x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Lack of Emirati teachers is a disservice to nation's children

As important as teachers are to the future of the country, still Emiratis are not drawn to the profession.

Being a teacher is a calling, not a job. We all recall the one or two teachers who made the biggest difference in our lives by broadening our horizons and sparking a flame within us. And it is these same teachers who are recognised for their ability to reach their students because of their own passion for teaching, treating the job as a duty rather than a way to make ends meet.

As in any job, there are those who are simply not suited for the role. Whether it is a lack of compassion or the wrong temperament, all the training in the world will not equip some people with the skills needed to instil a love of learning. And yet, somehow, many of our teachers come from this second-class tier.

It is an uncomfortable truth that many teachers have chosen their profession simply because they couldn't cut it in another job. "Those who can't do, teach," as the unpleasant saying goes.

As parents, we are often more concerned about who the teacher is at the beginning of the school year than with the curriculum that is being taught to our children. We pray for a teacher who will inspire our children and encourage them to reach their potential.

And yet, that kind of teacher seems to come around once, maybe twice in a lifetime if we are lucky. For me, it was my journalism professor in university who knew just how to push me to my limits, and opened the doors that would lead to the path that I have followed.

So how do we go about identifying the right teachers? The Abu Dhabi Educational Council is ensuring that all teachers are qualified with the right teaching degree and experience. The slogan of "education first" represents a mission to transform the UAE's public education system into one of the best in the world.

There is no proven formula that allows us to easily identify the teacher who will have the most positive effect on our children's lives. When the Microsoft mogul Bill Gates announced that his foundation would invest millions in education in the United States, he said: "Unfortunately, it seems the field doesn't have a clear view of what characterises good teaching." He added: "I am personally very curious."

So should the rest of us be. One solution in the UAE is to recognise the most basic need in our public schools: we need more Emirati teachers.

For any nationality, it just makes sense that children will be more likely to admire, respect and learn from a teacher who not only has the skills to inspire, but also understands the culture, customs and traditions of the students. And while it is vital to have teachers from a range of cultural backgrounds, it is most important to fill our schools with Emirati teachers who have answered a calling.

A recent article documented a startling fact: over the past three years at UAE University, not a single Emirati man has enrolled in the teacher-development programme. And before we start blaming low salaries, we need to address the culture of teaching, or the lack thereof.

We must first change our culture by recognising that Emirati teachers are heroes who are leading our children to a higher path. This could be taken up as a nationwide campaign, publicly recognising the efforts of teachers as champions on whom the future depends. Parents, governments and schools must recognise the honour that comes with teaching and persuade Emiratis that it is a path worth following.

Emirati teachers are critical to the future of public education in the UAE. I want my children to learn from teachers from a wide variety of backgrounds, but most importantly, I want them to respect and understand their own nation. I want them to look up to their teachers and hope, as we all have, to one day become just like them, filled with a passion for life and a thirst for knowledge.

If an Emirati teacher is identified as an inspiring mentor, his success should be shared as an example for others. We must replicate this magical gift - the gift to inspire - that is undoubtedly hidden within many Emiratis who just need a push in the right direction.


Taryam Al Subaihi is an Emirati political and social commentator who specialises in corporate communications