Teachers routinely bullied by pupils with no support from schools, say staff

Education in the Maldives is being held back by a lack of institutional support and too much student power, report teachers currently working within the system.

Anecdotal evidence from teachers working in the Male’ area suggests poor support from senior staff and insufficient pay, leading many teachers to consider leaving the profession.

Following last week’s annual Teachers Awards ceremony, President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan told local media that allowances and privileges for teachers would be reviewed in order to improve educational standards.

“The basic action to take, in order to improve the level of education, is to improve the standard of teachers. And increase the assistance provided to teachers. In order to encourage teachers, I will revise and work towards improving the allowances given to them,” Waheed told Sun Online.

In response to this, one teacher told Minivan News: “It’s about time they got reviewed. Teachers are badly paid and badly treated. Many teachers I know are leaving or looking to leave the profession.”

Former Education Minister under the previous government Shifa Mohamed explained that efforts had been made in the past to raise the standard of teachers by introducing a licensing system for better qualified teachers which would have become mandatory over time.

“We tried to establish a system with licensing for better qualified teachers,” said Shifa, arguing that teachers were motivated not just by wages, but the opportunity to develop.

Teachers – some of whom have experience working abroad – reported particular problems with a results orientated system, producing pupils without the appropriate life skills.

“Students have far too much power. If they don’t like the marks they have been given in an exam, they bully teachers into changing the marks,” one teacher said. “Teachers are marking up all students so that they appease them and the parents.

“The students are spoon-fed and don’t learn any of the life skills they’ll need, for example basic revision skills, how to read an article and summarise it, or how to take the key points from it,” the teacher told Minivan News.

The teachers also described problems caused by teachers being forced to supplement their income with additional tuition, often teaching children from within their own school – prompting a conflict of interests.

“It is known that a lot of the teachers only teach half the syllabus in class, forcing students to take on extra tuition,” commented one teacher.

“However, this is an error on both the government/schools side and the teacher’s side. The teachers aren’t getting paid enough so they have to supplement their salary with tuition,” the teacher explained.

Shilfa said the tuition issue was a long-term problem which had concerned the ministry for some time.

“It is a norm because it is a system based on marks, and we were trying to change that – there is pressure from parents [on teachers] to give good marks,” she said.

While one teacher explained that schools still offered opportunities for further training to staff via the Continuing Professional Development (CPD) scheme, at the time of press Minivan News was unable to obtain comment from the government on current policy.

Four different education officials, including senior appointments, failed to respond or referred Minivan News to other officials, who likewise failed to respond. One education official demanded Minivan News submit a request for comment in writing.

Wider impact

After last week’s award ceremony at Dharubaaruge, President Waheed said the implementation of a new curriculum as well as further training for teachers was needed to improve the education system.

Waheed also pointed to a gap in the system affecting school leavers.

“One of the biggest problems for youth today is that they have to stop studying when they reach Grade 10. They finish school at the age of 16,” said the President.

“My hope is that the education system is changed, such that every child gets to go to school until they are 18, and that they become productive and useful individuals,” he added.

This particular issue was highlighted by a recent report into gang culture in the country, produced by the Asia Foundation.

The report linked this so called ‘lost age group’ to unemployment and subsequent involvement in gang activities as a source of income.

State Minister of Education Imad Solih told the media last month that the country’s education system had failed, with detrimental repercussions for society as a whole.

He stated that, with the government’s annual investment of MVR 2.4 billion (US$156 million) on education, the outcome was unacceptable.

An Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)  report released last December ranked the Maldives as number one in the Asia Pacific region on education spending as a percentage of GDP.

According to the report, Maldives spends the highest proportion of GDP on public education (8.1 percent) across the Asia/Pacific region, four times higher than countries such as Cambodia and Myanmar.

Despite the expenditure, Solih argued that the countrywide results of O’level and A’level examinations did not reflect the financial input to the education system, and that changes had to be brought to the sector including new plans and targets.

Solih also stated that the failure of the education system should not only remain a concern of the education sector alone, but political leaders, parliamentarians and the general public should also share the concerns.

“I urge everyone to set aside our political differences and to take a minute to think about the current education system,” he said.


Revision of schoolbooks is politicising children: former Education Minister

Former Education Minister and former Chancellor of the Maldives National University, Dr Musthafa Luthfy, has condemned the Ministry of Education’s decision to revise the Social Studies textbook for grade 7 students.

The Education Development Center (EDC), which is run under the Education ministry, last week issued a circular ordering primary schools to amend the unit on the government and include the information regarding the recent power transfer that took place in the country.

The statement that the EDC has asked to include reads: “President Nasheed resigned on 7 February 2012 after three years and two months in office. Hence, according to the constitution, Vice-president Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik was sworn in as president.”

Speaking to Minivan News, Dr Luthfy alleged that the government is allowing young school children to become involved in the intense political debate over the legitimacy of Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan’s government. He also raised suspicions that the decision may be due to some ‘political essence’ in the matter.

Dr Luthfy instead insisted the government be patient on the issue as it was highly sensitive and subject to controversy.

Dr Luthfy was previously a member of Dr Waheed’s Gaumee Ithihaad (GI) party, and is currently the Chair of the Maldivian Democractic Party (MDP)’s Select Committee on Education.

“We are asking the government to be patient as this a very controversial issue. This decision shows their impatience. What they are really doing is allowing young children to get involved in the ongoing political debate. That is not good. The book [after inclusion of the revised statement] reads as if nothing serious has happened and that the president just resigned, and the vice president succeeded in assuming presidency. But what is really happening is a bigger issue than that,” he said.

Dr Luthfy said that children would obviously be aware of the political crisis and that what they would read in the books was far too simplified and contradictory.

“A large proportion of people are questioning the legitimacy of the government. The parents of these children are already involved in the debate. It is being talked about on almost every corner, in shops, restaurants and everywhere. What the children read in the books is written down too simply. It is very contradicting for them,” Dr Luthfy said.

“I believe the state has an obligation to provide true and relevant information. Why can’t we have a little patience before writing down such a controversial issue? Aren’t we letting the children into this debate?” he questioned. “Our concern is not about changing what is already written in the books, but the involvement of children in the debates.”

“[The education ministry] could have written this at a later stage after a proper investigation of the power transfer.  They can’t change history, history will continue. What has happened cannot be concealed.”

The MDP had earlier released a statement condemning the Education Ministry’s decision. The statement said that that it was irresponsible of the education ministry to change the text books especially following a coup d’état, and without proper investigation it was misleading to include such a statement.

Speaking to Minivan News, Head of the Curriculum Division of the EDC, Dr Naashia Mohamed, said the EDC had a panel for each of the subjects taught in school and similarly, the panel responsible for the Social Studies subject had drafted the phrase to be included in the text book.

Asked about the comments made by Dr Musthafa Luthfy, she refused to comment.

State Minister of Education Imad Solih said he did not believe that all the details of what happened on February 7 had to be included in the textbook.

“I personally don’t believe that everything that happened has to be included in the book. The Social Studies textbook speaks about the President, so it is obvious that Dr Waheed is the president. It is the reality,” Solih said.

He also said that it was clear that President Nasheed had resigned, but the question being debated was whether it was forced or voluntary.

“Until a decision is made, Dr Waheed is still the president, and if anything changes that fact, they would bring the necessary changes,” he said.

Responding to Musthafa Luthfy’s comments on bringing school children into the debate, Solih acknowledged that there may be children at that age group who would discuss the issue, but he said that he saw it as a “secondary issue”.

Solih also said that the teachers were not investigators and were instead mandated to teach in line with a specific curriculum and guidelines, so they would teach from the curriculum.


War of words escalate between rival opposition factions

Main opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Abdulla Abdul Raheem has accused coalition partner People’s Alliance (PA) Leader Abdulla Yameen of “trying to destroy the DRP”, claiming that his opposition to the government is motivated by a desire to conceal an alleged illegal oil trade worth US$800 million.

At a DRP Galolhu centre opening on Monday night that saw the war of words escalate between the rival opposition factions, the DRP MP for Maafanu West called on Yameen to swear off claiming to hold the government responsible, because “you are more ruthless and a much bigger thief than that.”

“I will dare to say this, you are a much more ruthless and Jewish person,” he continued. “Don’t come in front of us again and say ‘hold the government accountable,’ we know that behind those devious plans lies the matter of that illegal oil trade.”

DRP Deputy Leader Ali Waheed meanwhile told supporters that they “should not run around forever considering any of our political leaders a god.”

“We don’t believe in a tribe, we believe in principle,” said Waheed, adding that origins or family descent did not matter in “today’s political reality”.

The DRP MP for Thoddoo went on to say that people came out to vote in appreciation of Gayoom’s contribution to the nation, “but it does not mean that [Gayoom] should come back, or that you should endorse your brother [Abdulla Yameen].”

In an appearance on private broadcaster Villa TV this week, Yameen defended his party against complaints of PA using the DRP’s name to organise rallies to promote his bid for the presidency.

“If by holding rallies there, Yameen is being promoted, if they accept that reality, then Thasmeen is free to hold rallies every night,” he suggested.

DRP Secretary General Abdul Rasheed Nafiz told press on Monday that the party has officially requested the Maldives Police Service, Male’ City Council and the Elections Commission (EC) to disallow activities held without official approval.

The move comes after the Gayoom faction organised a rally Saturday night in defiance of a council resolution requiring authorisation before using the party’s logo or seal.

Nafiz warned that the party would have to take the matter to court if the authorities proved unable to resolve the dispute.

In a statement from ‘Honorary Leader’ Maumoon Abdul Gayoom read out at the rally, the former President called on the DRP council – which the ‘Gayoom faction’ has boycotted in protest of Thasmeen’s “dictatorial” leadership – to retract its decision to recommend MPs Ahmed Mahlouf, Ahmed Ilham and Gayoom’s lawyer Mohamed Waheed for disciplinary action.

Faced with similar charges that saw Deputy Leader Umar Naseer dismissed in December, Ilham however contends that “a Deputy Leader can be dismissed only if a third of the party’s congress votes to dismiss him.”

At the ‘Thasmeen faction’ rally, Waheed, one of four Deputy Leaders elected at DRP’s third congress last year, derided his former colleagues claiming that “not even ten people in our rival faction’s front rank possess A’ Level certificates, how can they run the country?”

Spilling over

Meanwhile at Monday’s parliament sitting, MPs of the rival factions exchanged heated words and accusations during the debate on an amendment to the Clemency Act.

DRP MP for Mid-Henveiru Ali Azim accused PA MPs of “using another party’s name and its flag” to hold rallies to attack and undermine the DRP leadership.

Azim was cut off by Deputy Speaker Nazim – presiding over the sitting in the absence of Speaker Abdulla Shahid – who advised the MP to stick to the topic.

Picking up where Azim left off, Ali Waheed raised the issue of appointing a new Auditor General, a post that has remained vacant for a year.

“Are you afraid [to appoint an Auditor General]? What are you afraid of?” Waheed asked the PA Deputy Leader. “Shouldn’t you appoint one [by now] if you’re not afraid of the US$800 million oil and the flags?”

In March 2010, Nazim pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiring to defraud the former Ministry of Atolls Development.

Waheed went on to criticise opposition leaders for being “obsessed with winning power” and “completely lacking sincerity” for solving national problems.

“Opposition parties are attacking Kenereege Mohamed Nasheed. But matters amongst us are worse than Kenereege Mohamed Nasheed, Honourable Speaker,” he said.

Echoing Waheed’s sentiments, Abdulla Abdul Raheem asserted that “you can’t do things in this country anymore the way US$800 million of oil was illegally traded using STO.”