UAE head teachers speak of struggle to recruit talent amid global teacher shortage

In the UK, one in three teachers quits the profession within five years of qualifying

Jeff Evans, headteacher at Global English School – Al Ain, says recruitment is becoming easier as Covid travel restrictions are lifted. Photo: Jeff Evans
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Schools in the UAE are having to deal with a worldwide shortage of well-qualified teachers, as headteachers struggle to recruit talent.

When schools advertise for a teaching position, they get hundreds of applications – but UAE principals say only a handful are qualified or match the criteria.

The world was already going through a shortage of teachers before the pandemic, which exacerbated the situation.

Many teachers around the world have been quitting the profession due to burnout, work pressure, low wages and extra duties because of unfilled vacancies.

According to Unesco figures from 2016, nearly 69 million new teachers were needed to provide quality universal primary and secondary education by 2030.

Deepika Thapar Singh, the headteacher at Credence High School in Dubai, said: “There is a shortage of good teachers across the world and that same shortage is what we feel here.

“It is not a teacher shortage, but when you’re looking for well-qualified teachers, there’s a shortage. When I advertise in the newspaper and on LinkedIn, I get so many resumes, but to get the best is a challenge.

“I will sometimes go over 400 to 500 resumes and then manage to shortlist maybe only five teachers and then bring them down to one or two.”

UAE teachers talk of challenges during the pandemic

Ms Singh said that because qualified teachers are few in number, they are sought after.

She said good salaries, working culture, and support at work helped attract talent.

“It is a challenge to find a good mathematics teacher. The reason is that we are not looking at the traditional way of teaching mathematics. The world has changed and teaching methodologies have to change. The teachers’ skills seem to be outdated and they need to update these,” Ms Singh said.

Higher salaries for teachers with local experience

Shiny Davison, director of learning at Gulf Model School in Dubai, said the school has seen a big rise in enrolment this year. Close to 1,000 new pupils have joined since January, which has led to a requirement for 42 new teachers.

Ms Davison said the school had looked to hire teachers who had completed their bachelor’s in education and had relevant UAE experience but had to recruit newcomers.

She said that during the pandemic, many teachers had lost their jobs or moved out of the country

“Now there is a shortage of teachers in the country with UAE experience and a bachelor’s [degree] in education. The only option is to recruit newcomers,” said Ms Davison.

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - Sorcha Coyle an Irish teacher who has saved enough in her years in the Gulf to buy two properties outright in Ireland and Spain.  Leslie Pableo for The National

The school has recruited 42 new teachers, many of whom are new to the system.

To get teachers with experience, Ms Davison said, they were willing to offer slightly higher salaries.

“Of the 42 new teachers I recruited, there were just six or seven for whom I had to increase the salary a little because we valued their experience,” she said.

“There is a big deficit of good mathematics teachers. You can find teachers to teach English and social studies, but when you take 100 resumes you rarely find a CV for a mathematics teacher,” she said.

Teachers drawn to schools that will treat them well

This week, a survey of 1,788 teachers in the UK by the National Education Union found that nearly half said they would leave the profession by 2027, while one in five said they would quit within the next two years.

Sorcha Coyle, a career coach and founder of Empowering Expat Teachers, a community for those looking to work abroad, said: “If you look at the UK, 30 per cent of teachers leave the profession within five years and the majority of teachers come [to the UAE] from the UK.

“The situation is similar in the US. Naturally, it’s going to have an impact as there’s no surplus of teachers to come abroad. So that's definitely going to have a huge impact.”

She said teachers chose schools that offered better salaries and packages and where they were treated better.

Jeff Evans, the headteacher at Global English School – Al Ain, said hiring in Al Ain was a further challenge as many teachers preferred to live in Abu Dhabi or Dubai.

“Certainly, in the last two years, there has been less overseas recruitment due to travel restrictions and quarantine. There’s been more focus on local recruitment … teachers moving within the UAE or within the Gulf region. So that’s definitely had an impact on the supply and demand,” said Mr Evans.

He said recruiting mid-year was very difficult and schools started hiring as early as December or January for the next academic year.

“In terms of subject shortages, it’s always been science and maths. These are the difficult areas to find high-calibre candidates,” he said.

“So that’s become more of a challenge, definitely in the last two years, but I think this year, things are starting to open up a little bit. As the restrictions and the travel limitations are lifted, it will become easier.”

Updated: April 17, 2022, 3:45 PM
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