The Teachers Association of Maldives (TAM) has announced a nationwide teachers’ strike to protest against pay discrepancies and the state’s failure to improve the education sector.
President of TAM Athif Abdul Hakeem said the strike can go ahead any time, with all preemptive steps having been taken, but noted that a priority would still be given to resolve issues through dialogue.
Athif said that meetings with the education ministry had resulted only in the promise of more meetings
“So in late January (2014) we requested to arrange a meeting but there was no response. So sent another letter this month. now we are waiting to discuss our issues. our next step will depend on how that goes,” Athif said.
TAM president said the association’s main concern is pay discrepancies:
“We are not exactly asking for a raise here, the government can never compensate teachers for their service, that is impossible. We are only asking to be treated fairly. There already is a huge gap between teachers’ pay and the pay for less qualified persons doing less work in other institutions. And now they have increased pay for some,” he said.
Comparing teachers’ pay with that of other institutions, Athif noted that an office assistant who hasn’t completed high school working at an independent institution will earn an amount equal or more than a qualified teacher with a degree.
“Such a teacher will earn around nine thousand rufiya in that assistant director level job. An assistant director at an independent institution will earn more than sixteen thousand. In health sector a nurse with a diploma will earn even more,” he continued.
‘Edhuru Vehi’ Flats
According to TAM, the meeting with the minister in December was cut short due to “lack of time” with some of the issues not raised during the meeting later shared in a letter.
One of the issues detailed in the letter was concern over the ‘Edhuru Vehi’ teachers’ flats in Villimalé . TAM requested the eviction of 27 flats already occupied by unqualified persons and the assurance that all flats were given only to “technical staff” in the education sector.
The letter stated that three of these apartments could be reserved for school heads and senior teachers traveling to the capital.
TAM said that if the issue was not resolved, the organisation would file a case with the Anti-Corruption Commission.
Education sector reform
Other major issues raised by TAM concerned improving the education sector and the quality of services provided. According to the association, qualified young graduates are turning away from the sector due to poor pay and working conditions.
“Teachers should focus on each and every student in a classroom, but there are 35 students to focus on within 35 minutes. To compensate for this, parents have to pay thousands for private tuition. This is not free public education,” said the TAM president.
The association has requested that the ministry of education involve teachers in discussions regarding the sector. Last week, the association released a report titled ‘Education sector in a deep pit’ – highlighting the state’s “total disregard” towards the sector.
The report stated that 60% of schools in the Maldives are run without a principal, and contrasted reduced spending on education with significant increases in areas such as the military, political posts, and independent institutions.
An experienced teacher from Thaa Atoll School told Minivan News today that, even though the pay is no match for the work teachers do, they don’t always complain about it.
“They are very dedicated and they work really hard to improve the results. Teachers are never free from their work. They bring books to mark at home, they take extra classes, they guide students in extracurricular activities, they are on-call 24 hours assisting students, even during weekends.”
According to the teacher, the total pay (with salary and allowances) for the most qualified teacher at the school – with a degree in social sciences and a professional degree in teaching – is approximately MVR10,500.
“For most teachers it would be around MVR9000 or less. The person in charge of cleaning up the health center takes home around MVR16000” She said.
A secondary school teacher from Laamu Mundoo complained that overtime payment for teachers has been limited to just 5 percent of their basic salary, which is an average of MVR280 per month.
“We are told that even if we work more overtime hours we will not get paid for that. But how can we be teachers and not work overtime? We need to prepare lesson plans and teaching aids, we have to assist students in extracurricular activities and mark their papers and books, we have take extra classes for students who need that. So basically we are doing volunteer work here” She said.
A teacher from Thaa Atoll Madifushi said that salaries for teacher are often delayed and that the pay for January had still not been disbursed.
“And we don’t have access to teachers text books, chemicals or other equipment in most islands here,” she added.
Other teachers noted issues of retaining senior management staff who are not receptive to changes or the use of technology and modern teaching methods. They also noted the ministry’s failure to monitor schools in islands on a regular basis.
Only as a last resort
Athif reiterated that teachers will go on strike only as a last resort. TAM is hoping for parents’ support, and will be meeting parents through Parent Teacher Associations (PTAs).
“We are currently discussing the matter within our organisation’s committees, we hope parents will stand with us in this. This is about their children’s rights, improving the education sector is a national issue. The less we spend on this sector, the more we will have to spend on prisons. But if parents don’t act, and if the government refuse to act, we will go on strike. But only as a last resort,” Athif said.
According to TAM the organisation has 1500 permanent member and an estimated 4000 Maldivian teachers across the country who will participate. Recent Civil Service Commission data shows there to be 5,676 teachers in the Maldives – 4,855 of them are locals.
“Foreign teachers work here on contract basis, so they are not involved in this officially. Even for local teachers, we are asking for their opinion. We will conduct a survey and see how many of them are with us and if they want to go on strike. It will be their decision. Even then, we will give a chance for the government to find temporary teachers to fill in during that period.” Athif said.