The first financial casualty caused by the outbreak of swine flu in Kuwait has recently been reported. Having survived the recession lay-offs and the damage caused by the global economic slowdown, Samir, an expatriate teacher and father-of-three, faced the dismal reality of joining the numbers of those employees whose salaries were slashed. The decline in his family income was a by-product of the swine flu pandemic and the decision taken by the Ministry of Education at the end of August to postpone
the start of the kindergartens’ school year until the end of November.
Samir is a teacher in the kindergarten of a local school with an international curriculum. The bout of school reforms came unexpectedly, he says, recalling a memo circulated by the school a few days ago.
We were informed [in the memo] that teachers working in the KG would not be paid salaries for the first quarter of the school year. Our services were not needed for as long as the KG remained closed to students,” he said, explaining that the school had enrolled some 450 KG students at the end of the last school year. The MoE’s directive postponing the start of the KG school year had changed the private school’s finance management.
Parents unwilling to pay the tuition fees for their children who would remain home until December 1, suspended Samir’s dilemma. “Students’ enrollment in KG is the school’s mains source of revenue. When parents refuse to pay the tuition fees, the school is bereft of income,” he said citing the reasons for the non-payment of salaries stated by the management.
These new staggering employment terms were not stipulated in Samir’s contract and, as he says, the ordeal that is affecting over 20 teachers could be followed by inaction.
Samir relies on his salary to cover the expenses of the family’s accommodation and transport, as well as his children’s tuition. If his wife were unemployed, he observed, it would have been hard to eke out a living, adding, “This year we have many unpredicted expenses for the school year.
Swine flu and labour issues
By way of contrast, another three private schools did not withhold payment of teachers’ salaries. According to John Thomas, the administrative manager of three schools with an Indian curriculum, some 55 KG teachers working in the schools he administers reported to work, helping with administrative assignments and receiving their full salaries.
The schools’ administrations have instructed parents to pay the [tuition] fees, even when students do not attend classes,” he said explaining that these fees cover the teachers’ salaries.
One western curriculum school in Hawally has instructed its KG teachers’ staff to report for duty. “Our KG teachers are on duty, they are working and receiving their salaries,” said an administrator at the school.
An administrator in another private school in Salwa informed the Kuwait Times that the KG teachers in the school stopped working two days ago and would not resume their duties until the end of November.
The education ministry is not responsible for resolving labor issues within private schools and staff can expect no financial compensation. “The private sector schools are like private companies, and we are unable to interfere in the employee-employer relation, with the only exception being the curriculum,” explained Daidan Al-Ajmi, the MoE’s Educational Media Supervisor. In his words, each school manages the administration of its establishment.
Hygiene as prevention
Good hygiene, regular hand-washing and covering one’s face using a tissue when coughing or sneezing are some of the ways to prevent the flu virus from being transferred. The provision of sanitary equipment to private schools is not an education ministry responsibility, explains Al-Ajmi. “We don’t supply the private schools with any equipment and we also don’t have any inspection teams to check these schools,” he said.
Meanwhile, according to a KUNA report, the MoE confirmed yesterday that a teacher at a boys school in Jahra had been diagnosed with swine flu. Jahra High School Principal Hamid Khalaf told KUNA that the male teacher had been off work since last Thursday and had not interacted with any other staff members. According to the news report, the teacher was infected during his absence. The lab results confirming the swine flu virus were received yesterday, Khalaf was quoted as saying. The principal was also quote
d as saying that no special measures would be taken at the school because the teacher was not present there when he was infected.
Of the three swine flu cases reported in private schools, two have fully recovered and returned to their classes, while the third is recovering steadily, said Dr. Moudhi Al-Humoud, the Minister of Education and Minister of Higher Education, yesterday. In a press release, the minister emphasized the ministry’s eagerness to monitor the issue and to ensure that the students have fully recovered before allowing them to join their peers in class.
She noted that the ministry had supplied public and private schools with one million booklets and instruction signs explaining the precautions required to counter the disease.
Dr. Al-Humoud added that charts containing full information on every student and their family had been prepared in order to help deal with any case that was reported, adding that a liaison officer from the “rapid intervention” team had been assigned to each school, to facilitate contact between the school and the clinic in each residential area should an emergency arise.
The booklets include important regulations ordered by the World Health Organization (WHO) to contain the disease and to prevent it from spreading.
School staff and students are advised to clean and sanitize all table tops, door handles, light switches, and even pens and pencils, and to maintain a safe distance between students. Teachers are also advised to teach students in a single classroom for the duration of the day and to cancel all classes that involved more than one class working together.
All field trips will be postponed, and students are being discouraged from using public transportation and school buses, she said. The minister also said that in cooperation with the Ministry of Health, the MoE has held more than 191 awareness workshops for teachers in different educational zones in order to prepare them to deal with swine flu cases, should any arise.