Coronavirus: nursery teachers tell of struggle to make ends meet

Nurseries in UAE were closed at start of March to help contain outbreak

Gym room with children in Daycare center, Pre-school or Kindergarten, Cologne, NRW, Germany. Getty Images

Nursery teachers in the UAE say they are struggling to make ends meet because of closures due to the coronavirus.

Staff said they had been made redundant or were just not paid after classrooms were shut on March 1.

Many toddlers attending nurseries or kindergartens are too young to benefit from online learning, meaning nurseries had no need for teachers.

Some staff have not been paid for months and there remains uncertainty over when work can begin again.

“How will I survive to stay here if I don’t have money and work?” said a classroom assistant at Raffles Nursery in Dubai, whose contract has not been renewed.

How will I survive to stay here if I don't have money and work?

“We need to pay rent and we need food to eat. I can't go back to my country because of my financial problems.

“I have done my best to work hard for so many years but in this situation they [the nursery] don’t care about what will happen. They have abandoned us.”

Another teaching assistant, who works at a nursery in Khalifa City in Abu Dhabi, said she had not received her salary since February.

She said the nursery initially tried to start online classes for children but gave up after judging the attempt unsuccessful.

She has since applied for a public fund offered by Abu Dhabi authorities to help parents struggling to pay their children’s school fees.

"I have lived in Abu Dhabi for two decades but now I am really struggling," she told The National.

“My salary is Dh3,500 A month. My husband and I share expenses and his salary is only Dh4,000.

“The company cannot pay my salary as they do not have the money and I have to fund my daughter’s school fees.

“I don’t have a salary and I don’t know what I will do. I'm so worried I can’t even sleep.

“We are really affected. In this situation we cannot do anything as are stuck in the house.”

Yasmin Ahmed, an Egyptian teacher in Abu Dhabi who has worked in nursery education for more than a decade, said she was aware many staff were under pressure.

Ms Ahmed said some nurseries in the UAE were close to going under even before the pandemic began, partly because of a drop in attendance figures.

“Teachers' and assistants' salaries depend on the fees parents pay,” she said.

“When parents do not pay, how will the owners of nurseries pay salaries?

“Bigger chains should have the funds to pay minimum salaries but at smaller nurseries, mutual co-operation is needed between the owner and parents.”

Savvy Kisani, founder of British Berries, Little Nest and Little Kingdom nurseries in Dubai, said she had been doing her best to support staff since the closures were imposed.

Ms Kisani said monthly grocery packages were being delivered to 22 teaching assistants employed at her nurseries and that she had invited eight members of staff to live with her.

“Nurseries were the first businesses to close and we have no clue when we will get permission to open,” she said.

Savvy Kisani, founder of British Berries Nursery, Little Nest Nursery and Little Kingdom nursery in Dubai. Picture Courtesy: Ms Kisani

“Nurseries are suffering the most. We are clueless about when we will open and how we will keep the teachers.

"We are making sure our assistants get food and we invited them to stay with us so they get shelter.”

Ms Kisani said that when nurseries did open they would begin to pay salaries in increments.

“The government and authorities need to support us," she said. “Even when nurseries reopen parents will be wary of sending their children.

“It’s like starting a nursery again. We don’t know how the business will run.”

Judetha Caste, a teaching assistant at Little Nest nursery, said she had been staying with Ms Kisani for three months.

“We are happy our bosses are helping us so much," Ms Caste said. “They have given us a place to stay and we have everything we need.

“We are facing a pandemic and this has helped us."

A representative at Innoventures Education said the education sector, especially nurseries have been severely impacted by the pandemic, while operating costs continue to exist.

“We have had to make the hard decision of rationalising some team members across certain job functions, especially where remote working is not viable,” said an official at the group.

“In some cases, the employment contracts of staff whose visas have expired were not renewed as almost all parents have stopped nursery services and therefore they are not paying any fees.

“This sets off an unfortunate chain of events, where everyone gets impacted. However, all such nursery assistants have been paid their complete salary, gratuity and have been offered a return ticket to their country as well."

“We ensure stipends are being paid to every furloughed nursery classroom assistant, at a time when finding alternative employment would be challenging. These stipends constitute 35 per cent to 65 per cent of their salaries."

Last week, teachers told The National that they had been forced to resign or pressured to accept lower salaries because of the pandemic.