ABU DHABI // Education chiefs have been told they need to hire at least 2,350 qualified teachers to match their expansion plans for the schools system, with a target of nearly 9,000 staff by 2015.
Abu Dhabi Education Council has approved 47 new schools to create an additional 60,000 places for pupils. A dozen opened this year and another 10 are expected in 2012.
Finding quality teachers is "crucial if they want to maintain their reputation", said Andrew Wigford, director of Teachers International Consultancy, which helps Abu Dhabi schools with recruitment.
Most new schools follow the British or American curriculum, while a smaller number teach the Arabic or Indian equivalent.
Adec gives the new schools a temporary licence to operate, with a full annual licence awarded only if they pass a tough inspection.
ISC Research, a UK company that monitors trends at international schools across the world, says 8,900 staff will be employed in Abu Dhabi by 2015 and there has been a 132 per cent increase in the number of pupils at international schools in the capital since 2008.
Mr Wigford said such a rapid increase meant recruiters were on constant lookout for teachers. "Several schools that opened in August 2011 already need more teachers for January 2012 and anticipate additional placement next year.
"This is putting a great strain on the recruitment pool and we are constantly working to find experienced and able English-speaking teachers who have the right personality to work in these schools."
Chadi Moujaes, a partner at Booz & Company, which recently completed a report on growth potential of private-school education in the GCC, said one of the main problems was the access to talent.
"Schools operators using international curricula need to get teachers from outside, and there is a lot of competition from emerging markets like India and China who absorb a large number from the pool," Mr Moujaes said. The consultancy will be sharing the full report at the Building Future Education Mena conference on October 25.
"In terms of local teachers, there aren't many qualified national teacher graduates, especially when it comes to men."
Adec said quality at new schools would be ensured through an inspection process to be carried out in the first six months of their opening.
Brian Fox, the division manager for licensing and accreditation at Adec, said schools were given an annual licence only if they passed the inspection.
"Until then they are offered a provisional licence," Mr Fox said.
Schools are monitored on factors including leadership, quality of teachers, pupils' performance and health and safety standards.
Experts said this forced schools to hire qualified teachers on competitive salaries to improve quality.
Taaleem, an education provider that operates the International Baccalaureate school Raha International, plans to open up two more schools in the capital, which it says are "pending approval" from Adec. The authority said it was reviewing 57 new school applications.
Andrew Homden, in charge of selecting teachers for Taaleem, believes to attract the best teachers operators have to start looking well in advance.
"You have to plan two years in advance and recruit your head teacher a year before you open," Mr Homden said.
He said the market for teachers had never been more competitive than it was now.
"We need to offer a good pay package and provide a career ladder," Mr Homden said. "Along with checking their credentials, references and certificates, we also conduct several face-to-face interviews."
He said Taaleem was not looking for "backpacking teachers".
Mohamed Al Mubarak, the chairman of Aldar Academies, which also has new schools in the pipeline, said it is recruiting around 50 new teachers a year.
"The most important thing we do is teacher recruitment and retention, along with appointing the best school leaders to maximise the potential of our teachers," he said.
He said Aldar Academies was widening its recruitment criteria and will be seeking teachers in Hong Kong as well.
While international schools offer paycheques of Dh14,000 to Dh20,000 a month to attract the best talent, Indian schools are criticised for offering poor pay packages.
The demand for places has been most evident at Indian curriculum schools in the capital. Adec expects new schools to fill the gap with an additional 16,700 places by 2015.
One teacher at an Indian school in the capital said it would be hard to raise education standards and attract the best teachers from India at such low salaries.
"A large contributor to motivation comes from the financial security you have," said the teacher. "How can you expect to bring highly qualified and experienced teachers on a salary of Dh2,500 here now, when the cost of living is so high?
"If you are the sole breadwinner, it's impossible to live on that amount. Indian schools often get teachers who have moved here with their husbands and are working for a supplementary income."