DUBAI // Government schools in Dubai and the Northern Emirates will be understaffed by about 800 teachers at the start of the next academic year.
The shortage will be most pronounced in mathematics, science and physical education, and the Ministry of Education warned that if it could not plug the gap schools could be asked to combine some classes, which would increase class sizes.
Some of the shortfall has been caused by the creation of new classes, and some by resignations and retirements.
"There are also temporary unexpected departures - extended leave or maternity leave," said Ali Mihad Al Suwaidi, assistant undersecretary at the ministry.
The ministry is working with teacher training colleges to ease the problem. It wants to recruit between 200 and 300 Emirati teachers this year, as in previous years, but even if it does so, it is likely to be 800 teachers short.
"When we cannot find teachers we have to ask schools to club classes," Mr Al Suwaidi said.
He said recruitment shortages were a long standing problem, caused largely by existing teachers leaving for more lucrative opportunities elsewhere in government and problems in attracting Emirati men to the profession. However, he described the shortfall of 800 as "normal".
"The shortage is always there," he said. "On average we expect a shortage of between 600 and 800 teachers."
Of the 9,000 Emirati teachers in government schools, only 600 are men, and more than 70 per cent of Emiratis recruited to teaching each year are woman. Female teachers also tend to stay in the profession longer.
The problem in hiring men, Mr Al Suwaidi said, is exacerbated by relatively low wages. Government school teachers in Dubai and the Northern Emirates are paid about Dh16,000 a month.
"The reason they leave is because they receive a higher income in other government organisations," Mr Al Suwaidi said. "And recently we have noticed that they are taking up jobs in courts where they get involved in report-making and research."
A principal in Ras Al Khaimah said his school needed teachers of IT, sociology and physics for the next academic year. "Two have resigned and one is above 60 years of age. I will only find out if they have been replaced in September," he said.
Moza Obaid Al Mazruei, an English teacher at Al Watan School in Umm Al Quwain, said a shortage of teachers meant a greater workload for existing staff - which in turn could lead to further staff losses.
"Teachers cannot do everything - develop teaching activities, write plans, fill up documents," she said. "And that is along with teaching five classes every day, some weeks."
She said there were instances at her school when teachers quit without notice. "And then we have to take on their classes. The education zone tries to find substitutes but are not always successful."
She said in the lower grades that require activity-based lessons, assistant teachers were necessary to share the work. "A lot of teachers leave because there is so much stress and they cannot manage both their family and all the school work."
Michael O'Brien, associate academic dean of education at the Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT), from where about 800 teachers have graduated in the past 10 years, said many were deterred by the ministry's lengthy recruitment process.
"It can take our graduates six months or longer to get a response from the ministry," he said. "Because our graduates have very high English reading and writing capabilities, and are committed and enthusiastic, it makes them employable in other fields."
He said that while the college's graduates had a very high employment rate in schools, there were still many who chose to drop out of teaching. Each year, a third of the college's graduates decide not go into education and "a big reason is because they get sick of waiting". He said about 200 of the college's graduates were now working in other sectors.
In the capital, the federal institutions - United Arab Emirates University, Zayed University and HCT - have teamed up with Abu Dhabi Education Council to reduce the waiting time for new graduates to be offered a job.
Mr O'Brien said the student employment process would be streamlined this year by taking place before graduation.
He said a handful of students from campuses in the Northern Emirates would be applying for teaching positions in Abu Dhabi instead.
"They are interviewed on campus and that will hopefully ensure they are in the schools on day one."
He said a similar process was followed by the ministry in the past but no longer existed.
"We would now like to initiate this with the ministry as well."