Lale English teacher resorted to begging, sleeping in fishmarket

When English teacher John Campbell accepted a job at Lale Youth International School two years ago, he had no idea he would be leaving the country with scarcely more than the shirt on his back and an expatriate horror story far removed from the picturesque experience of a resort worker.

At one stage in December 2010, penniless, starving, robbed, waiting for the school to pay his remaining salary and unable to get a response from any authorities, he was forced to sleep in the capital’s fish market for seven nights before being rescued by an immigration official.

At night, Campbell would sit in the doorways of shops and read by the light through the windows. Famished, he eventually resorted to begging outside Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH).

“It was my first experience of begging,” says the Australian national, who has 10 years experience as an English teacher and a wife who currently lives in Thailand.

“I hadn’t eaten for six days, but people gave me enough for a coffee. The humiliation was better than starving, but it was not something I want to repeat.”

He was eventually found by an immigration official and taken to the immigration lock-up, where he was fed and allowed to come and go as he pleased. Later, he was moved to another building that was being refurbished –

“I don’t think it was official,” he says, praising the department worker for the help he received.

Campbell says his problems began when the Turkish-run international school failed to pay him one month’s salary on completion of his contract. He claimed that the school also required foreign staff to initially pay a US$1200 “passport deposit”.

“The school didn’t want to pay the end of my contract. I had a flight on November 16, 2010, and they made an offer of US$300 but only if I signed a statement agreeing to make no further claims against the school.”

It was common practice, Campbell said, to give departing teachers a cheque in rufiya shortly before their departure, knowing they would be unable to change the money – and then offer a significantly lower amount of dollars.

Unlike other teachers Minivan News spoke to, Campbell took the cheque, “but the bank would not change the money.”

He left the country and flew to Thailand to visit his wife, and attempted to change the cheque there. Banks were uninterested and the best “unofficial” rate he could get was Rf 40 to the dollar – more than three times the pegged rate of Rf 12.85. He changed enough to survive, and returned to the Maldives to pursue his remaining salary.

Prior to leaving he had sought to press his case with assorted authorities in Male’, particularly the Education Ministry and the Labour Department.

“Five emails to the Labour Ministry and two handwritten letters delivered personally, but they refused to acknowledge that any letters had been received,” he said. “I even tried writing letters to the President’s Office.”

Unable to penetrate the Maldives byzantine bureaucracy and without the contacts to do so, Campbell met a Maldivian man who agreed to help him in exchange for Rf 500 a week. When Campbell visited Thailand on conclusion of his contract, the man also arranged for the storage of his possessions.

When he returned to continue pressing his case, “I discovered that he had taken everything I had. My clothes, shoes, paperwork, sound system, surfboard, tools, materials, fittings – everything I owned apart from my boat.”

The small hand-made sailing vessel was Campbell’s hobby during his spare time in the Maldives, and was made from 90 percent recycled materials.

“I’ve been boat building since I was a little kid, I built the first when I was 11 years old – the first that was big enough to use. In high school, I would buy boats that had been written off and restore them to resell. Then I started making surfboards – it was good money.”

His aim was go on weekend sailing trips to local surf spots – although he adds that the real enjoyment was the relaxing focus of constructing it.

“I had finished it the day before I left [to Thailand]. I left it on the shore near the Hulhumale’ ferry terminal, after towing it up the beach and tying it up. Two weeks later, I found it a few hundred metres from the ferry terminal, smashed to pieces on the rocks and stripped of all steel fittings.”

After his possessions were stolen Campbell went to police and gave the name, home address and two telephone numbers of the man he claimed had taken everything he owned. Nothing happened – “at least 20 people told me they’ve seen him around Hulhumale’.”

“It felt like I was seen as an acceptable target. I lost everything – for the first 14 days all I had was a ticket back to Australia.”

Unwilling to give up on his possessions or the money owed him by the school, Campbell sought a refund for the ticket from the Malaysian airlines office.

That money lasted two weeks, “and then I had nowhere to sleep, no support, and nothing happening [with my case].”

Unwilling to exploit the hospitality of his hosts at a local guest house without being able to pay them back, he moved onto the streets.

“I had no money left to pay for the hotel, and while they would have let me stay I didn’t want to rack up a debt I couldn’t pay,” he said.

Lale Youth International was not responding to calls when Minivan News called to corroborate Campbell’s story, and Biz Atoll, the Maldivian company that holds the agreement to run the school in conjunction with the Turkish group, requested Minivan News to call back later and then did not answer the phone.

However, a source familiar with the school and its employment of foreign staff told Minivan News that the Campbell’s treatment was not unusual.

“In one year, the contract was changed 2-3 times. The school was supposed to pay one month’s salary after completion of one year, but it seems they were not willing to do that,” the source said.

“They did it to a Sri Lankan boy who worked there – he begged for his salary in dollars, before leaving to Sri Lanka, and they made him buy it from them at a rate of Rf 14. He paid because he had to.”

Campbell, the source attested, “was a very good teacher” – and one of the last native-English speakers to leave the school.

“There were problems in the contract that worked to the advantage of the school,” Campbell says, “such as clauses that said in the event of any contention between staff and the employer, the employer’s opinion counted. Anyone who could read English would understand the contract was untenable.”

Campbell’s sister eventually paid for his flight out of the country.

“Why not the thief’s family?” he told Minivan News, from Thailand. “It seems I’ve made a large donation to the Maldives economy. I had to make a citizens arrest of the thief because the Hulhumale’ police couldn’t find him after six weeks of looking. I had to re-seize my property by myself because they were too busy at 6:00am in the morning to accompany me. I retrieved about 25 percent of it, but not the money stolen as well. Afterwards they were very keen to get me out of the country.”

“All the difficulties were created by the school’s refusal to pay on time, and having to stay and fight them then return and fight again, with no one holding them accountable – Maldives government departments are the worst case of ‘jobs for the boys’. It cost me more than anything, and I’m left in debt after two years.”

Minivan News reported on Lale Youth International School in May last year, after the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) launched an investigation into claims children were being abused.

Later that year, the Criminal Court found the former principal, Turkish national Serkan Akar, guilty of assaulting children and sentenced him to pay a Rf200 (US$14) fine.

Serkan had denied the charges against him, which included strangling and whipping a child with a belt.

After the sentencing and the release of the HRCM report, the government briefly discussed repossessing the school from the Turkish consortium.

Former Education Minister Mustafa Luthfy told Minivan News that the government eventually decided “to continue with the Turkish group, following certain amendments to the agreement and proposed changes. They brought in some changes, but they still need to do more.”
Addendum: Following publication of this article, Principal of Lale Youth International School Mehmet Akif sent Minivan News a letter in which he claimed that the school had fulfilled its contractual obligations to John Campbell. The letter has been published in accordance with the school’s right-of-reply.

Lale student expelled in school stabbing incident

Lale Youth International School has expelled a 14 year-old student after he allegedly attacked a 13 year old student with a knife on Thursday.

A member of staff told Minivan News that the 13 year old victim required hospital treatment after suffering the injury to his arm, following a dispute over a girl.

“The parents of the cut student were very upset and contacted police,” the staff member said, noting that the implement used resembled a Stanley knife and had “left quite a scar”.

The student was expelled following a meeting of executive staff at the school. A source noted that the offending student had a history of “violence and behavioral problems” at the school.

“He failed the entrance exams at several other schools, came here and failed our entrance exam, but was still enrolled,” the source claimed, suggesting the matter highlighted “the lack of facilities available [to rehabilitate] juvenile [offenders].”

The source reported that police had fined the offending student Rf 50 (US$3.80) “as they said he was under age and it was the heaviest penalty available.”

However Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam said police had no information concerning the issuing of an Rf50 fine, and noted that as the incident was a criminal act it would be investigated and the case sent to the Prosecutor General’s office.

“[The student] used a cutter to cut four inches on the other student’s skin,” Shiyam stated. “The injury was not so serious, but still the parents were concerned about the issue.”

Lale Youth International currently lacks a school counsellor after he returned to Turkey in mid-July, together with four other Turkish members of staff.

“The absence of a recognised counsellor has cost us, but other staff attempted to fill the gap without success,” the staff source told Minivan News.

“This incident underlines the fragility of the Maldivian juvenile system, as well as schools not properly screening students, and not giving them adequate care and education.”

Last month the school’s former principal, Turkish national Serkan Akar, was found guilty of assaulting children and sentenced by the Criminal Court to pay a Rf200 (US$14) fine.

Serkan had denied the charges against him, which included strangling and whipping a child with a belt.

Deputy Prosectutor General Hussain Shameem noted at the time that the Rf200 sentence was legitimate under the current penal code, which was drafted in 1968 and apparently not reflective of inflation.

In July the school’s Deputy Principal Suleiman Atayev, also a Turkish national, fled the country along with the computer studies teacher Yunus Yildiz.

Both staff members left seperately and did not inform the school they were leaving.


Lale School teacher and deputy flee Maldives

The Deputy Principal of Lale Youth International School Suleiman Atayev has fled the country, along with the computer studies teacher Yunus Yildiz.

Both staff members left seperately on flights on Sunday and Monday evening, and did not inform the school they were leaving.

Managing Director of Biz Atoll Abdulla Jameel, the Maldivian company responsible for the school which operates it under agreement with a group of Turkish businessmen after acquiring it from the former government, confirmed the unannounced departure of the two staff members.

“It is true. We have no idea why they left. We recently brought some changes to management and demoted the deputy principal [Atayev] to a teacher. I have no idea why the computer teacher left,” he said.

Minivan News understands that the pair were also implicated as suspects in the assault case facing Akar, after school staff testified against him.

Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam said while Akar’s case was before court, there was “no specific evidence” to hold the two other staff members in the Maldives.

Akar’s passport was confiscated by police at immigration when he attempted to flee the country in May, shortly after Minivan News published an investigative report containing allegations by parents and staff members against him. He attempted to flee a second time and was detained in police custody.

An assistant principal also fled the country in January after Minivan first published allegations of child abuse raised by parents.

Atayev, who announced himself acting principal following Serkan’s detention by police, previously told Minivan News he was confident charges against the former principal would be proven false.

He was also very critical of the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) investigation into the school: “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,” he told Minivan News in May.

Shiyam said today that police were aware that the HRCM report “contains a lot of information against the school.”

“It has been a difficult investigation for us because of [a lack] of people coming forward to give evidence. We are still investigating,” he said.

Among nearly 50 recommendations, HRCM’s report recommended “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.”

HRCM also recommended that the Education Ministry terminate its contract with Biz Atoll, “and hand over management as soon as possible to a qualified party.”

Deputy Education Minister Shifa Mohamed said the Education Ministry was under the impression that Suleiman Atayev was still the school’s acting principal, however Deputy Education Minister Dr Abdulla Nazeer said the Ministry was not required to be aware of the “hiring or firing of staff by school management.”

“I understand two deputy principals have been terminated – one local, the other expat,” he said.

Jameel confirmed that Turkish national Mohamed Akis Erdogan has taken over as principal of Lale, while Maldivian Moosa Rasheed has been appointed as deputy principal.

“The school is much better now,” he promised.

Dr Nazeer said he had met Erdogan on several occasions and had found him to be “educated and academic”.

“He has an undergraduate degree, a masters and a teaching diploma,” Dr Nazeer said, “the type of qualifications we require for the position of a principal.”

He said he was unable to comment on the validity of Erdogan’s qualifications, and had requested Biz Atoll validate them with the Maldives Accreditation Board (MAB).

He would not comment on whether the departure of so many senior staff members this year raised questions about Biz Atoll’s hiring practices, but noted that “when the school was given to Biz Atoll, I am not sure the previous government made the financial and other checks that needed to be done before handing over a school. Now, based on our criteria for public-private partnerships, I wouldn’t say these requirements had been checked.”

The Ministry was constrained by the “relatively simple contract, which had no minimum standards or a termination clause,” he said. “The Ministry has now amended the contract [to include these].”

The contract, together with the HRCM report, have been forward to the Attorney General’s office by the Education Ministry, which expects to receive an answer by next week as to whether the government can withdraw the school from Biz Atoll.

Minivan News investigated the school in May, after parents and staff members aired concerns that the school was a ‘cardboard’ front for an international tax and visa racket operating out of Turkey, whereby Turkish businesses would allegedly make tax-free charitable donations through the company funding the schools in tax-friendly countries, and reclaim the funds through disproportionately high wages paid to local staff ‘in’ on the scheme.

One staff member reported sighting “bundles” of Rf 500 notes being given to Turkish staff, while a parent claimed to have spoken to one of the Turkish businessmen involved with the school, who had boasted that his business donated money to the school because under Turkish taxation law he did not have to pay taxes on it.

Another 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 even afford clocks or light bulbs.”

“A lot of money is going somewhere,” another suggested.

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. Minivan News understands the new principal has arrived from a school belonging to the group in India.

Overshadowing repeated controversies over the school’s management is the issue of capacity. The school, which Minivan News understands was built to accommodate almost 1000 grade school students, currently has an enrolment of 98, not including the preschool.

“That is a major concern for us and we have raised it three or four times,” Dr Nazeer said. The government intends to build many homes and flats in Hulhumale and if every flat has 2-3 kids, we anticipate that the population of children [on the island] will double or even triple. So we need to better utilise the schools [on Hulhumale].”


Take Lale School back from Biz Atoll: HRCM to Education Ministry

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.

HRCM has recommended the government repossess Lale School from Biz Atoll


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)


Q&A: Education Minister Dr Musthafa Luthfy

Education Minister Dr Musthafa Lufthy is facing a no-confidence motion in parliament later this month, a move led by Fares-Maathodaa MP Ibrahim Muttalib and sparked by a proposal from the Ministry’s steering committee to make Islam and Dhivehi optional subjects at A-Level. Dr Luthfy spoke to Minivan News on Sunday.

JJ Robinson: The Education Ministry has been heavily criticised for a proposal that Dhivehi and Islam be made optional subjects at A-Level in the new curriculum. Why do you think this happened?

Dr Musthafa Lufthy: The curriculum was developed in 1984, and there has been no major overall or revision since then. We have brought in changes now and then, but this is first time the we have embarked on a mega-revision of the curriculum.

The new curriculum we are envisioning will be very much different from the old curriculum and will be more relevant to the current society and also to the future of the Maldives.

JJ: Why do you think the A-Level Islam and Dhivehi subjects are proving so controversial?

ML: There are many changes in the present proposal, and one of the propositions is that all the subjects in higher secondary (A-Level) will be optional. The intention is to give students many different subject options, so they are not forced to take some subjects – rather they have the freedom to choose whatever they want.

That was the initial proposition. But it was taken very seriously by a group of people – initially we did not think it would be such an issue for these people. [On average] around 2000 students choose higher education every year, and all the rest, out of 10,000 students, do not.

We are taking about these 2000 students, not the rest. Previously we have had debates on whether we should teach primary grades in English or Dhivehi – but there was no enthusiasm for teaching in the Dhivehi language. Many people wanted to teach in English.

I think the Ministry’s steering committee did not think the proposal to make Dhivehi and Islam optional at A-Level would become such a big issue – it would not introduced this year or next, it would be in new curriculum.

JJ: The proposal to make these subjects optional is being perceived by some in the community as an assault on national identity – why do you think this has happened?

ML: I think there is a certain group of people who actually think that it is their responsibility and their duty to safeguard Maldivian culture and Maldivian religion, and that others are not treating this fairly.

But in fact we, as the educationalists, we are also taking care of our culture and religion and trying to train our students to become world citizens, rather than narrowing their perspective.

That may be one of the reasons why they have suspicions that we are not trying to do justice to the religion or language [of the Maldives], and that is obviously untrue.

JJ: Why make them optional? To encourage more students to take A-Level? Is there any evidence to suggest a lack of option is discouraging students from taking on A-Levels?

ML: No, it is not because of that. A-Level requires five five passes at O-Level, and those students who do pass go for A-Level. The reason [behind the proposal] was to give them the freedom to choose – that was the main reason.

JJ: Do you think forcing students to study Islam and Dhivehi at A-Level may be discourgaging them from higher education?

ML: You would have to ask the students. [Dhivehi and Islam] are not favourable subjects, actually – one reason may be the way they are taught and the quality of teachers, and also the reason that these subjects are not required to pursue higher education. Perhaps due to these reasons students do not give them equal attention as they do to other subjects.

JJ: Do you think a likely outcome is the revision of these subjects to make them more appealing to students?

ML: It should be done. Whether the subjects will be optional or not, we will revise them, and the curriculum, and we will train our teachers to teach these subjects in a better manner. That will be done.

JJ: Given the outcry this has caused already, do you think it is at all likely these subjects will become optional?

ML: It is still open for discussion – we haven’t concluded discussions yet. But we know this will not happen yet, not for several years when the new curriculum is implemented. I am not actually making these decisions, it is done in consultation with many groups of people, and that depends on result of the consultation process.

JJ: What is the pass percentage of the 10,000 students who complete O-Level?

ML: 32 percent. Last year it was 27 percent.

JJ: A 32 percent pass rate sounds extremely low – why is it so low, and how does in compare with the region?

ML: Even when it is compared with the region, it is very low. One reason is that we are teaching in a foreign language (English), and teachers may not be as conversant in the language as those who teach in their mother-tongue – that is one reason.

The other reason is we have teachers from other countries who do not remain with the students for a long period of time, only two years before another teacher comes. So a change of teachers is frequent. And the other reason may be the quality of teachers we have – mainly primary grade teachers.

We still have a lot of untrained teachers, and also teachers who trained several years ago who are not up to the standard that we would require to implement a natural curriculum. With them we have come this far.

We are focusing on improving certain areas – and one focus is on teachers. We are doing a lot of work upgrading teachers using the internet, business learning, reactivating teacher resource centres in the atolls and establishing teacher in-service training at the Centre for Continuing Education.

JJ: How has O-Level pass rate trended historically?

ML: Gradually it has been moving upwards. but this is the first time there has been such a large jump (five percent).

JJ: What is the pass rate of those students who go on to do A-Levels?

ML: A-Level pass rate last year was 69 percent. In 2004, 1835 students went on to A-Level. In 2009 it was 3244 students.

JJ: It is still surprising to hear so few students go through to do A-Level – what kind of effect do you think this has on Maldivian society?

ML: That’s a very important question, and it’s a question that we need a good answer for.

When students finish Grade 10, and when they do not have many other avenues to go to for education, they remain in society and have two years before they become adults at 18 years. So they have two years of not being able to get a job, and this is also a crucial period in their physical development.

During this time they are not in a school and due to this I think there will be negative impact on their behaviour and also on society.

Because of this we are thinking of a new venture – we are trying to keep students in the system until they are 18. We can do that by diversifying our curriculum – some can do A-Level, some can go for other programmes such as foundation and certificate level courses, and through that proceed to higher education.

So there are many ways there can go to higher education, and not only GSCE. We are trying to create paths for them to follow – this can be done through public-private partnerships, such as with Villa College. They are teaching A-Level, about they are also teaching other foundation courses as well.

So students even if they do not pass in five subjects they can continue their education. This year we are going start this programme and later expand it to the atolls, and we are hoping all students will remain in the system until they are 18.

JJ: We have heard anecdotal reports that some parents are bringing in outside tuition or coaching to make up for lapses in the education system. Is there any monitoring of this outside tuition?

ML: Unfortunately there is no monitoring – we do not track how many students go to outside education, and I don’t think schools do that. But we are trying to change schools into one session schools – so one batch of students come to a schools.

Previously, with two sessions, there was no space for students to become involved in extracurricular activities or remedial tuition, but it will be different now we have four one session schools in Male. By doing this schools can provide necessary help and find time and space.

But even then, unless parents are fully confident of the quality of education, they will continue to send their children to private education. Even then there is competition – they want their children to be the best.

JJ: If the standards do not approve does that mean that later down the line there will be a class issue between parents who can afford private tuition for their children and those who cannot?

ML: I don’t think there will be a class issue that is not there right now. One of the aims of education is to reduce disparity between people. We are consciously assisting disadvantaged groups in the country. It is one of the functions of the education system to reduce that disparity.

JJ: Are you concerned about the upcoming no-confidence motion in parliament against you?

ML: I’m not concerned about the no-confidence vote, but I am concerned about the possibility – and it’s very unlikely – the possible discontinuity to the work we are doing right now if it happens.

JJ: How would it affect the Ministry’s work it is doing now?

ML: It will affect us very much, because we have started our work very enthusiastically. I have been in the education system for a long time ever since I started teaching in the atolls, and in various institutions in the country and I know the system very well – and I know the important things we haven’t done.

So I think with the team I have we will be able to improve the education system very much within our period of time. If a new person comes, he or she may not have the vision I have. Of course it will depend on the manifesto, but even then, how you see the work and how you see other people and deal with the situation, it all matters in how you get appropriate results.

JJ: Where has the support been coming from?

ML: I’m getting good from the President and the cabinet ministers, and I’m also working very hard in convincing parliamentarians [as to the merits] of my position. I have distributed documents to them – one is the curriculum framework and a letter to suggest this is only a draft and nothing has been finalised, and they know this is consultation and debate. I also sent another letter answering questions raised in the debate, so the parliamentarians know my views on this.

JJ: What happened with the collapse of Arabiyya School’s wall?

ML: I don’t know why this became a big issue. When a school becomes unsafe for students we have to find an alternative. When we found the school was unsafe for students to remain there we have to find an alternative, and we did after consultation with parents and school board, and we negotiated finance to rebuild the school building (demolition work began today).

JJ: The school says it has been complaining about the wall for 15 years.

ML: We have only been here 18 months.

JJ: Do you think it is less than a coincidence that this no-confidence motion arrived at the same time as your decision to leave the Gaumee Itthihaad Party (GIP) and sign with the [ruling] Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)?

ML: I don’t think so. I think this was going on even then. It is just a coincidence.

JJ: For the record, what was behind your decision to leave GIP?

ML: This is a very important question that many people have asked. I was one of the architects of forming the Gaumee Itthihaad Party. At that time [Vice President] Dr Mohammed Waheed Hassan (also a GIP member) was not in the Maldives. We worked tirelessly to form the party and Dr Waheed joined at the later stages. He is a good friend of mine and we worked together in the education ministry. I have strong faith in him.

We started this party and were very lucky that because Dr Waheed was with us he was taken as a running mate by[President] Nasheed. It was because of that our party became one of the strong parties in the coalition.

Unfortunately my views and Dr Waheed’s views changed – my view was that we should assist the government as much as possible and try to work as hard as possible to implement the manifesto promises. Dr Waheed wanted to do the same but then our party started acting as an opposition type of party – criticising from outside the government. That I did not like.

I was telling them that we cannot do that because we are a coalition partner and we have to be with the government all the time – this is the second year of a new democracy and we have to work very hard to get results as soon as possible, and it is not helpful our party to [criticise] while we are one of the strong parties in the government. But this continued and I thought I would not be able to tolerate it any more – that why I thought only thing for me to do was join MDP. That was the reason.

JJ: What was your view when (GIP member) Mohamed Rasheed was removed from the post of Economic Development Minister? Were you worried?

ML: I was very worried because we had two members from our party in the cabinet and he is a close friend of mine. We worked closely in forming GIP and I had good support from him. I was very unhappy with the decision [to remove him]. We did not like that – we did not want any of our cabinet members to be removed in that way.

JJ: Now GIP has lost two of its cabinet members, what is your view of the party’s future?

ML: GIP is a party of many members. Even if a few members leave the party I think the party will continue. But it is very unfortunate that very strong members of the party had to leave it.

JJ: What was your opinion of Dr Waheed’s holding a meeting with members of the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP)?

ML: My feeling was that it is OK for the Vice President to meet the opposition party members, but at that time when there was tension between the government and the opposition it was an unlucky coincidence. If it had happened at another time perhaps it would not have raised the concern that it did. For me it was OK to meet with them, but the time was not right.

JJ: The Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) hasn’t quite got around to releasing its report on Lale Youth International School, the former principal of which is currently in court facing assault charges. Why wasn’t the Education Ministry monitoring the school?

ML: That school is one of the private partnership initiatives taken by the previous government. As soon as we started getting complaints we sent our supervision team there. The supervision team found some activities that should not happen in the school. We asked the police to investigate – that took some time.

We also informed HRCM, so two parties were investigating. In the meantime we followed suggestions given by the our own supervision team, while consulting with the Maldivian company (Biz Atoll) that took the school jointly with the Turkish group. We have seen their agreement – it is a very weak agreement. We revised the agreement in order to put in stronger conditions.

JJ: How seriously will the Ministry take the recommendations of the HRCM report, when it is released?

ML: We will take them very seriously. We have been very frank on this even from the initial stages – we were the people who reported this to the police. We have given the school conditions of our own to fulfill. So we will take those recommendations very seriously.

JJ: Is there a possibility that the school may be re-tendered and removed from Biz Atoll?

ML: I think there will be a possibility. In fact we consulted the Attorney General’s office on this before that report, thinking along that line.

JJ: We received many comments concerning the Lale case, that if the government is so serious about public-private partnerships but these sorts of thing can occur in a school, it doesn’t inspire public confidence in such partnerships. How do you address this?

ML: There is public confidence in public-private partnerships, like Villa International High School. I think parents and students are very happy about the progress of this school. These do inspire public confidence in public-private partnerships. The Lale case was an agreement done long before we came in [in government] and the agreements are not the kind we are doing now. It was a very simple agreement.

JJ: Was there any evidence of corruption in that agreement?

ML: I don’t know. It not fair for me to say. I haven’t investigated that part of it. I haven’t seen the report – only the draft. I think on our part we have taken Lale school issue very seriously and we have been doing work in order to change the situation. We are one of the group that brought this case to the independent authorities.

But these things should be reflected more in the report – the activities the Ministry has done. We are the people who know the schooling – we should know the students and the parents – we are professionals in this regard.

JJ: If you are voted out in parliament’s no-confidence motion, what will you go on to do afterwards?

ML: I have to think about it. There are different things I can do – I was in the previous government as Tourism Minister before I was transferred and resigned. These are not so complicated things. Life is like that.


Lale Youth International School principal denies assault charges

Former principal of Lale Youth International School, Serkan Akar, appeared in the criminal court yesterday and denied assault and battery charges made against him made by the Prosecutor General’s office.

In the court hearing, Akar denied the accusations and said charges against him were baseless, which included strangling and whipping a child with a belt. The charge sheet noted that two employees witnessed the shoving and heard the child being whipped, during the incident last Ramazan.

Akar’s defense lawyer Abdulla Shair told the judge the charges had many issues, such as no mention of a specific date on which the incident took place.

Deputy Prosecutor General Hussein Shameem said the PG had asked the court to summon the two witnesses.

The Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) is currently compiling a case concerning abuse and other activities at Lale, which were reported by Minivan News last month. Akar has since tried to leave the country twice but was detained by immigration officials, who confiscated his passport.

President of HRCM Ahmed Saleem told Minivan News the Lale case was “very strange” and a “high priority” for the commission. A press conference concerning findings on the matter is imminent, Minivan News has been told.

The acting principal of the school Suleyman Atayev has told Minivan News that he is confident any allegations against the principal will be proven false.

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.”

The Criminal Court of the Maldives had not responded to Minivan News at time of press.


Lale school hosts Mathmania awards event

When one says Maths, fun and recreational are not the first words to come to mind.

However the recently held Mathmania contest by Lale International School provided just that to 1000 students from 11 schools, with a substantial prize money for the top three spots making it a very rewarding experience for the participants.

The prize ceremony took place at Holiday Inn last night. Students clad in traditional sarong shirt for boys and girls clad in libas greeted the invitees and participants at the entrance.

The ceremony started with the recitation of the Quran, after which the host for the ceremony, the head of English Department of Lale, Cheyne Webster took the stage.

Going into a brief description of how Mathmania took place early this year in participating schools like Ghiyasudeen, Majeediya, Imaadudeen, Hiriya among others, he said maths was used to “interest, engage, excite students”.

He alluded briefly to troubles faced by the school, saying that “2010 sees the school in a gradually accepting society” and went on to say that “in the face of adversity comes change. The storm clouds have passed and positive change is coming.”

Webster said that Lale was “a good school, with committed students and teachers.”

That commitment was evident through the ceremony, stretching to almost two hours, but nevertheless engaging and smooth, with a slide show of the official opening of Lale International school one year back, as well as photos of various activities.

The spacious classroom, colourful kindergarten playrooms and outdoor garden looks appealing. The students engaged in various activities, doing experiments in laboratory, field trips to resorts and islands, a visit to Fatih University.

Deputy Principal Latheefa Abdul Latheef said that “2010 is a year full of challenges” and that her role was “especially demanding.” She went on to say that “a bright future awaits Lale with the support of community, students and teachers.”

Deputy Minister for Education, Shifa Mohamed, thanked Lale for taking the initiative for holding Mathmania and inviting other schools to join.

She went on to note that it was evident that “Lale is trying hard to introduce an all round education”, and that this was the vision of the Education Ministry for other schools as well.

“We would like to see students that not only excel academically but are skillful and go on to be beneficial citizens of the country,” she said.

She spoke for a generation of Maldivians when she said during her study years she was not good at maths and “didn’t think it was interesting.”

She said she hoped that different teaching methods would now show students that it was quite an interesting subject.

For those who participated but didn’t win, she said “the fact that you were nominated from your school shows that you are quite good.”

Guiter in hand, grade eight student Nabeel was next on stage. Initially looking a bit shy, he morphed into a true performer once the song started.

While the school’s music teacher accompanying offstage, Nabeel enthralled the audience with a beautiful ballad, written by a fellow student.

Slides of the mathmania event in various schools followed. The classrooms and uniforms might have changed and also but the students looked engrossed in each photo.

The awards for the first 20 in the primary section of mathmania were next. Invitees from Education ministry, PTA members and Lale teachers were among those who gave away the prizes.

Before the first three spots was announced, grade seven student Toga came on stage.

Clad in a colourful traditional ‘hedhun buri’ with the veil incorporated into it, Toga hit all the right notes when she sang “There’s a Hero.”

A beaming Harvey Hassan from Jamaludeen School received the award for 3rd place, while Mismaah Abdulla of Iskandhar school and Malha Mohamed walked away with the second and first place, respectively.

The next batch of slides took away the breath of all those present. In an Olympiad which had 34 countries participating with 94 projects, student Mohamed Anas had his project selected.

A bio-fueled stirling engine was his submission. A video clip of how the engine worked using bio-waste, in this case sawdust, was briefly projected on the screen. The slide finished by asking for good luck wishes for the project which is going to be presented in Amsterdam this year.

In the secondary category five students from Muhyiddin, Imaadudeen, and Ghazee school jointly shared the 20th position prize.

The top three places went to students of Imadudeen. Yusra Waheed, Riham Abdulla and Aishath Janaan took first, second and third place.

After participatory certificates were given out to the schools who participated, the ceremony ended with a colourful performance by students.

Traditionally attired, students danced to a mix of old and new Dhivehi songs with the old poetry form ‘Raivaru’ thrown in for good effect.

If the mathmania and the ceremony is any indication, Lale International school does seem on the right path to putting the past behind and carving a bright future for itself.


PG sends Lale case to criminal court as principal resigns

The Prosecutor General’s Office will file a case against the Principal of Lale Youth International School, Serkan Akar, at the Criminal Court tomorrow morning.

Police confiscated Akar’s passport last Thursday after he attempted to flee the country, pending a police investigation into allegations of child abuse.

Deputy Principal Suleyman Atayev told Minivan News last week that Akar had a return ticket and was trying to escort two children to an Information Communications Technology (ICT) Olympiad when immigration stopped him at the airport, although staff at the school questioned why the principal had packed up his apartment.

Atayev said he was confident any allegations against the Principal would be proven false.

Deputy Prosecutor General Hussain Shameem said the PG’s office intended to prosecute Akar on charges of assault and battery, ensuring he remained in the country while police and the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) completed their investigations into other allegations.

“The case is proceeding and his passport is held, but we need to prosecute if want to hold it any longer,” Shameem explained. “We are still awaiting some documents relating to his passport,” he added.

The PG’s office had attempted to file the case today, he said, “but the criminal court has this odd thing where they only take the submission of cases between 10am to 11am. We will submit the case tomorrow.”

Deputy Minister for Education Dr Abdulla Nazeer told Minivan News today that Akar had resigned as principal of Lale, and Atayev had been appointed acting principal in his stead.

“The replacement principal has arrived but he is on a tourist visa and cannot start work until immigration issues him a work permit,” Dr Nazeer noted, adding that the company behind the school, Biz Atoll, “only has the quota for one principal.”

“My understanding is that Akar’s resignation automatically means the principal’s [quota] is vacant,” he said.

Nazeer said allegations against the principal were of an individual nature and not necessarily a reflection on Biz Atoll, although the agency is responsible for the agreement between the privately-run school and the Education Ministry.

Earlier this month the Minstry said it had amended the contract with Biz Atoll to require the departure of Akar and the appointment of an appropriately-qualified principal within a three month window, and inserted a termination clause.

“We are waiting for the HRCM report, and based on that evidence we may review the Biz Atoll contract,” Dr Nazeer said.

HRCM said the commission’s report on the school will be released next week.


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.”