x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Respect teachers to reduce turnover

Teacher turnover problems are a serious challenge for education, both public and private, in the UAE. Pay is just part of the solution; teachers need authority in the classroom and respect from both administrators and students.

As this newspaper reported yesterday, Emirati parents are increasingly sending their children to private schools, opting out of the public system in search of a solid grasp of English, a global outlook, and other advantages for their offspring.

But the private sector in general offers no escape from the persistent and worrying problem of teacher turnover. The Dubai School Inspection Bureau reports that some private schools must replace fully 60 per cent of teachers each year.

Long ago someone observed that a school is really just a log with a teacher on one end and a student on the other. For all our audio-visual aids and modern theories, teachers are still the key to learning. We are, after all, trying to build a knowledge-based society.

Think back to your own favourite teacher, the one who sparked your imagination and accelerated your development. If you were lucky, you were in that teacher's orbit for more than one year.

Even average teachers are better when they become part of a school community; as in any organisation, a coherent corps of experienced veterans instils and defends core values, building pride in identity.

Retaining teachers is a challenge everywhere, but the problem is aggravated in the UAE by our demographics. In Indian schools, for example, teachers are - to judge by our recent letters to the editor - not paid very well. Expatriates from western countries on the other hand are often paid better, though they too find difficulties. Emirati teachers, who are in particularly short supply, are tempted by pay and status to move to other fields of work.

In all these categories, teachers must cope with the relentless drumbeat of proposals for change. This is a difficult time to be a teacher. But with so many schools getting poor results, change is essential.

Teachers are the gatekeepers of our children's future. The best candidates will get into teaching, and stay in it, when they can be assured of respectable pay but also of authority in the classroom; there are far too many stories of teachers who can't maintain discipline because school administrators hastily side with parents whenever there is a dispute.

That may happen for financial reasons or cultural ones, but it is exactly the sort of issue that pushes teachers out of their vital vocation.