x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Teaching candidates ready - and waiting

Education graduates believe the system is tilted against them, and in favour of English speakers and lower-paid Arab expatriates.

Maha al Shamisi, a graduate of Al Ain Women's College, wants the chance to teach.
Maha al Shamisi, a graduate of Al Ain Women's College, wants the chance to teach.

ABU DHABI // Maha al Shamisi describes working in a government school as her "dream" job. But, eight months since she graduated from Al Ain Women's College with a bachelor's degree in education, she remains unemployed.

Instead of spending the working week using the skills she learned at college to educate the new generation of UAE nationals, the 35-year-old Emirati spends much of her time at home. Having heard of the experiences of other Emiratis with education degrees, Miss al Shamisi did not even apply for a job with the Abu Dhabi Education Council. She felt the system was stacked against her from the start. "All my friends before me [applied for teaching jobs] and each one didn't get anything," she said.

"My friends didn't get jobs even though they went through two interviews. So I thought, 'Why bother? Why do this if they will not hire me'?" During her course, Miss al Shamisi, who spent time studying medicine before deciding to enrol in teaching instead, worked in a government school. However, she sees little hope of being able to repeat the experience as an employee rather than a trainee. "[It is] our dream, we'd like to work in a government school, especially in a model school, because we had our training there," she said.

"But unfortunately, there's no chance for us now that they have their experiment in Al Ain where they're bringing in native English speakers. "You can say they're taking our jobs. There's no chance for us to work." Eight students graduated in Miss al Shamisi's class last year. Five of them, she said, now have jobs - but none in teaching. Michael O'Brien, the associate academic dean for education at the Higher Colleges of Technology, believes that the government cannot afford to leave these kind of hurdles in the path of Emiratis who want to teach.

"We have to make sure they're employed in a timely fashion so they don't get disenchanted and get jobs elsewhere," he said. "Some go off to other avenues in the private sector. They can earn much higher salaries by doing that rather than staying in teaching. "I believe if we have a process where they get employed as quickly as possible, we have a good chance of keeping them in the career." He said the Ministry of Education was expected to centralise its recruitment process, but it had not yet done so. As a result, much hiring was done by education zones at the emirate level - a slower process.

Often, zones have filled their quota of new recruits with expatriate Arab teachers by the time the Emirati students graduate, according to Mr O'Brien. Expatriate government school teachers typically earn between Dh7,000 (US$1,900) and Dh8,000 a month, far less than Emiratis, who are paid between Dh17,000 and Dh19,000. However, the difficulties some former HCT students have had in finding teaching jobs are not replicated at all institutions.

Dr Peggy Blackwell, the dean of the college of education at Zayed University, said she did not think her students had encountered "problems like that at all". "We did recruitment fairs last year with Adec and the Ministry of Education. My understanding is that the students who wanted to work, got jobs," she said. "They seemed to be very pleased with the students when they interviewed them." An Adec spokeswoman said Emirati teachers were not being squeezed out by native English speakers. She said Adec was looking to recruit more than 1,000 teachers as part of a 10-year strategic plan, so there were hundreds of places left for native Arabic speakers, including Emiratis, even after the 456 native English speakers were recruited.

"Adec has proactively sought out Emirati graduates as teachers by going to universities for recruitment," she said. "We don't know why they would feel like they're having difficulty because we're doing proactive Emiratisation." Adec was not hiring expatriate Arabs because they were cheaper than Emiratis, the spokeswoman added. Indicating Adec's enthusiasm for recruiting Emiratis, she said the organisation had signed a memorandum of understanding with Abu Dhabi Emiratisation Council to promote the hiring of UAE nationals.

No one at the Ministry of Education was available for comment. dbardsley@thenational.ae