Even as Maldives celebrates yet another Teachers' Day, few teachers are in a celebratory mood. The profession today faces unprecedented challenges that threaten its very vision as a body capable of guiding the next generation of Maldivians to their maximum individual potential, while instilling in them religious and cultural values and fostering among them social unity and harmony, and love and pride in the nation.
Maldives Association for Teachers' Link, a recently formed NGO of teachers, has identified 16 points that must be addressed urgently to revitalize the profession. Teachers' Link founder member Abdul Qadir Ismail says the priority points among them are related to quality of education, teaching environment and teachers' salaries and benefits.
Teaching is a noble humanitarian service no doubt. But like any other profession, teachers also deserve a certain minimum standard of living commensurate with their contribution to society. An increasing number of teachers today feel that they are being left out in the redistribution of the economic pie that is taking place as a consequence of the reform movement. While the salaries of some public servants have increased tenfold in the past decade, teachers' salaries have remained more or less stagnant. If this trend continues, Qadir says, it will become increasingly difficult to retain good teachers in the profession and maintain quality of education.
Qadir says that teachers' salaries have declined relatively in the past 3 decades when compared to other government servants in the atolls. For example, throughout the 1980s and right up to the mid 90s, teachers were second only to atoll chiefs in terms of salary. All that has changed now. In round after round of periodic government salary hikes, teachers have been sidelined. As a result, many professionals who were paid much less in the 1990s today earn much more than teachers. For example, magistrates today earn about 20,000 rufiyaa per month, compared to about 4940 rufiyaa for a grade-five teacher. Even a mudhim earns almost as much as a teacher. Atoll chiefs today earn 35,000 rufiyaa per month while assistant atoll chiefs earn 12,000 rufiyaa.
Inconsistency in providing housing is also a major issue for teachers, Qadir says. Some teachers get housing flats at very nominal rents, while others don't get even a housing allowance. Many teachers today live in rented accommodation paying much more than their salaries.
Teachers' salary scale was in the making since 2002, and was at long last adopted last year. However, it is yet to be financially implemented. Qadir says it is difficult to accept the excuses put forward for the delay, such as lack of budget and shortage of finances. He says provisions could have been included in this year's budget itself because the new salary scale was adopted as early as last November. On the other hand there is a long list of unbudgeted salary hikes implemented this year, including increased salaries for majlis members, independent institutions, etc.
Coming to the quality of education, Qadir says there are serious problems with the curriculum, physical facilities and discipline. The Law on Children's Rights introduced in the early 1990's is a major impediment to maintaining discipline, he says. Because of the law it has been difficult to take any action on pupils who misbehave and distract others. According to Qadir one of the reasons why Ahmediyya School has been able to maintain high grades is because the management insisted on taking strict action on unacceptable behavior, despite pressure from the authorities.
Teacher's Day is an opportunity to reflect on the status of the teaching profession. Unless we as a nation are prepared to give teachers the decent life they deserve, they as a profession will not be in a position to command the respect of their students and raise them as responsible citizens.