x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Teaching in UAE needs a status boost

The problem of getting more Emirati male teachers is evident, but how to solve it is not.

The country needs more Emirati teachers, and more male Emirati teachers in particular.

Official figures published in The National yesterday show that of the 12,417 Emiratis who teach in state schools, a mere 4 per cent - fewer than 500 - are male.

The UAE is not alone in this. In many countries teaching, especially at the secondary level, used to be a male preserve, but in recent decades men have left the classroom and women have replaced them. Certainly nobody begrudges these posts to women, but in practice teachers do more than teach the curriculum. They also serve, or can serve, as role models, setting an example of good work habits, proper comportment, fairness and intellectual curiosity.

This is, to be sure, an ideal, but it is often a reality too: many adults fondly recall teachers who provided just such a character model.

But, to state the obvious, half of students are males, and boys will naturally respond better to male role models than to female ones. Similarly, Emirati teachers are the obvious models for Emirati students.

But while the problem is evident, the solution is not. Survey data reported in The National suggest that all teachers find classroom work dispiriting and too poorly paid. There is also the question of status.

The remedies are three, each one easier to apply than the next. More money for teachers would help. The second step involves assuring teachers of more authority in their classrooms, and this must involve school administrators and parents. Male or female, a teacher who doesn't get the proper support to maintain order and discipline in the classroom will not be able to teach, let alone be anyone's role model.

Finally, teaching has to be validated as a career choice. In theory, people respect teachers and the vital work they do to shape the next generation. But in practice, even the best teachers can find themselves subtly or not so subtly disdained by acquaintances whose jobs give them prestigious titles and fancy offices. Reversing this status deficit will not be easy or quick. Honours awarded annually to the year's best teachers, bestowed in the full spotlight of official approval and carrying a generous cheque, would help. Prominent business leaders and entertainment celebrities could be asked to identify the teachers who helped them. And so on.

These measures are only a start; the problem demands much more. But we must start somewhere and give more than lip service to the idea that teachers really matter.