Female participants in Maldives tourism training declining: Four Seasons Hotels

The Four Seasons Hotels group has encouraged the government to promote technical and vocational training “much more aggressively”, while also expressing concern at declining female participation over the last decade in its apprenticeship program.

Four Seasons has graduated 288 apprenticeship students in the Maldives over the last 12 years, with 47 youths completing the latest program in 2013. However, only one female graduated from the scheme today during a special ceremony held in the capital Male’, while two women are enrolled in the 2014 program.

Four Seasons Resorts Maldives Regional Vice President and General Manager Armando Kraenzlin explained to Minivan News today (April 13) that the number of female apprenticeship program participants has been declining over the last 10 years.

“We never had many participants – 5 to 7 per batch – but it used to be easier [to recruit women] about ten years ago. Unfortunately, numbers have dropped,” he said.

Kraenzlin said he believed the declining number of women in the training program could be the result of more jobs being available outside of the tourism sector, or parents hesitating to let their daughters work at resorts.

“We are talking to government ministries and the press to promote idea of ladies working,” he added.

Also present at today’s ceremony, Education Minister Dr Asim Ahmed told Minivan News that he believed female participation in the tourism sector and Four Seasons apprenticeship program was increasing.

“Last year’s program had one woman, whereas two are enrolled in the 2014 batch. This is gradual improvement, although much less than we would like,” he said.

The small, insular Maldivian island environment instills very close family ties, which makes it difficult for parents to allow their children to leave and “stay long periods in a hotel”, according to Ahmed.

“The culture here is for children to grow up and grow old in same house,” he claimed.

“In the Maldives, you go to work [at a resort] and live there. It’s a very difficult thing to get your head around.”

Ahmed explained the nationwide need for women and parents to be more aware about the conditions of female employees working at resorts, particularly in terms of accommodation arrangements.

“It is important parents buy into this and believe resort work is beneficial and reliable [for their daughters].  The other challenge is we have to provide child care and other facilities that will release the women to go and work,” he added.

Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb told Minivan News that he believed women were not participating in the industry because families were adhering to the “past culture” of keeping children at home, in addition to being concerned about where their children would be living.

“Females are leaders in the houses. The men go out to work,” said Adheeb.

“Kids grow up and take care of their parents. In many cases, when boys get married they go to the girl’s house to live, because parents like to keep their daughters with them.

“This is why especially parents don’t want their daughters to go and work,” Adheeb added.

“Radical change”

Earlier this year, Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP and Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor told Minivan News that he believed a “radical change to the tourism approach” was needed in the country.

“Resorts must have close-by islands with flats so employees can go home to their families [after completing their shifts],” Hamid said.

Additionally, he believed the response rate for tourism training programs was decreasing in the country because Maldivian parents were discouraging children from participating due to “religious xenophobia”.

Hamid also accused the religious conservative Adhaalath Party (AP) of propagating the view that “anyone who is not a Muslim is an enemy”.

“I’ll probably be the next Dr Afrasheem Ali for saying this, but maintaining this hate of the ‘other’ is very dangerous and not discussed openly. This confusion has to be sorted. It’s a race against time and ideas,” he stated.

Adhaalath Party President Sheikh Imran Adbulla was not responding to calls at time of press.

Public vs private programs

During the graduation ceremony for this year’s apprentice trainees held at Mandhu College in Male’ today, Kraenzlin praised the skills of the latest batch of participants, emphasizing that “the Maldivian work ethic is among the highest I’ve observed in my career”.

“It is very exciting to see what a well spent year can do in the life of a young person,” he added.

“Training young people requires commitment and resources. Resorts taking in the minimum number of apprentices a year and certifying them successfully should be supported, recognized and incentivised,” Kraenzlin said.

“We encourage govt to promote Technical and Vocational Education Training (TVET) performance objectives much more aggressively. It’s a great system.  In this way hundreds of vocational training positions can be created. We think it’s not that difficult.”

Tourism Minister Adheeb and Education Minister Ahmed also both praised the apprenticeship program for its development of young people in the Maldives.

“This corporate social responsibility effort takes a big burden from the government to the private sector,” stated Adheeb, during his commencement speech.

“All other resorts and general managers should follow the example of Armando [Kraenzlin] and the Four Seasons,” he added.

Minister Ahmed echoed these sentiments stating, “this is an important program for the rest of the tourism industry to emulate”.

Additionally, both ministers mentioned the STEP program, a training and education initiative launched this January for ‘O’ level graduates as part of a collaborative endeavor between the Education Ministry, Tourism Ministry, and Ministry of Human Resources Youth and Sport.  Some 15 partner resorts are also included in the scheme, according to the Education Ministry.

The year long Four Seasons Apprenticeship program was recognized as the Maldives’ first government accredited TVET certified apprenticeship scheme in 2010. Graduates are able to earn TVET, PADI divemaster, or Ministry of Transportation boat driving license certifications, the hospitality company claimed.


“STEP” program launched for training youth

The Education Ministry in collaboration with the Tourism Ministry, Human Resource Ministry, and partner resorts have launched a training and education program for ‘O’ level graduates, reports local media.

The first three months of training will include an orientation of all resort fields, followed by six months of training in the field of their choice, Deputy Human Resource Minister Abdulla Rifau explained to Haveeru.

An internationally recognised certificate will be granted to students who complete the training program.

Food, accommodations and an allowance will be provided to participants, Education Minister Dr Asim Ahmed said.

Fifteen resorts have signed up for the “STEP” program thus far, he added.

The government plans to expand the program to include construction, agriculture and fisheries sectors, according to local media.

Yesterday, Minivan News spoke with representatives from the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) and the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), who both agree income inequalities are being fueled by vested interests, faulty government policies and a lack of educational training opportunities for youth.


Maldives withdraws from regional sports tournament over financial concerns

The Maldives has pulled out of the 12th South Asian Federation (SAF) Junior Table-Tennis Championship due to financial concerns, Indian media has reported.

The withdrawal leaves six nations competing in the championships, including Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal,  Sri Lanka, Bhutan, and hosts India. The tournament will run from June 16 until June 19, according to the Times of India newspaper.

The Maldives, also a member of the South Asian Federation, was unable to attend due to “financial constraints”, the report added.

Attendance at the SAF championship is said to be mandatory for countries wishing to participate in next month’s Asian Junior TT Championship, the Times of India added. The tournament will be hosted in china from July 11 to July 17.


Comment: Is youth unemployment a lack of intellectual management?

Suhaila has been looking for a job for a long time. As typical of many young Maldives, her basic education consisted of GCE O-levels and a foundation program in an American College in Sri Lanka, which was inadequate for her to get employed.

Like many youth, maybe she did not know how to go about finding a job, or maybe her applications did not show her capabilities that convinced potential employers.

She wanted to work in the travel industry, and applied to a few airline agencies. Suhaila is a pretty girl, though far from the ‘catwalk model’ type of girl. Her greatest asset was her kind, helpful and sunny nature combined with a high sense of responsibility, eagerness to work and a positive attitude.

Over two years, she received two responses to her many applications. Both times the interviewers told her that they looked for pretty and slim girls as they would be working in the front line at the reservation desks.

Early this year, Suhaila she was offered a job with training in a new airline ticket reservation agency. The agency is owned by well-known names in Male’, and a few veterans with years of experience in well-known airlines operating in Maldives. Suhaila was confident that this would be a good place to work because of the shareholders.

After a mutual agreement, she travelled to Sri Lanka with another local girl and a boy as well as two of the business shareholders. They arrived late at night.

Around 1.30am, the girls got a call from the two men asking if they wish to go for dinner. Even though Suhaila felt it was considerate of her bosses to think they may be hungry after travelling so long, Suhaila declined, but the other girl went because she was not sure what was expected of her as an employee.

One evening they invited the girls to go clubbing which Suhaila declined. During the training, the guys turned up at the training venue and ask the girls to go shopping with them. Two days later, one of the guys asked Suhaila her family background. Suhaila told him who her mother and father were. Suhaila was not asked to go out with them anymore.

Upon completion of the training and start of work, Suhaila requested to sign her contract. She was told that they did not sign contracts. Her salary was fixed, and her work was ticketing and reservations. She found herself training newcomers, closing sales and doing ‘favors’.

Favors meant that she should re-open sales after closing because owners of the company wanted to issue tickets for friends and favorites. It also meant that Suhaila was expected to come and issue a ticket for company owners even up to midnight hours. It meant that regardless of how inconvenient it was to Suhaila in her personal time, she was expected to come out and work as they were her bosses. She had neither a job description nor clear work guidelines.

What was most bewildering to Suhaila was the confusion she experienced in the conflicting rules of the company owners. If one owner decided the working hours, the other told the staff a different opening and closing time. If one owner decided a ticket could be issued to a foreign worker without a work permit, the other would insist it be issued because it is business for them. The owners spoke at different times but over each other’s authority.

As some staff left out of frustration, a Sri Lankan girl was brought in and Suhaila was asked to train and orient her. Then one day, Suhaila was asked to deal with the salary sheets. She discovered that the foreign girl was earning US$500 as salary and receiving food, accommodation and medicals on top of it. She found out that the Sri Lankan girl got a holiday ticket paid to go and come back. Suhaila’s salary was Rf 3500 (US$272) and no other allowances.

A couple of month’s frustration was followed by her final decision to resign. The daughter of one of the owners’ running the show called for a staff meeting to try and understand the issues at hand. There were no changes in spite of the meeting except that the staff stayed a couple more months hoping something would happen. Finally Suhaila handed in her resignation. The owners expressed regret that Suhaila was leaving them as she was a very good worker. However, concluding that, one of the shareholders’ said they would never hire local staff but employ Sri Lankans who were easier to manage.

Is youth unemployment an issue of lack of intellectual social management?

The story above brings out many issues in the employment of young Maldivians and especially for girls. Instead of seeing youth as an asset to social development, social reality is a growing population of unemployed youth being the victim of social disorder. The problem occurs in a vicious circle where poverty, unemployment, crime, drugs, poor schooling, inadequate housing, broken and dysfunctional families, etc, where each one is the cause and each one is the effect. The future is explosive and a serious threat to social equilibrium as Maldives fails to give hope and social assurance to its youth.

Today the youth in Maldives is seen a liability, a major stumbling block in the transitional democracy, and looked upon as a social burden, their energy and vibrancy diminishing at an increasing rate. Who should be the creator of the conditions that will turn youth into assets? The government is no doubt the caretaker and has a very tough responsibility to fulfill. The pressure of this responsibility is to make the youth of this country economically independent and self-reliant.

It is not an easy task because it means making private entrepreneurs more responsible citizens first. Although the previous government was the major employer of its citizens as compared to the private sector employment in Maldives, it is not a sustainable function for the government, and the state is not responsible for creating jobs. It is responsible for creating a climate where jobs will be created, and it is responsible to take a proactive and not a reactive step to encourage entrepreneurial development for the purpose of economic and social benefit.

Small and medium businesses continue to be collectively the major employer in the developed countries. What falls under the government’s responsibility is to encourage and motivate the job creators, support capacity building, create legislations that nurtures social values, create aggressive alliances with the civil society, be in continuous dialogue with all the different development sectors and demonstrate faith in the Maldivian youth, give them respect, direction and a consistent message that they are part and parcel of the Maldivian Society.

Aminath Arif is the founder of SALAAM School

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


Mind the gap: is lack of education the main reason for extremism in the Maldives?

“Extremism spreads because extremism is being taught, not because of inadequacies in the education system,” Minister of Education Dr Musthafa Luthfy told Minivan News.

“Extremism is a form of teaching in itself, and it is being taught by some people,” Dr Luthfy said. “It is not in the schools that it is taught, but outside of them.”

He said Islamic Affairs Minister Dr Abdul Majyd Abdul Bari was right in saying yesterday that extremism might be spreading because proper religious education is missing from the curriculum.

“Proper religious education,” Dr Luthfy said, “is very difficult to define. It means different things to different people.”

The subject of Islam is taught, he noted, according to an approved formal national curriculum in Maldivian schools from primary right through secondary school.

The education system is not the reason for extremism but extremism does affect the education system, Dr Luthfy said.

“Some people don’t want students to play; some don’t want them to do art; some don’t want them to do music – some say those are activities are haraam (forbidden) in Islam.”

He also added that there have been instances where some people advocated making it a regulation for male students to wear their trousers folded up a few inches above the ankle or to make beards compulsory.

Minister of Islamic Affairs Dr Bari told Minivan in an interview yesterday that a large share of the blame for the religious extremism in the Maldives lies with the education system.

Many Maldivians who turned to extremism were those seeking religious enlightenment that the education system could not provide. They sought such knowledge abroad, and ended up in unregulated institutions such as the madhrasaas in Pakistan, Dr Bari said.

Dr Luthfy agreed that there were inadequacies in the education system that contributed to contemporary social problems.

Between leaving school and reaching adulthood most Maldivian youth spend two years without a job, a sense of direction or purpose. A large number of contemporary social problems take root during these two ‘gap years’.

Latest Education Ministry figures show that an overwhelming majority – close to seventy percent of students who sit O’level exams – fail them. Of all the students who take the exams, only a small minority go on to take A’levels.

The rest, still legally children, fall outside of the school system and remain unemployed. Minister of Education Dr Luthfy said these two years were crucial.

Keeping the children within a formal education system until they are legally adults, at the age of 18, he said, is necessary for changing the current status quo. A polytechnic will soon open in Male’ that will address the problem, Dr Luthfy said.

Plans are also underway to setup vocational training centres on several islands using resources that already exist or by establishing new ones. The training centres would be subsidised by the government, and run by private organisations, Dr Luthfy said.

While the government’s plans remain in the pipeline, Salaam School, a social project launched under her own initiative by Aminath Arif, is attempting to plug the holes. It offers the children in an educational limbo an opportunity for personal development and trains them for the job market.

“There is very little help, direction or guidance given to such children,” Arif said. “They arrive at Salaam with very little language skills, and with almost no prior career guidance. For many, it is the last hope finding a way into gainful employment.”

“It is very easy to point fingers,” she said. “We can blame the internet, or we can blame something else.”

The problem, she said, is the very ethos of the education system: “It rarely encourages children to develop their creativity, to grow into their own individuality.”

Education Ministry figures show that compared to the ‘Enlightenment disciplines’ of the West such as the social and natural sciences, almost all school leavers sat the exam in Islam. In comparison, only a quarter of the students sat exams in any of the natural science subjects.

Humanities received even less attention from students with most subjects in its disciplines getting less than one percent of the total student population of the country. And, there were more students taking the Arabic language exam than the O’Level English language.

A 2004 survey of members of extremist Islamist groups found that over 60 percent had some higher or further-level education. The survey, by Marc Sageman, also found that about three quarters of extremists came from upper- or middle-class backgrounds.

Many extremists, research has also shown, were in professional occupations such as teaching, medicine or in skilled or semi-skilled employment such as the police or the civil service when they became radicalised or joined a group with extremist ideologies.

Such recent research, as was discussed in the European Journal of Criminology, undermines the previously accepted view that “Islamic extremism can be attributed to ignorance or lack of education.”

Social identity, group loyalties, social marginalisation, discrimination against particular groups, status and personal rewards as well as perceived injustices, research has found, contribute to the radicalisation and the creation of extremists in a society.

The substantial number of Maldivian youth on their enforced ‘gap years’ are broadly perceived as a negative force within society, Aminath Arif said.

“The marginalisation of youth on most islands is endemic throughout the country,” Arif told Minivan.

She travels to islands and identifies the most needy of such youth and provide them with the opportunity to enrol at Salaam.

Such initiatives, however, are few and far between, if not non-existent. Disaffected, marginalised and with no institutional support, a vast majority of Maldivian school leavers stray in a variety of directions.

Attending the ‘schools’ of extremism, or listening to the extremism being ‘taught’, as Dr Luthfy said, might be one of them.


Comment: Lack of educational opportunity cripples aspirations of young people

With my initiative to make a better day for youth and women of the Maldives, I have travelled across the nation to bring them whatever opportunities I can to open the door for youth to ease the entry into the working world.

I have developed a very large network of communities made up of parents, NGOs, leaders, women groups and youth themselves, engaged aid agencies and institutions that provided funding support, and liaised with resorts to link youth with on-the-job training and employment.

In this article I am giving my experience, my impression and my opinion of youth in the Maldives today. There is no blame or judgment and I hope that readers will be willing to share their experiences and constructive suggestions on how to provide youth a better environment in the Maldives.

Youth across the islands of Maldives are not sheltered from the realities of the adult world because young people leave school early, leaving behind the relative shelter of the school community.

Most of them do not progress to the last couple of years of school, and many leave the final year with hardly any acceptable standard of qualification.

Most early school leavers and secondary graduates (with low grades) are associated with disadvantaged circumstances.

These disadvantages can be defined as lack of choices or opportunities caused by poverty, geographic isolation, community support structures and social alienation and the result of centralised governance that has not catered to the needs of island people.

The lack of ability of teachers (whom also lack resources to support students) and skills to teach young people is a direct cause of student failure and offsets serious personality problems in young people. Whatever few opportunities there are in the islands are further obstructed by the lack of English language skills required for learning.

These disadvantages lead to low school achievement, aggressive and anti-social behavior, poor self-esteem and low expectations, unemployment, feeling powerless or isolated, withdrawal and loss of ability to communicate.

These young people are vulnerable to health problems and prey for illegal activities. Their lifestyle is that of any young person who wants to show a cool personality: smoking, late nights hanging around, cool speech, ‘don’t care’ attitude, cool clothing (if they can afford it). Underneath: extremely sensitive, wanting respect, dignity and direction.

The longer these young people hang around after leaving school without further studies and disciplined activities, the more vulnerable they become.

The gap between 15 and 18 years needs to be filled with schooling towards further or higher education. Presently the life of a young Maldivian in the islands is often aimless and lacks the stimulating environment that young people need to thrive.

The Labor Law of the Maldives does not make it any easier for the young Maldivian, although I am not advocating or criticising the Law.

Young people who leave school in the islands at the age of 15 years do not have much choice to continue their education. In principle they cannot be employed either.

While our programs provide an opportunity for young people to acquire skills for entry level jobs, potential employers are hesitant (and understandably so) to take under-age trainees as apprentices.

The conditions affect young women just as much as young men, however the outcomes are slightly different in my opinion.

While a young man is aggressively judged for his low performance, low achievement of a young woman is less of an issue. Young women joining our vocational training classes indicate their will to learn and interestingly are better achievers compared to their male colleagues, but are often stopped by parents and brothers.

Beliefs and attitude play a big role in this, and in the confusion of what is possible and what is right, the prevailing norms and insecurities take over resulting in young women’s opportunities being compromised.

Many young men join our classes because it is the only opportunity to walk through an open door. Young men and women’s motivation to get married early is evidently the results of nothing else to do in the community.

Boys are expected to have future employment and young women have limited aspirations for their future lives and work. With such limited personal aspirations and goals, marriage may appear to be an attractive option for these young women. Being a wife gives a young woman a role and often a deceptive one. Unfortunately being a husband does not change much for a young man who has not understood the responsibilities and commitments that go along with marriage.

The fact is that young people cross the threshold to adult life without having experienced youth.

Aminath Arif is the founder of SALAAM School.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


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.