x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Low-wage teachers take on second jobs

Expatriate staff risk being sacked if they try to supplement their income, but many work as tutors or run businesses.

Low wages are forcing state schoolteachers to moonlight in second jobs at night, according to teachers and school bosses. Expatriate public school teachers say their salaries of between Dh7,000 (US$1,900) and Dh8,000 a month are not enough to live on, and they are having to risk being sacked by seeking extra income.

Emirati teachers in public schools earn between Dh17,000 and Dh19,000, according to a Ministry of Education spokesman. "Ninety per cent of the teachers I know give private lessons and the other 10 per cent are looking for other work," said one state schoolteacher from Ajman. "Some of them open cafeterias, some get into car trading, and others open cafes and they go back and forth between the cafe and the school." He asked not to be named because he also has a second job.

"Salaries are weak and they aren't enough with these high prices," the teacher added. "Before, we used to get paid Dh5,000 and it was enough because everything was cheap. But now we get paid Dh8,800 a month and it's not enough." He said he struggled to afford his Dh28,000-a-year rent and utility bills. "They should increase wages, secure our children's education and other expenses that are a problem for us like health care, residency, rent." At a meeting of the Federal National Council in December, one member raised the issue of teachers' pay, warning that many had been forced to take other jobs. "Teachers turn into fishermen after the end of the school day or run grocery shops because their salaries are meagre," said Dr Abdul Raheem Shaheen, a member from Ras al Khaimah. Several head teachers said low wages had led their staff to seek outside employment, with many offering private tutoring courses after school, a practice officially banned under Ministry of Education rules. In October 2008, the Sharjah Education Zone issued a warning to teachers that the practice was illegal and that offenders would be prosecuted. "This is really a problem we face now in all our schools," said Yousef al Shehhi, the principal of the Al Rams Secondary School, a state boys' school in RAK. "All over the country, especially during the exams, [pupils] are running from house to house." Hassan Ghzlan, the principal of the Tunb Secondary School in RAK, agreed. "It's present throughout the country, this private tuition trend," Mr Ghzlan said. Teachers who offered private lessons were violating their terms of employment, he added. "There's a contract with the ministry that you have to abide by." He said teachers who worked long hours were bound to be less effective in the classroom. "The teacher who is tired all day and works day and night, he cannot perform his job well," said Mr Ghzlan. "It also weakens interaction and participation in the classroom." Even teachers acknowledge that private tutoring poses problems for the education system. "The harmful effects are numerous," said the teacher from Ajman. "If you do two jobs at the same time then you have to divide your efforts. "Teachers start to concentrate on the second job more because that's where their income comes from, whereas in the other job their income is flat." Mr Ghzlan believes there would be less of a problem if the Government raised teaching salaries. "The teacher should earn a better salary than what he is getting at the moment. We hope the future will be better," he said. "If we look at other professions, and we're talking about both Emiratis and expatriates, they go to other jobs because they are more appealing. They have better financial incentives." One Palestinian public school teacher in Dubai who teaches in the evening, said he took another job because he could not support his family and pay rent on his Dh8,000 monthly salary. "By the end of the month we are looking for Dh500 to borrow," said the teacher. He estimated that 99 per cent of the expatriate public school teachers he knew did extra work on the side. "Either they teach at night schools or they're doing private tutoring." klewis@thenational.ae