Amil Shareef and the former Principal Mr. Serkan are bosom buddies. And he would do anything for Serkan. And Mr. Suleyman who thinks he is the High and Mighty is a guy who was kicked out of Fareedhiyya School for incompetency. These three together would make MAFIA even ashamed. They are that clever in ruining innocent kids for their gain.
    Just having a certificate doesn’t mean that they are competent to teach in an international capacity. The Turks may be fluent and really clever in teaching in their language, but I am a parent who have tried speaking to some of them and it takes ages for them understand anything and the same for them to express their views about my kid. I am saying this because I have firsthand experience. Last year also the Former Assistant Principal Murad’s wife, a Miss Olgerek was teaching the grade 7 students English. She asked me where she can download worksheets which had answer sheets attached to them. And that was what she was giving them. Even the present grade 9 English teacher, the High and Mighty Suleyman would quickly go to the dictionary the moment a big word is said by anyone. He was not fit to teach the primary kids and now he thinks he is great at taking students preparing for a IGCSE exam. Speak to the kids and then comment here. He doesn’t even know the contents of the IGCSE syllabus. Unless the parents give extra assistance to the students there is no way they would get good passes in the IGCSE exam with these people teaching them.

  10. mr.suleymaan thinks he is the principal.who gave u that position?no1 from lale knows abt that.but he said to one of the pre school teachers that "all the workers are under my control"who the hell he thinks he is you bastard. vagugolla u r totally rite they dont have any degrees.they do have in foto copy but not the real 1.god bless sacred maldives.
    mr.sarukan now u dont have the guts to enter the school even.u said to a 21year old pregnant lady that all maldivians are dogs.but now u no that maldivian dogs can bite also.woof woof.hheheheh hahahahh kekekekke.
    see u in court. go to hell with suleymaan n salihaa.

  11. All those who dont know about the school should commenting. all what the author said is true.

  12. Sarkan is THE MAIN ABUSER. Jameel is the manager. Nadwa is the operator. Sulaiman is the cleaner who cleans all the dirt, including his own. Aamil, the Former PTA President is the dreamer. And the Education Ministry is the place which is giving them all the chances to go ahead with their manifesto. Shafeeu from the ministry is their secret agent. Dr. Nazeer is too "busy" to do anything about all the abuse and other stuff going on in Lale school because Jameel and him happens to be from the same island. Mirfath, former head of FCPD, Police just was "unable" to find any evidence. Labor ministry was and still is trying to find the information to see what has happened to the turkish people's visa and work permit cards. May b you better try checking the garbage yard. They might have been thrown away by mistake you know? What about the MAB of the Education ministry? Did they ever see any original certificates of the teachers at Lale? Were any accredited?
    So sad. Are these Maldivians totally dumb or do they think we are dumb just because we are not in high positions? Of course people like us who struggle with manual labor jobs are all too simple minded to understand these things.On behalf of all the students there, I call upon the concerned authorities to open your eyes and clear up this mess before we take it upon ourselves to correct your mistakes. Our fists work real good. We have the training from the roads of Male'.

  13. @ vagu golaa: can you please read your own comment? So if it is any indication you don't even know English?

    @ new saliha: so you are from that school, aren't you? And telling lies about the place you are working at? miserable, you are totally miserable...

  14. @ Hassan.R.Hussain - are you the son of so called 'Dr.' Hussain Rasheed? Why do you want the school to be shut down? Is your father going to name it differently? Or is this wish belongs to your mother? She was reportedly told some students' mothers that she will get this school shut down!!! So you, as a family, have a problem with school? Why? Is that because you didn't want to pay the school fee properly? Could it be because you wanted an extra privilege like 'not paying the school fee' because you are s son of a minister or deputy minister? stingy...miserable...poor child...

  15. The hunt is successful. Now, vengeance will be served.

    I recommend he be punished. Beat him the amount of times he abused our children in public. Get every victim to testify.

    I'm sure we'll get more than a thousand good whaps in.

    And for those miserable traitors who want to whitewash this whole affair with lies and slander, they will be punished twice as severely as the principal.


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