Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 20 August 2019

Irish teachers in UAE unmoved by minister's bid to lure them back home

Irish Education Minister plans June visit to the UAE to talk to teachers as country deals with staff shortage

Irish teachers working in schools across the UAE are resistant to a plan by the country's education minister to persuade them to return to their homeland. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Irish teachers working in schools across the UAE are resistant to a plan by the country's education minister to persuade them to return to their homeland. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Irish teachers in the UAE say they are unlikely to be swayed by a recruitment drive in the region to convince them to go home.

Irish Education Minister Joe McHugh is expected to visit the region in June to try to persuade teachers to fill a staff shortage in the country.

There is believed to be at least 6,000 Irish teachers working in the UAE, Qatar and Oman, with most of them in the Emirates.

Mr McHugh, a former teacher who worked in the UAE, believes many Irish teachers are open to the idea of returning and has planned the trip to identify what was stopping them.

“We need to understand the issues for teachers who have gone to the UAE," he said. "I know pay, cost of living, job security, accommodation and other issues are a factor.

“But we also need to provide teachers in the UAE with the information on vacancies in good time and make it easier for those who are interested in returning to apply for a job or take part in an interview remotely.”

Many of the Irish teachers in the UAE do not have qualifications that are recognised by their country.

Vast numbers of them turned to the profession after leaving home and gaining qualifications that enabled them to take up posts in the Emirates.

But a shortage of teachers in Ireland, particularly in languages, home economics and Stem subjects, has made the UAE a particularly attractive resource for the ministry.

“We need to reach out to teachers overseas. We need to encourage them to come home,” Mr McHugh said.

“I am conscious that we have work to do on a number of fronts and that people are making career and life choices.

“We will do more to highlight opportunities and we will continue to work on improving careers for teachers.”

But some Irish teachers have told The National that the chances of them returning home to work are slim.

“There is an air of disbelief that the investigation into how we can be enticed home is genuine.”

Rebecca Egan, teacher

In some cases there was scepticism about the planned visit from the Irish education minister in June.

Rebecca Egan, a primary school teacher in Dubai, questioned the timing.

“There is an air of disbelief that the investigation into how we can be enticed home is genuine,” Ms Egan said.

“Teachers, myself included, are wondering why he is coming over during the summer holidays when nobody is here if he really wants to hear what we have to say.”

She said that the problem of teachers leaving Ireland would continue.

“Like the cogs of a wheel, teachers will return of course, but begrudgingly and certainly not in the droves in which they are leaving,” Ms Egan said.

“Ireland will always only have but a fraction of the skilled, qualified and passionate educators that graduated from its colleges working in the country because of the current working conditions.”

She said was constantly contacted by teachers in Ireland looking to move to the UAE.

“I have met countless teachers in the UAE on career breaks who extend them and willingly let their jobs go in Ireland because they never see themselves returning,” Ms Egan said.

“Last February alone, I had six teachers contact me from Ireland to seek advice on how to get a post in the UAE, all keen to avoid the plight of teaching in Ireland with low salaries.”

She said many of her compatriots at home had the wrong idea about teachers who came to the UAE to work.

“There is a myth in Ireland that when teachers go to the UAE they will come back with their millions or with money to cover the mortgage of a mansion,” Ms Egan said.

“In the UAE, we are offered what we consider a good and fair salary that reflects the work we do and affords us a quality of life that our skill set offers students and the next generation.”

“I’m afraid that if conditions at home don’t improve significantly then Ireland will continue to lose their best and brightest graduates across a number of disciplines, not just teaching.”

Aisling Fennell, teacher

Aisling Fennell, 45, who has been teaching in Umm Suqeim, Dubai, for five years, is returning home to Ireland this summer for family reasons, but she worries about what her options will be.

Ms Fennell fears she will not be able to find any work that extends beyond five or six hours a week.

“If I didn’t have to return to Ireland now there’s no way I’d move,” she said.

“Realistically, I’m now moving home to half my current pay and that’s only if I manage to secure full-time hours.”

Ms Fennell said she would urge any Irish teacher based in the UAE to think carefully before moving home to work.

“Having worked in the Irish education system before I left, I wouldn’t encourage any teacher to move home at present,” she said.

“I’m afraid that if conditions at home don’t improve significantly then Ireland will continue to lose their best and brightest graduates across a number of disciplines, not just teaching.”

Ms Fennell called for significant incentives for teachers who want to move back to Ireland, but are undecided because of employment prospects.

“It would be nice for some sort of relocation package,” she said.

“We’re facing shockingly poor wages working in Ireland as well as the high cost of car and health insurance.”

Updated: April 4, 2019 03:31 AM

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