Plunge in youth pursuit of higher education “worrying” say education officials

Recent statistics from the Education Ministry show that only six percent of Maldivian youth aged between 17 to 25 are pursuing higher education.

The statistic comes from two reports on higher education, which are currently being compiled with assistance from the World Bank and the United States. The first report is investigating the status of higher education in the Maldives, as well as plans for its improvement. The second report is examining financial assistance.

Maldives National University Chancellor Dr Mustafa Luthfy said that six percent is “a worrisome number.”

“If they are qualified enough to go into a higher institution, they should,” he said. It was not difficult to find a public college in the Maldives, Luthfy noted, although he acknowledged that private institutions were costly.

The challenging transition between grades 7 and 8 is one explanation for the dropout rate, said Luthfy. He added that if students were unable to keep up with secondary school material, then they would not be able to get into higher institutions.

“We have to be very very careful about criticizing enrollment,” Luthfy said. “If we are going to offer more degree-level courses, we need students who achieve higher A and O levels in high school.”

A recent Juvenile Justice Report suggests a correlation between academic success and relationships with a parent or guardian. Juvenile Justice records say that of the offenders reported between April 1 and June 30 this year, 95 percent dropped out in 8th or 9th grade, and few lived with parents or guardians.

When asked if this contributed to low enrollments in higher education, Luthfy replied that “schools and parents are working very hard to improve the quality of education, and improve graduation rates.

“The Maldives has a small population, we want everyone to be an educated person,” he said.

O-level results for 2010 improved on previous years, with particular gains in science subjects, however the pass rate for the 6700 who sat the international standardised high school exams was 35 percent – up from 32 percent in 2009, and 27 percent in 2008.

Most major subjects showed a positive trend in results except for arts, geography and history, Deputy Education Minister Dr Abdulla Nazeer stold Minivan News at the time, “subjects which are only taken by a few students.”


Islanders allege black magic performed in Maalhos School after students inexplicably start to faint

At least four students in North Ari Atoll Malhos have been taken to hospitals in Male’ after they mysteriously fainted.

Five students attending the school have experienced the unusual incident, but the fifth student’s condition was not as serious as the other four.

One male student, who was the first to experience the unusual effects, reportedly lost conscious and was brought Male’ for treatment after he was found in a hypoxic condition, characterised by a lack of oxygen in the blood supply.

Several days later another female student experienced the same condition and was brought Male’ for treatment.

Third student studying at the school fainted while she was at home yesterday, and remains hospitalised in Indira Gandi Memorial Hospital (IGMH).

‘’She fainted while she was at home and she was taken to the health centre immediately,’’ said a family member of the girl, no older than 14. ‘’She remained unconscious for more than two hours in the health centre.’’

The family member said the girl had not claimed to have observed anything unusual before suddenly fainting.

‘’She did not see or feel anything unusual before she just fainted like the others,’’ he said. ‘’The health centre advised her to come Male’ for more treatment and for necessary examinations.’’

He said that many tests conducted so far all showed the results as normal.

‘’It is very strange, we do not know what is going on,’’ he said.

He also said that the fifth student to experience the symptoms, who was of the same age and fainted yesterday, was brought Male’ with her.

‘’The other girl that was brought with her was in a far worse condition. She remained unconscious for more than three or four hours and she does not know what happened to her,” he said.

The family member said that more than four men were needed to hold the girl down when she became conscious, and people observed that she was extremely strong for a girl of her age.

‘’We are suspecting that this is something related to black magic practices,’’ he added.

Another islander, Ahmed Adil ‘Ahukko’, alleged that the cause of the fainting spells was the performance of black magic during the Local Councils Elections in an effort to win votes.

‘’Because it was the island school where the elections were held, the person who did it would probably do it to the school so that it has effect on anyone that enters there,’’ he claimed. ‘’Parents are very concerned and have expressed concern about it now.’’

Although the island is small and isolated with a population of only a few hundred, belief in black magic remains very common and many claim to be victims of such spiritual attacks.


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].”


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.


Police give information sessions at schools in Malé

The Community Engagement and Crime Prevention Department alongside the Traffic Police offered information sessions about crime prevention for teachers and students of several schools, reports Miadhu.

On 27-28 April, students from grades 1-5 of Ghiyaasuddin School were given information on traffic rules and regulations. Police officers showcased the resources used by Traffic Police to students from grades 1-3.

On 25, 27 and 29 April, police held another session at Jamaaluddin School for grade 7 students. They focused on traffic regulations, school behaviour like bullying, and criminal and unethical behaviour on the internet.

Another information session on bullying was held today with teachers at Aminiya School. They were informed about the effects of bullying on children, and how to handle incidents.


Agreement signed for new higher education institution managed by Villa Education Services

An agreement has been signed between the government and Villa Education Services Private Limited (VES) for the development and management of a higher education institution at the Centre for Higher Secondary Education (CHSE) Annex.

The agreement was signed yesterday at the President’s Office by Minister of Education Dr Musthafa Luthfee on behalf of the government, and Dr Ahmed Anwar on behalf of VES.

President Mohamed Nasheed said VES was selected after considering all proposals submitted in response to the government’s requests in June 2009 for Public Private Partnership (PPP) initiatives for the education sector.

He added that this proved that local business could compete with international companies and win bids under the PPP initiative.

President Nasheed said the government’s aim was to improve the quality of education in the Maldives.

The agreement states that a new higher secondary institution named Villa International High School (VIHS) will be established and managed by VES.

VES must ensure the school caters for at least 800 higher secondary students in a period of three years, while progressively increasing the number of places for courses.