Toxic fumes shut down Malé school

A school located a block away from Malé’s powerhouse was shut down today after teachers and hundreds of students complained of headaches and vomiting due to toxic fumes.

The principal of Kalaafaanu School, Nazleen Wafir, said the school will be closed until Saturday as officials from the environment ministry determine the source of the fumes.

Wafir said six students had complained of toxic fumes on Tuesday, but there were more complaints today with at least two students throwing up.

“No one is in critical condition, however, heavy fumes rose from the whole school area, so we decided to call off sessions,” she said.

A Kalaafaanu student, Nuha Naseer, 15, said the smell was very strong throughout the school today. “I saw one student fall from dizziness. It was as if something had exploded inside the school.”

Another student in eighth grade, who wished to remain anonymous, said many of his classmates complained of headaches today, and all students were sent home at 10:00am.

The state electricity company’s managing director Abdul Shakoor said STELCO had turned off two power generators on Tuesday when the smell was first reported. This is the first case of its kind in 25 years, he added.

The power generators are located 30-40 meters above ground, Shukoor said, suggesting that the incident may have occurred due to a lack of wind in the dry season.

April and May are the hottest months of the year in the Maldives.

Officials from the environmental protection agency will make public a report into the source of fumes by Saturday, he said.

The education ministry said the school is scheduled to re-open on Sunday.

A senior teacher at Kalaafaanu, Abdul Fahthaah, said; “These days without the school sessions are, of course, a loss. However, we hope we are able to resume classes on Sunday.”

President of the Teacher’s Association of Maldives, Athif Abdul Hakeem, said he hoped the situation is resolved as soon as possible, and said: “I believe the school is going to organise classes on Saturdays to make up for the classes that were missed, however, it is quite a burden for people to come to school and go back again due to such mishaps.”

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Education Ministry hikes teachers’ pay by 35 and 15 percent

The Ministry of Education has increased the salaries of some teachers by 35 percent, and others by 15.

At a ceremony at the Islamic College on Friday (January 9) the ministry’s Permanent Secretary Dr Abdul Mushin said Leading Teachers with a Masters degree will now take home a monthly salary of MVR17,334, having previously received MVR13,218.50.

Teachers with a Masters degree have been awarded a MVR4,000 hike in salary, increasing take home pay from MVR12,228 to MVR16,374.

Those with a Bachelors degree were awarded a MVR3,600 hike – increasing take home pay from MVR11,238 to to MVR14,894, and teachers with a Diploma Certificate were awarded a MVR2,600 hike – increasing take home salary from MVR8,671 to MVR11,337.

Teachers who hold other qualifications were awarded increases between 25 and 15 percent.

The academic year is to start on January 11 and will end on November 24.

The increase in salary comes after 90 percent of the country’s teachers protested in September last year – wearing black clothing to raise awareness over issues such as poor pay, inadequate protection of teachers, and the failure to grant the Teachers Association of Maldives official recognition.

Speaking at a press conference today, education minister Dr Aishath Shiham said President Abdulla Yameen had fulfilled his pledge to honor teachers, and that the government’s aim was to employ qualified teachers and provide them with adequate pay.

The ministry had made all necessary preparations for the academic year, the minister said, adding that no student would have to stay home from school due to lack of space or facilities.

Meanwhile, State Minister for Education Adam Shareef said schools would begin teaching the newly compiled national curriculum starting tomorrow.

President Yameen in October made creative arts – including music and dance – optional subjects in curriculum after pressure from religious conservatives and political parties.

Shareef said the ministry will hold training on changes to the curriculum for media, parents, and teachers in the next few months.

Although all books for the new curriculum have not yet been printed, the first packages for the first term have been printed and are being dispersed to schools, Shareef said.

Deputy Minister of Education Ibrahim Ismail today said the government had spent MVR12 million on repairing and renovating 212 schools for the new academic year.

Deputy Minister Azleen Ahmed said the education ministry had given out loans and scholarship to over 1000 students for higher studies in 2014. The same opportunity will be extended this year, he said.

The ministry’s top priority for 2015 was to establish an Islamic University, Azleen said. A bill had been drafted to facilitate the establishment of the Islamic University and will be submitted to the parliament when it opens in March, he continued.

In November, the Maldivian Democratic Party’s budget review committee suggested that the government had not budgeted the required MVR532 million (US$34.5 million) needed to raise the salaries of teachers despite promises made by both President Yameen and Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel.



Related to this story

Teachers’ Black Sunday protest prompts government talks, strike decision pending

President Yameen announces rise in teachers’ salaries

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Teachers’ Black Sunday protest prompts government talks, strike decision pending

Additional reporting by Zaheena Rasheed

The Teachers Association of Maldives (TAM) has completed a timeline with the government to meet the demands of teachers, ahead of a proposed strike this Tuesday

“The government’s decision to sit for talks and compile a timeline is a sign President Yameen himself attended to the teacher’s demands,” TAM President Athif Abdul Hakeem told Minivan News today.

“I am happy. We now have a way forward,” he added following association members again donning black today in what is being termed ‘Black Sunday’.

The Ministry of Education had earlier appeared unwilling to give in to teachers’ demands for higher pay and reform, while the Labor Relations Authority reportedly labelled the proposed strike as ‘not peaceful’.

“We will not increase salaries on request from certain groups. We are working on it not because teachers had demanded so. But teachers do request that it be expedited,” State Minister for Education Adam Shareef told local media.

TAM will now hold consultations with their committee and focal points in the atolls, Athif explained, before holding a meeting tomorrow night to decide whether they will continue or call off the strike.

A statement from the Civil Service Commission (CSC) noted that government was treating the potential strike as illegal.

“This commission has received information that the Labor Relations Authority has decided it cannot deem the strike planned by the Teacher’s Association of Maldives as one that is peaceful and within the parameters of laws and regulations,” said the government workers’ organisation

Black Sunday

Around ninety percent of teachers were reported to have demonstrated again today by wearing black to work after TAM members had pledged late last week to strike on September 23 should the longstanding grievances not be addressed.

A number of issues – which include revised pay, protection of teachers and students, and official recognition of TAM – have been raised repeatedly with the ministry claims the association, and are now said to be part of the agreed timeline.

Minister Shareef today acknowledged that poor communication was to blame for the current situation, but said he expected teachers to attend classes on Tuesday as discussions continued.

“O’ Level exams are to start soon. Parents and students are preparing for it. It will create huge concern if teachers decide to stop work during such a critical time,” he added.

The CSC noted today that the Constitution allowed for work stoppages as a form of protest, but that procedures outlined in the regulations on resolution of conflicts between employers and employees must be followed.

Speaking at a TAM meeting on Thursday evening, association president Athif pledged to strike indefinitely should the government not make adequate use of the talks.

“Once we strike, there is no turning back. The options are death or success. God willing, we will only stop once we have achieved success,” said Athif.

Opposition support

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has announced its support for the strikes should discussions with the government fail.

MDP Chairperson Ali Waheed told media today that, although the party did not want to see strikes, it would back a teacher strike should talks again prove fruitless.

“MDP very much wants for government to listen to their concerns and solve the issues through discussions, before this reaches a whole different level. MDP will stand behind all such protests,” said Waheed at a press conference today.

Meanwhile, MDP Parliamentary Group Deputy Leader and former teacher Rozaina Adam also announced her support for the proposed strikes.

“They have been asking for this raise from Maumoon’s administration, through Nasheed’s and Waheed’s administration and now into Yameen’s administration. It is with great sadness that we have to note that everyone has turned on a deaf ear to their pleas,” wrote Rozaina on her personal blog.

The Addu-Meedhoo MP expressed concern at the falling standards of the sector, noting that poor pay and working conditions were forcing good teachers away from the profession.

“I call upon the government as an MP, a parent and as a person who worked in the teaching profession, to hear out the teachers’ demands and find solutions for their problems,” said Rozaina

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Teachers association to organise ‘black protest’

The Teachers Association of Maldives (TAM) is organising a ‘black protest’ to draw attention to their issues ahead of a nationwide strike.

TAM President Athif Abdul Hakeem said today that as a protest, teachers will be wearing black to work on 6 April 2014.

“This is the first step, we want to draw attention to these issues. For the sake of our students we will go to work until we exhaust all other ways,” Athif told.

A potential nationwide strike was announced last month citing pay discrepancies and failure to improve the education sector.

According to TAM, the association in January requested for a meeting with the minister of education for discussing their issues, but it has still not been arranged.

“The lack of communication between teachers and the ministry is a serious concern. We have written to the ministry but no actions have been take about these issues.”

Athif said that teachers are still working overtime without being paid for it.

“Independent institutions haven’t noticed this. If they don’t do those work it could be reflected in their appraisal, and they even fear termination. So they work. But without getting paid for the work,” he said.

Teachers’ overtime allowances have been reduced to just five percent of the basic salary, which on average amounts to less than MVR300 per month. But teachers have complained that school will not run without teachers doing overtime work.

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Teachers Association threatens strike over pay discrepancies and education sector reform

The Teachers Association of Maldives (TAM) has announced a nationwide teachers’ strike to protest against pay discrepancies and the state’s failure to improve the education sector.

President of TAM Athif Abdul Hakeem said the strike can go ahead any time, with all preemptive steps having been taken, but noted that a priority would still be given to resolve issues through dialogue.

Athif said that meetings with the education ministry had resulted only in the promise of more meetings

So in late January (2014) we requested to arrange a meeting but there was no response. So sent another letter this month. now we are waiting to discuss our issues. our next step will depend on how that goes,” Athif said.

Pay discrepancies

TAM president said  the association’s main concern is pay discrepancies:

“We are not exactly asking for a raise here, the government can never compensate teachers for their service, that is impossible. We are only asking to be treated fairly. There already is a huge gap between teachers’ pay and the pay for less qualified persons doing less work in other institutions. And now they have increased pay for some,” he said.

Comparing teachers’ pay with that of other institutions, Athif noted that an office assistant who hasn’t completed high school working at an independent institution will earn an amount equal or more than a qualified teacher with a degree.

“Such a teacher will earn around nine thousand rufiya in that assistant director level job. An assistant director at an independent institution will earn more than sixteen thousand. In health sector a nurse with a diploma will earn even more,” he continued.

‘Edhuru Vehi’ Flats

According to TAM, the meeting with the minister in December was cut short due to “lack of time” with some of the issues not raised during the meeting later shared in a letter.

One of the issues detailed in the letter was concern over the ‘Edhuru Vehi’ teachers’ flats in Villimalé . TAM requested the eviction of 27 flats already occupied by unqualified persons and the assurance that all flats were given only to “technical staff” in the education sector.

The letter stated that three of these apartments could be reserved for school heads and senior teachers traveling to the capital.
TAM said that if the issue was not resolved, the organisation would file a case with the Anti-Corruption Commission.

Education sector reform

Other major issues raised by TAM concerned  improving the education sector and the quality of services provided. According to the association, qualified young graduates are turning away from the sector due to poor pay and working conditions.

“Teachers should focus on each and every student in a classroom, but there are 35 students to focus on within 35 minutes. To compensate for this, parents have to pay thousands for private tuition. This is not free public education,” said the TAM president.

The association has requested that the ministry of education involve teachers in discussions regarding the sector. Last week, the association released a report titled ‘Education sector in a deep pit’ – highlighting the state’s “total disregard” towards the sector.

The report stated that 60% of schools in the Maldives are run without a principal, and contrasted reduced spending on education with significant increases in areas such as the military, political posts, and independent institutions.

Teachers’ complaints

An experienced teacher from Thaa Atoll School told Minivan News today that, even though the pay is no match for the work teachers do, they don’t always complain about it.

“They are very dedicated and they work really hard to improve the results. Teachers are never free from their work. They bring books to mark at home, they take extra classes, they guide students in extracurricular activities, they are on-call 24 hours assisting students, even during weekends.”

According to the teacher, the total pay (with salary and allowances) for the most qualified teacher at the school – with a degree in social sciences and a professional degree in teaching – is approximately MVR10,500.

“For most teachers it would be around MVR9000 or less. The person in charge of cleaning up the health center takes home around MVR16000” She said.

A secondary school teacher from Laamu Mundoo complained that overtime payment for teachers has been limited to just 5 percent of their basic salary, which is an average of MVR280 per month.

“We are told that even if we work more overtime hours we will not get paid for that. But how can we be teachers and not work overtime? We need to prepare lesson plans and teaching aids, we have to assist students in extracurricular activities and mark their papers and books, we have take extra classes for students who need that. So basically we are doing volunteer work here” She said.

A teacher from Thaa Atoll Madifushi said that salaries for teacher are often delayed and that the pay for January had still not been disbursed.

“And we don’t have access to teachers text books, chemicals or other equipment in most islands here,” she added.

Other teachers noted issues of retaining senior management staff who are not receptive to changes or the use of technology and modern teaching methods. They also noted the ministry’s failure to monitor schools in islands on a regular basis.

Only as a last resort

Athif reiterated that teachers will go on strike only as a last resort. TAM is hoping for parents’ support, and will be meeting parents through Parent Teacher Associations (PTAs).

“We are currently discussing the matter within our organisation’s committees, we hope parents will stand with us in this. This is about their children’s rights, improving the education sector is a national issue. The less we spend on this sector, the more we will have to spend on prisons. But if parents don’t act, and if the government refuse to act, we will go on strike. But only as a last resort,” Athif said.

According to TAM the organisation has 1500 permanent member and an estimated 4000 Maldivian teachers across the country who will participate. Recent Civil Service Commission data shows there to be 5,676 teachers in the Maldives – 4,855 of them are locals.

“Foreign teachers work here on contract basis, so they are not involved in this officially. Even for local teachers, we are asking for their opinion. We will conduct a survey and see how many of them are with us and if they want to go on strike. It will be their decision. Even then, we will give a chance for the government to find temporary teachers to fill in during that period.” Athif said.

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