The UAE needs more Emirati school teachers

Maha Salajh is among the minority of UAE teachers who are Emirati. (Fatima Al Marzooqi/ The National)
Maha Salajh is among the minority of UAE teachers who are Emirati. (Fatima Al Marzooqi/ The National)

One way to measure the success of the UAE over its 43 years of existence is to look at the number of Emiratis now working in key positions across the spectrum of industry and commerce. Yet there is one essential area where Emiratis are desperately under-­represented – and that is in the teaching profession.

The standard of education in the UAE has risen considerably in recent years. However, it is time to take it to another level by ensuring that wherever possible Emirati students are taught by Emirati teachers. Teaching is a noble profession and one that is integral to the future of the country, yet it carries little appeal as a career choice. The result is that Emirati children are being taught, almost exclusively, by expatriates rather than people who share their culture and traditions. The shortage is particularly acute when it comes to men, depriving boys of important role models. As The National reports today, many high school graduates are unable to speak and write in Arabic – a critical situation that Emirati teachers could address.

The issue is expected to be raised today when FNC members present the findings of a months-long study to the new education minister Hussain Al Hammadi. There can, of course, be no quick fix, but it’s important first to address the reasons why Emiratis don’t want to become teachers. Certainly pay and conditions are an issue, because teaching is not as financially attractive as many public-sector jobs. While the situation has improved, there is room for performance bonuses and other incentives. But it can’t just be seen as a matter of money. The status of the position must be underscored. Teachers should be publicly promoted as champions of learning, culture and tradition, and citizens to be admired and emulated.

While the goal should be to train teachers and retain them for their working life, it might also be possible to attract qualified people for shorter tenures. One possible solution is a “Teach for the UAE” campaign similar to a US scheme where graduates spend a few years teaching as a way of “giving back” for their own education. At the other end of the career cycle, retirees from other professions could be encouraged to pass on their knowledge.

Action must be taken now to ensure that future generations are well-prepared to meet the challenges of taking our country forward.

Published: December 8, 2014 04:00 AM

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