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.