Student protest shuts down school over teacher shortage

Students prevented teachers from entering Rathafandhoo Island School in Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll on Monday, shutting the school for the day in protest over a three month teacher shortage.

Tenth grade students have been without an accounting teacher since January, despite the school sending a request to the Ministry of Education immediately after the position became available.

“Half the tenth grade students created problems by preventing teachers from entering the school. They were demanding an accounting teacher to be provided,” Rathafandhoo School In-Charge and teacher Thasneema Shakir told Minivan News.

“We have been without an accounting teacher since the second week in January. The [education] ministry was informed in January; the documents requesting a new teacher were sent,” said Thasneema.

“They said the request was being processed. I think it’s a big process they have to undertake,” she added.

Thasneema explained that policy guidelines dictate each subject has to have a specific teacher, and so while the school has been waiting for an accountancy teacher, the class has been taught by commerce and economics teachers.

“They are doing their best, but are not qualified and are facing difficulties. Students have been complaining they cannot teach accounting well,” she stated.

According to Thasneema, the Education Ministry informed the school today (March 18) that a replacement accounting teacher would be sent tomorrow.

Systemic education shortcomings

Teacher shortages, lack of qualifications and training are some of the systemic education system problems former Education Minister Shifa Mohamed and former Education Minister Dr Musthafa Luthfee previously discussed with Minivan News.

“Even for basic education we are still struggling with the teachers at the middle school and secondary level,” Shifa stated.

“There are not enough local [Maldivian] teachers. Close to 70 percent of teachers from middle school onwards are Indian expatriates. The ministry spends a huge amount of money on these foreign teachers,” she added.

Shifa explained how the lack of training opportunities for local teachers negatively affects how the curriculum is taught and that it prevents students from developing critical thinking skills.

“Critical thinking skills are lacking generally. Creative thinking is very minimum within classrooms, because there is a very rigid form of teaching going on.

“Teachers are not very familiar with curriculum. The main thing is that there is no proper assistance given for teachers and opportunities for teachers to develop themselves,” Shifa said.

She also explained how these shortcomings are compounded by poor management and lack of community involvement.

“School middle management has a lot of influence and what they’re doing within the schools is something that has to be changed. They exert very strong control over what teachers are really teaching students from the curriculum during ‘coordination’ meetings.

“Instead of really looking at things at a broader angle and trying to help the kids, they simply talk about what going to do on which date, etc. They don’t concentrate on literacy, creative writing, and the things that need to be really focused on.

“The teachers blindly follow what middle management and leading teachers say. I don’t blame them because they don’t have required amount of training on some of the islands,” Shifa said.

The lack of parent involvement in school boards and parent teacher associations compounds these issues. School board guidelines were issued under Nasheed’s government as a broad way for parents to be involved in all aspects of their children’s education, however this opened the schools up to public criticism, according to Shifa.

“In a democratic country people should be more engaged and one method is through community involvement in schools.

“While some principals did a great job working cooperatively, others really violated whole thing and didn’t even nominate people.

“Some principals are really scared of opening up schools, because for them its their own secure territory. They can easily manipulate the community,” Shifa stated.

Shifa stated the education system reforms undertaken during former President Mohamed Nasheed’s government, as well as by her predecessor Dr Musthafa Luthfee, would be taking effect now if President Waheed Hassan Manik’s government had continued them.

She explained that in 2008 – following former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s 30-year autocratic rule – the government took responsibility for 323 schools.

“It was a good decision, but was a huge budgetary strain. The education system was decentralised, the province units were very effective, a huge amount of money was invested in infrastructure renovations to provide healthy water and toilets, and teachers were more closely observed.

“Unfortunately, Waheed’s government has doubled down and re-centralised,” Shifa claimed.

Luthfee echoed these sentiments in previous discussions with Minivan News.

“Maldives school education will continue to improve if the current administration goes along with the policy guidelines put in place by the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) government.

“When we were in the government we did several things to improve education. They included establishing single session schooling, providing service training for teachers, enhancing educational management, decentralization of education supporting private higher education and establishing Maldives National University (MNU),” said Luthfee.

Shifa further detailed how education problems were not discussed among the public, therefore they “don’t really grasp the huge implications this has on society”.

“For a long time during Gayoom’s 30 years everything was very quiet, because you cannot simply express yourself. When you don’t have the opportunity to express yourself, who cares to think about something you should not be thinking about.” Shifa said.

“Over the years political figures go to schools and promise certain resources. This has become both a means of getting something for the schools and a campaign tool. Prize giving day [for students] should not become a political thing.

“Under Gayoom and in the past governments have used this very well to manipulate and get the votes for each election,” she added.

Shifa emphasised that politicising education is an ongoing problem and the sweeping reforms put in place under the previous government would have addressed many of the systemic problems preventing students from receiving a quality education. However, she has not seen any of these programs continued.

Additional shortcomings

Shifa highlighted a number of other training and policy programs previously implemented to ensure that school quality standards were met, teacher training opportunities are provided as well as vocational and higher education opportunities existed for students.

The initiatives include a teacher licensing program through the College of Open Learning, the Excellent ‘Baraabaru’ Schools Program, and the Skills ‘Hunaru’ Training Program.

“These programs would have taken the budgetary strain off government and ensured local teachers are adequately trained to administer a diverse education,” stated Shifa.

“Under the Baraabaru Program, seven principles for evaluation must be met, so schools and teachers understand that their job is not only teaching, it is building good well-rounded, model people, of quality character.

“We gave 150 million for the Hunaru Program, which was the most huge amount of money we allocated for any program in the nation in many years. This talent program was totally for youth development, not infrastructure,” Shifa said.

She further explained the program would have provided higher educational and vocational training for youth in any sector, thereby minimizing the need for foreign workers, both skilled and semi-skilled.

Shifa emphasised she was “very concerned” with the assessment efforts made by teachers, primarily because their current focus is on exams.

“We need to change teachers’ perceptions to let them know assessments and exams are for the sake of learning, not a separate thing,” Shifa said.

She explained that the methodologies teachers are using – or lack thereof – are problematic because the curriculum is not being used as a tool for teachers to “change and teach”.

Shifa detailed how curriculum revisions – for preschool, primary and secondary school – were already occurring in 2008 and that one of Luthfee’s “highest priorities” was to continue this process. He commented on these issues as well.

“Current school curriculum is in two parts, namely local curriculum and up to grade 7 and Cambridge curriculum in secondary. Both curricula lacks the ability to provide critical thinking and civic skills,” said Luthfee.

“However we are hopeful that the local curriculum which is being developed would fill the gap unless undue influences are exerted by people with extremist views,” he added.

Shifa explained how some small schools will have only five or so children in a class, but still have to provide seven or eight teachers – one per subject – for the students to continue on to secondary school.

According to Shifa, one of the most important ways these problems can be solved is through multi-grade teaching, which would improve the quality of teaching on the islands and bring down expenses.

She discussed how Nasheed’s government was trying to introduce multi-grade teaching nationally “in a pattern whereby the public will accept it through smart school projects”. To this end, a pilot-program training center was being established on Kudafari island in Noonu atoll in June 2011.

“There was a lot of enthusiasm within the school to continue this. Therefore, we made the infrastructure for the school to go single session – and along with the help with the continuing center for education – and start off the multigrade teaching program,” Shifa said.

The lack of quality education and resources then puts students at a disadvantage to continue their education – A-level, higher education, and vocational training opportunities.

“So many students are getting good marks and completing grade 10 but are unable to take A- levels because the Maldives is lacking well-functioning centers. Except for Male’ and a few regional centers, options are few and far between,” stated Shifa.

Education Ministry

Education Minister Asim Ahmed spoke to Minivan News about some of these ongoing educational issues.

“The challenges of teacher training and development are addressed by this government in a very systematic way.

“Teacher shortages is not a systemic problem. This year there are more teachers in schools than during the past three years combined.

“The evidence of this is the record level O’Level pass rate this year. Students will not pass if there are no teachers.

Ahmed also highlighted that the government will conduct teacher development programmes, continue MNU training, and increase overseas training for teachers.

O’level results still withheld

Preliminary results for the 2012’s Cambridge O’Level examination have not been released due to “difficulties” in analysis, the Ministry of Education has said, despite claiming “one of the highest pass rates to date”.