x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Budget too small for quality teaching

The country's education budget is not large enough to boost teacher salaries to a level required to attract "top-quality" teachers.

ABU DHABI // The country's education budget is not large enough to boost teacher salaries to a level required to attract "top-quality" teachers, a Ministry of Education official said. Dr Vincent Ferrandino, the director of the ministry's office of policy and planning, said poor pay was a barrier to getting better staff to teach in the state school system. "The increase in teacher salaries is a major financial issue for us," Dr Ferrandino said. "It is going to require some significant resources." Figures provided by the Ministry of Education, dated 2006, show teacher salaries were far below what officials deemed an appropriate level - and less than their counterparts in the private education system. Within the state school system, salaries ranged from Dh3,225 (US$880) a month to Dh9,375 a month. Education Ministry officials yesterday were unable to give specific details about any pay increases since those figures were recorded. However, figures released yesterday by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) in Dubai said teachers' salaries in the public sector ranged from about Dh6,000 to Dh9,500. "It's difficult to attract top-quality teachers at those salary levels," Dr Ferrandino said. Salaries and benefits account for about 80 per cent of the education budget, he said, so raising salary levels would require a sizable increase in the education budget. The Government spends 23 per cent of its total budget on education. Spending on education has been set at Dh9.7 billion for next year, split between the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research. Although total spending has increased by 21 per cent, amid rising inflation, the Government has not added to the education budget. Teachers in other countries, including the US, receive significantly higher salaries. The most recent survey by the American Federation of Teachers found the average pay in Connecticut was US$57,760, or Dh17,664 a month, the highest in the country. Even at the low end, in South Dakota, teachers make an average of $34,039. If recent research on school success is correct, the issue could undermine the ministry's reform strategy. "Without the right people standing in front of the classroom, school reform is a futile effort," a recent report by the Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution said. A recent McKinsey and Company study that found quality teachers were the most important element in successful schools concluded that good starting salaries were necessary to attract the right people. Dr Ferrandino said the ministry was developing new criteria for teachers that would be pegged to salaries, similar to the system used in the US. A teacher with a bachelor's degree, for example, might make less than one with a master's degree. "We are going to require more of our teachers and, in return for that, provide them with a more appropriate salary," said Dr Ferrandino. "The plan is to increase salaries as we increase the criteria for becoming a teacher." The ministry is developing a system for licensing and certification that would require teachers to measure up to a set of criteria before entering the profession. Although the ministry hopes to have the framework in place by the end of the academic year, salaries cannot be raised without an increase in the budget, said Dr Ferrandino. "It's still very much a theoretical model," he said. "Beginning teachers would make a certain amount, and once they receive their certification they would receive another level of pay, if they receive a master's degree they receive another level of pay, that's sort the philosophy behind it." Osama al Said, an Egyptian teacher in Abu Dhabi, said it would be very difficult to live on a teacher's base salary. Several years ago Mr Said took a second job at an evening school to supplement his income because he could not support his family on his regular salary. "We were struggling a lot," he said. "The prices everywhere were increasing and we couldn't face all of our needs." His situation improved dramatically at the start of the school year, when teachers in Abu Dhabi were given a Dh6,000 monthly housing allowance. The increase, provided by the Abu Dhabi Education Council (Adec), nearly tripled the salary of some teachers. According to an official at the Ministry of Education, each emirate determines whether it will offer a housing allowance. There is no set federal allowance. klewis@thenational.ae