New pay structure upsets some Emirati teachers

Mariam Al Kaabi has had enough.

On February 6th Shireena Al Nuwais of the National wrote an article titled:  “Emirati teachers threaten to resign over new pay scale”. The National interviewed Mariam Al Kaabi, a teacher at Al Ain’s Umm Kalthoum High School for 18 years. She, along with a number of other teachers, has threaten to resign because they feel they have been misled.

“They called this an increase and a way to encourage nationals to be teachers, but I say that this is a new system to push away and deter national teachers, said Mariam Al Kaabi. The new salaries are not an increase. They just included our housing in the salary.”

The overwhelming majority of Emirati teachers like Mariam Al Kaabi does their job, are strong supporters of their country and want a quality education system. That is why it is very unusual for such a person to come out publicly. What events occurred for her and others to threaten to resign?  After all the UAE has been very public in its desire to increase the number of Emirati’s in the teaching field.

Here is some background on what caused this very public outburst.

On November 26, 2013 a number of UAE English newspapers including The National, Gulf News, and Khaleej Times reported that Abu Dhabi Education Council (ADEC), announced that the education salary structure was to be adjusted offering up to 35 per cent greater pay and benefits for Emirati teachers, leaders and administrative staff across the emirate of Abu Dhabi public school sector. The reason was to encourage Emiratis to join the education profession.

“The fewer the number of Emiratis who take up education-related careers, the fewer Emirati graduates we have for roles in public school. Such a decline could not only lead to a lack of Emirati role models for pupils, but could also result in pupils losing their national identity and values,” said Dr. Mugheer Al Khaili, director general at the Adec.

However when I reviewed the ADEC release I did not find any statement, which was specific about the percentage of raises.

In the website release it was stated:

“The salary structure for teachers, principals, assistant principals and administrative staff at public schools in Abu Dhabi, has been initiated to raise the quality of education and increase the participation of Emiratis, while promoting a comprehensive vision to develop human resources and the status of teaching in schools. The new salary structure comes in line with requirements of the new organizational structure to ensure a professional work environment based on governance, transparency and excellence, while promoting quality education through employing and attracting qualified teachers with experience. The plan will also help retain administrative performance, create new jobs and update the duties and roles of other basic jobs.”

Is this a misunderstanding of what is included in the revised compensation package? Was it clearly communicated to the teaching professionals before receiving their new paycheck? I cannot find any definitive statements on the public ADEC sites which clearly lays out the old package, and the new one. It is clear that some teachers feel a significant raise in pay was promised in November but did not occur.

So what happens next? Will the public school system see a number of Emirati teachers not return for the new school year? Let’s hope that is not the case. If the school system wishes to increase the number of Emiratis to join the education profession it is important to retain current Emirati teachers and administrators.

Hopefully the issue is being addressed and will be positively resolved for everyone. The UAE needs more, not less male and female Emirati teachers, to help educate the nation’s children. To lose experienced teachers is a waste of talent.


Can the UAE Recruit Enough Teachers to Meet its Educational Needs

The task to recruit K-12 teachers for the UAE public and private school systems seems straightforward.  It’s just a matter of advertising on the web; go on the road to job fairs maybe a few ads in the paper and “They Shall Come.” Here are a few examples of openings across the country:

  • Dubai: Secondary English Teachers, Salary: £18,612 – £30,672
  • Abu Dhabi: Teachers, Salary: Between 12,300 – 19,000 AED per month ($3350-$5100)
  • Al Ain: Elementary Teachers, Salary: £17,496 – £21,876 /  $26,136 – $32,676 per annum
  • Fujairah: English Teacher (Up to KS5), £24,000 per annum
  • Sharjah:  English/Business Studies Teacher), salary of up to 15,500AED a month ($41,00USD/£2800)

In most cases the additional benefits to salary are:

  • Tax Free income
  • 2 or 3 year contract
  • Full Medical Benefits (Single/Married
  • Sponsorship: Single / Married teaching couples
  • Airfare: Provided in full
  • Housing: Provided, with furnishing stipend
  • Bonus: End of contract severance of 1 month’s salary for each year worked

The examples are job openings posted on various sites during this past month.  So why is there a recruiting problem? Teachers should be coming from everywhere on the planet but it appears qualified teachers are not so easy to recruit. The pay seems reasonable however there are huge discrepancies in the pay scales of teachers across different curriculum and private/public schools.

Emirates 24/7 interviewed in 2012, Clive Pierrepont, Director of Communications at Taaleem schools who stated, “The very basic salary in an international school in the country starts at Dh8,000 per month and goes up to Dh35,000.”  An assistant teacher gets up to Dh8,000  whereas teachers can take home anything between Dh10,000 to 20,000 per month. The head of primary/secondary get paid Dh22,000 to Dh25,000 and principals get paid Dh35,000+.

“The average salary of teachers in the UAE is of Dh9,750 with average salaries ranging between Dh3,500 and Dh16,000,” stated Suhail Masri, VP of Sales at Teachers in the Indian/Pakistani curriculum tend to be paid salaries on the lower end of the spectrum.”

“Teaching staff probably earn about 80 per cent of what they would get in their home countries – like the US, UK and Australia but people who come here know what their disposable income is at the end of the day. The benefits of a tax-free environment in the UAE cannot be discounted and if all the benefits like free housing are taken into consideration, the overall package would be comparable with the global average.”

Pierrepont added: “We have one salary scale for people performing the same role. The only difference is in the benefits given to people recruited locally or from overseas. In some organizations there can be several salary scales – so people from different ethnic backgrounds get paid differently but can actually be doing the same job. We as an equal opportunity employer, have never approved of this sort of discrimination.  Also other organizations may pay part of their salaries as ‘allowances’, this greatly affects the employees gratuity at the end of their contract and teachers should avoid schools that employ this sharp practice to cut costs.”

The teaching environment has challenges with pay discrimination due to nationality but I doubt this has significantly reduces the number of teachers who will come to the UAE.  There appears to be another issue.

In a May 2013 story published by the National, Saeed Al Kaabi, the head of the Sharjah Education Zone told teachers and FNC members at a public meeting that private schools were finding it extremely difficult to hire teachers from Arab countries suffering political tensions because of security concerns.

Private school heads agreed, particularly as many teachers are hired from Egypt and Syria. “It is difficult these days,” said one principal, whose school had begun to recruit more aggressively in countries including Jordan and Morocco. “It’s difficult for them to recruit from some countries. We are very cautious when we recruit teachers. Before, it wasn’t a concern.”

A possible solution is to focus on recruiting Emirati’s to the teaching profession. There are men and women who are not unemployed and it makes sense for UAE Nationals to teach their own children.

When challenged by a FNC member, to recruit more UAE Nationals, Al Kaabi said the problem was political and a solution was needed. “If I stopped [schools] from bringing in someone from abroad then I must give an alternative, give a list of Emiratis who can work. Tell them if you will pay 8,000 AED, we as a Government will pay another 8,000 AED.”

A principal, who declined to give his name, said it had also been difficult to hire Emirati teachers. “We would love to recruit local people but unfortunately they don’t come,” he said. “At government schools they get even higher salaries and more benefits than in the private sector.” A recruiter at the discussion on Sunday night told the council she had been offering “appealing salaries” for Emiratis for three years, and had not received a single application. “No one even called to ask about the salary.”  She said the ministry should remove an Emiratisation requirement, but Mr. Al Rahoomi strongly objected, saying there were still many unemployed Emiratis.

However is that a realistic solution?  The National reported in 2012 that HCT graduated six Emirati men who will be taking up teaching positions in Abu Dhabi government schools. It is a momentous occasion for them, and equally so for the education system: they are the first Emirati men to graduate from a teaching college in more than three years. Attracting men to the teaching profession is a global problem, but it is especially so in the UAE, where an Abu Dhabi Emirati teacher’s salary of Dh16,000 to Dh20,000 is not competitive to what their peers are earning and prestige is at stake.”It’s a profession that is looked down upon,” said Mr. Al Mesaabi, 23. “I face this problem every time I meet friends. They ask me why I am still pursuing this and say my career will go nowhere. Not one of them has ever encouraged me to continue.”

In a 2010 report, issued by the KHDA for 2010 showed that 1,787 of the 3,154 teachers working in the state system were Emirati. This broke down to 123 men and 1,664 women. But 2011 figures shows 1,237 Emirati women are teaching in Dubai’s public schools and only 33 male nationals. In Abu Dhabi, 4,319 of the 10,854 teachers employed by ADEC are UAE nationals.

If the expansion of K-12 schools goes as predicted, the providers who need quality teachers must find a solution to recruitment. Perhaps increasing benefits and pay rates will improve retention and bring more westerners to the UAE. Perhaps they can devise a campaign, which teaching will be an honored and well-paid profession for Emirati’s, but at best that will take time.  Personally I am intrigued by  Mr. Al Kaabi suggestion that after decades of service to the country “raising the next generations”, teachers should be offered a path to Emirati citizenship.

However FNC council members said this was the concern of the Naturalization and Residency Department, and not related to education.  This is absolutely true but it’s everyone’s duty that lives in the UAE to seek a solution so the nation has sufficient quality of teachers for children. Hopefully we will see more UAE National join this honorable profession.

Sources: The National 2012 & 2013,  Emirates 24/7 2012, various job posting sites

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