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The students Sameer al Jaberi, left, Mohamed al Saqqaf and Abdullah al Obaidli, right, chat in a corridor of Abu Dhabi Men's College.
Jaime Puebla
The students Sameer al Jaberi, left, Mohamed al Saqqaf and Abdullah al Obaidli, right, chat in a corridor of Abu Dhabi Men's College.

Male Emirati teachers a rare breed

A survey of 10,000 schoolchildren will be used to discover why young Emirati men are shunning teaching as a profession.

A survey of 10,000 schoolchildren will be used to discover why young Emirati men are shunning teaching as a profession. Education officials will draw on the study of pupils' career aspirations, to be conducted this year and next, for a long-term strategy to battle an acute shortage of male Emirati teachers in government schools. Experts say poor pay and status are stopping young Emirati men joining the profession. And they say Emirati boys learn more effectively and feel more support from teachers who are nationals.

The survey, being funded by the Emirates Foundation, will also try to find exactly when pupils make career decisions. The latest figures show that in 2006, only 48 of the 724 male teachers in government boys' schools in Dubai were Emirati. That amounted to only 6.6 per cent. For the country, the figure was about 11 per cent. In girls' government schools in Dubai, the all-female teaching staff in 2006 was 74.9 per cent Emirati.

For the research, 10,000 boys and girls in grades four, six and eight across the UAE will be surveyed in May and June this year, and again 12 months later to see how their career ambitions have changed. They will be asked what sorts of careers appeal to them and what qualifications they think they will need to get into them. A report on the study will go to the Emirates Foundation but the findings are also likely to be published in academic journals and made available to organisations such as the Ministry of Education.

Dr Martyn Quigley, a senior lecturer in education at the British University in Dubai (BUiD) who will lead the work, said the survey could help the ministry "do something about the unattractive parts of teaching". The ministry wants more Emirati teachers and said improving the quality of teachers was a priority, but late last year Dr Vincent Ferrandino, its director of policy and planning, said poor pay had made it difficult to recruit better teachers.

Dr Quigley has conducted similar research in Singapore, Brunei and Canada that indicated children across the world have similar aspirations when very young, with boys wanting to be pilots or astronauts. He said that between grades four and nine - ages 11 to 15 - those hopes changed dramatically. "If we can identify that point, we can target career counselling at that particular time, giving them information and skills that will help them make a rational choice," Dr Quigley said.

"We won't be guiding them into a teaching career but [finding out] what it is they don't like about a teaching career. We are not looking for Emiratis who want to become teachers to encourage them, although that will naturally emerge." Worldwide, researchers have ranked professions according to how youngsters view them as potential careers. Dr Quigley said in some countries, such as Singapore, children had very high ambitions, while in Brunei the preferred careers were ranked lower on the global scale.

A ranking for professions would be compiled for the UAE and comparisons made with data from Britain, Malaysia and Brunei, he said. The research is being carried out in collaboration with Radhika Iyer-O'Sullivan, a BUiD tutor in education, and Kalthoom al Balooshi, a project manager at Dubai's Knowledge and Human Development Authority. Dr Quigley said the researchers would rely on the goodwill and co-operation of schools.

According to Conley Hathorn, a US principal adviser at two Abu Dhabi government schools, Emirati teachers make pupils "more involved". But Mr Hathorn said changes in the way teaching was perceived were needed to attract young Emirati men. "It seems to me that people who are in the police or military are higher revered than teachers and [teachers] have expressed to me the pay situation was important," he said.

Last month Mike Helal, a visiting researcher at the Dubai School of Government, said the ministry had to raise the salary for state school teachers to attract talent and be competitive with other professions. In state schools, salaries ranged from Dh3,225 (US$880) a month to Dh9,375 a month, according to the 2006 figures from the ministry in November last year. Emirati students say they prefer being taught by someone from their own country.

Sameer al Jaberi, 20, a student at Abu Dhabi Men's College, said in the four years he spent at government schools, none of his teachers was local. "All of them were from Palestine, Jordan or Egypt. As a local I would feel more free to communicate with a local teacher. You are both from the same environment." Waleed al Marzooqi, a UAE national who was mainly educated at government schools, said Emirati teachers were given more respect.

"The pupils show more discipline in class and when doing their schoolwork," Mr al Marzooqi said. "This is not because the pupils were afraid of the teacher, but because the Emirati teachers interact more with the students during the class time, breaks and after school as well." A quantity surveyor for Dubai Municipality, Mr al Marzooqi had at least one Emirati teacher each year, but they would teach two subjects at most. Other classes were taught by expatriates from countries such as Egypt, Palestine, Syria and Iraq.

"I remember all my teachers, especially my Emirati teachers," he said. "They also remember me, not because I was a special student, but because of our achievements together. "Most of them are now directors of schools and they always say 'Hi' when they see me." dbardsley@thenational.ae

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