x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Dubai schools grapple with teacher shortage

The emirate's education authority says that public schools in Dubai are understaffed and in need of 102 more teachers, but low pay and lack of incentives are discouraging Emirati candidates.

DUBAI // The emirate's education authority says that public schools in Dubai are understaffed and in need of 102 more teachers.

After conducting a school by school review, the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) found a shortfall of 81 female and 21 male teachers, with the greatest deficit in maths, where 17 women and three men are required.

Fatima al Marri, the chief executive of the KHDA's schools agency and a member of the Federal National Council (FNC), said low pay scales and a lack of incentives have deterred UAE nationals, particularly men, from entering the profession - which contributes to the shortage.

Ms al Marri also raised the issue during a recent FNC session and described the problem as long-standing. According to figures cited during the session, government schools across the country are missing almost 800 teachers.

The Ministry of Education, however, says that any shortage is due to paperwork involved in bringing teachers into the country and will soon be resolved.

The Minister of Education, Humaid al Qattami, downplayed any lack of teachers at the FNC session, and said the shortage represented only one to two per cent of the total number of teachers the ministry employed.

Last week, Ali Maihad al Suwaidi, the director general of the Ministry of Education, said there was no shortage and staffing issues at the beginning of the academic year were due only to paperwork.

"Every year we recruit about 800 new teachers. Now we are short of just five or six teachers in every emirate and that too because they have been recruited from outside and paperwork takes some time," Mr al Suwaidi said.

Local educators say that reliance on foreign teachers to replace those who have left is not desirable because it erodes students' national identity and the country's culture.

Dr Maryam Sultan Lootah, an assistant professor of political science at UAE University, has researched all the education policies implemented in the country and believes that bringing in native English speakers to teach Arab children should not be seen as a method to improve the education system.

"These teachers do not come with an understanding of our culture, so how will the children learn about it," she said. "Also, these teachers cannot speak Arabic, so how can they teach the students who may not understand them properly? This is cheating."

At the FNC session, Ms al Marri said a European teacher at one high school had compared the tawaf (the Muslim practice of walking around the Ka'aba in Mecca) to idolatry, and had also called some of his students "terrorists".

While the extent of any shortage is a matter of debate, all parties agree that there is a problem in the composition of the public school faculty, with too few Emirati males.

The ministry says there are just over 500 male Emirati teachers in government schools, which works out to one teacher in 10. Ms al Marri said the number of male Emirati teaching graduates in the Higher Colleges of Technology is dwarfed by the number of females.

Yousef al Shehhi, the principal of Al Rams Secondary School in Ras al Khaimah, said this was a big problem for boys. "Emirati men do not like being teachers," he noted. "Firstly, the salary is so low and then they do not get housing and other benefits that they could get in other jobs."

Public school teachers earn salaries that do not exceed Dh16,000 a month, which Ms al Marri described as a "very small" amount considering how hard they work.

Michael O'Brien, associate academic dean of education at the Higher Colleges of Technology, said there had been a 60 per cent increase in students enrolling for teacher education since 2007, but added that it was still a challenge to attract young men to the profession.

"Young men can be attracted to teaching by a professional career ladder, where increasing competence and responsibility is matched by career advancement and increasing remuneration," he said.

Ministry officials said they were working on raising the salaries and setting up a licensing programme for teachers to raise standards. "We do not want this to be a profession for those who do not have a profession," Mr al Suwaidi said. "We will be selecting them carefully from the top percentage of teacher graduates."