Teachers across the Maldives have today (April 6) taken part in a ‘black protest’ – wearing black clothes to school – to raise awareness of pay discrepancies and what they see as the state’s failure to improve the education sector.
“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,” said Teachers Association Maldives (TAM) president Athif Abdul Hakeem.
One teacher told Minivan News that the move has come after repeated attempts to work through official channels.
“The reason we are doing this to express our grievances. Our discontentment with salary and allowances, lack of resources and and other issues we face in teaching,” stated Mausoom Saleem of Thaajuddheen School, Malé.
Athif had previously explained to Minivan News that teachers were working overtime without being paid for it.
“Independent institutions haven’t noticed this. If they don’t do this 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.
In a letter sent out to schools prior to the protest, the Ministry of Education had said that pamphlets distributed by the TAM consist of false allegations that might create conflict and unrest, it has been reported.
The ministry also stated that since school premises are “dignified”, teachers must not do anything that may have a negative effect on students, reported local media Haveeru.
“Therefore, no one must participate in an an activity encouraged in the documents distributed under the name of Teachers’ Association on April 6. Please inform the teachers working in your institutions accordingly,” the letter was said to have read.
One ministry official with whom Minivan News spoke today denied there was any protest happening, and was unwilling to provide further comment.
Show of solidarity
Saleem – who has worked as a teacher for 10 years, with 8 of those at Thaajuddheen – explained that an estimated 60% of the teachers were taking part in the black protest.
“I don’t think wearing a specific colour to school will have any impact on the students. I believe they will understand that we are doing this for them. This is not just about teachers, this is about the education system.”
Parents, too, he noted were taking part in the protest by dropping off the children today wearing black.
“I think this was a display of solidarity. We are also seeing a lot of pictures [of people wearing black] on social media, with supportive comments.”
Another teacher taking part in the protest– who wishes to stay anonymous – spoke with Minivan News today. The source stated that as well as marking, there are other demanding after school and weekend functions that teachers are expected to work without getting any overtime pay.
“I have never been paid any overtime,” stated the source, who has taught in the Maldives for three and a half years. They gave the example of working the Founder’s Day celebration which took place across many schools and organisations- “we had to work the function and we didn’t have a choice. This was 8 hours work during the day on our day off, with no payment and no choice.”
“I personally don’t have adequate time to plan, I have too many lessons after they recently changed my timetable.” In a previous school, the source stated they had taught for 18 periods per week – that has recently gone up to 31.
Free periods are often time that teachers will use for planning, marking, ensuring children get to their next lessons safely, or after school activites.
“I have 11 free periods, but we also do after-school clubs, I run an extra support class where I teach children for an extra hour after the lesson.”
“I may not be teaching, but these things are not taken into consideration,” the source stated.
TAM President Athif said in February of this year 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.
According to TAM the organisation has 1,500 permanent member and an estimated 4,000 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.