Teachers wanted, must like pristine beaches and palm-lined atolls

Maldives government seeks British applicants to spearhead improvement of ex-colony's education system

There will be some who may actually prefer to be marking the fifth form geography project on a slate-grey winter's afternoon when the grim, all-consuming darkness descends at 4pm.

But officials in the Maldives are hoping there may be a few headteachers in Britain who can be tempted by palm-fringed atolls and unspoilt beaches. This week, the government of the beautiful archipelago scattered off the south-west of India will begin advertising teaching jobs in paradise.

In an overhaul of its education system, the former British colony will be seeking applications from headteachers who will help spearhead a new drive to improve both the teaching of English and general teaching standards. The salaries will not be vast, but the supply of white sand and cobalt-coloured sea-water is limitless.

"We are studying the GCSE system and we are bringing in teachers from India," the country's Education Minister, Mustafa Lutfi, told The Independent. "But if we get people with different backgrounds I think our people could learn from the experience of the foreign headteachers. There is that tradition [with Britain] and we are dependent on tourism and a lot of people from Britain come to the Maldives. I think it would be good if our country can find people from Britain to come and teach."

The country, which has 370,000 people and 1,000 islands, plans to assign British headteachers to oversee seven newly decentralised regions. In addition to heading their own schools, they would be expected to help develop education in their zone.

Last October, the Maldives had its first democratic presidential election and a former political prisoner, Mohamed Nasheed, defeated Asia's longest-serving ruler, the dictatorial Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. Mr Nasheed, who also worked as a journalist, studied for his A-levels in Britain and has said improving education for the country's poor is among his top priorities.

Anyone tempted to make the switch will be arriving at an interesting time in the nation's history. Having won its independence from Britain in 1965, the Maldives has progressed from an economy that was almost entirely dependent on fishing to one where tourism accounts for 28 per cent of its GDP.

There are, admittedly, problems in paradise: crime, unemployment, drug abuse, soaring inflation and a struggle against religious fundamentalism in an overwhelmingly Muslim nation. There is also a potentially insuperable environmental threat as sea levels rise due to global warming. Mr Nasheed has indicated that his country may have to seek an alternative territory on higher ground, in India or Sri Lanka.

But Mr Lutfi is confident he will not be short of applicants. He says people in the Maldives are warm and hospitable and that the successful candidates will be in a stunning environment. By Western standards, the likely monthly salary of about 10,000 Rufiyaa (£523) is not vast. But on the Maldives, this is considerably more than the average.

John Bangs, head of education at Britain's largest teachers' union, the NUT, said: "It is testament to the kinds of pressure which headteachers in England face that they are seeking to work abroad. Here, they have to deal with an excessive accountability system and an increased workload. Their desire is to concentrate on making a difference to children's lives."

Situations vacant Sunshine or snowstorm?

Maldives

*Average hours of sunshine: eight

*Monthly salary: £523

*Max temperature in Male this week: 31C



Britain

*Average of four hours of sunshine per day

*Monthly salary: £5,830 (secondary headteacher)

*Max temperature in London this week: 6C

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