The region's scholars were once held in such high esteem that in the pecking order they came before princes or warriors. Yet one would be hard pressed to see this today; as The National reported yesterday, a shortage of Emirati teachers in Dubai is an urgent challenge for the nation. A review by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), Dubai's education authority, found a shortfall of 81 female and 21 male teachers, with the greatest deficit in mathematics.
These trends appear to be echoed throughout the UAE; administrators at public schools report shortages of nearly 800 teachers across the country. The Ministry of Education, however, says that the shortage represents only one to two per cent of the total number of teachers the ministry employed. Emirati teachers complain that newly-arrived expatriate counterparts with little understanding of local mores will not do justice to the nation's children. And as Dr Maryam Sultan Lootah, an assistant professor of political science at UAE University said, "these teachers do not come with an understanding of our culture, so how will the children learn about it?". A key setting where Emirati culture and identity can flourish is in the classroom. Emirati teachers are best equipped to inculcate these lessons.
Some of the shortfall may be caused by the relatively low pay teachers receive. As we also reported yesterday, many civil service employees last year were given a 70 per cent pay rise, following a 70 per cent rise for benefits packages in 2008. Public school teachers haven't been so fortunate; many teachers still earn salaries that do not exceed Dh16,000 a month. Armed forces personnel receive up to Dh50,000 per month. That discrepancy in pay means that funding priorities appear out of order. As Dr Tarek Coury, an economist at the Dubai School of Government put it, "you're earning more than the president of United States to do an admin job".
Muslim societies are under a collective obligation - a "fard kifayah" - to have enough professionals to cater to a culture's vital needs. Teachers are undoubtedly one of a nation's most important assets.
Addressing the lack of incentives for teachers and increasing respect for them throughout society is critical for the nation to succeed and for its values to endure.