Gems Education teachers offered shares to stay on

Gems Education on Monday announced the 'Share our Future' plan, in which teachers who completed two years of service by September last year would be eligible to own 'notional' shares in the Dh100-million company.

Teachers who complete two years of service at Gems Education are eligible for the ‘notional’ shares. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
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DUBAI // A major private school operator is offering shares to its 10,000 teachers across the region, in a bid to keep them for the long term.

Gems Education on Monday announced the “Share our Future” plan, in which teachers who completed two years of service by September last year would be eligible to own “notional” shares worth Dh100 million in the company.

A Gems spokesperson said that “notional” shares are private shares in the company.

“Teachers and staff across the Gems Education network in the Middle East can now take genuine owner’s pride in the institution,” said Sunny Varkey, chairman of Gems Global, a portfolio company of Gems Education.

“We hope their sense of ownership will invoke an even greater commitment to excellent student outcomes within the classroom and beyond. We are also optimistic this initiative will provide added incentive to attract and continue to retain the best of talent from around the world.”

Growing competition within private schools has spawned a buyers’ market for teachers looking for better employment opportunities.

But a teacher employed with Gems and education experts were sceptical about the scheme.

One Gems Education teacher, who has worked for the company at an International Baccalaureate school in Abu Dhabi since 2012, said he was a little “sceptical” about the proposed scheme.

“To be honest, something like improving our medical plan or giving us a better quality medical [coverage] would be something personally that I’d look for before ‘notional’ shares, which, to be honest, don’t really mean anything at this point,” said the teacher.

“Something a little bit more substantial, like an improved medical [plan] and maybe even a higher flight allowance [is needed]. They seem to have tightened up a lot of that stuff recently, flight allowance, housing allowance, medical allowance.

“That kind of stuff is very much a part of our lives so I prefer to see that improve than to be given ‘notional’ shares that may or may not benefit me.”

Dr Natasha Ridge, executive director at Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research, said it was good to encourage employee ownership of a company but there was no evidence to suggest that it would result in better quality education.

“It would be interesting to study and evaluate this scheme to see if it does make an impact on teacher performance and student achievement,” said Dr Ridge.

“While I think it’s a very innovative idea and something that has good potential, I think what teachers really want at the end of the day is to be paid a decent salary, to have access to professional development and to be treated as professionals, and those things never change.”

Diane Jacoutot, managing director of UK school recruitment company Edvectus, said: “I’ve never heard of a school doing anything like this.

“It goes to show just how worried they must be about retaining good teachers in the wake of many, many more opportunities for teachers around the world, versus the number of teachers available.”

Mrs Jacoutot said the number of new international schools had been growing at a pace of about 10 per cent a year for the past two decades, while the number of graduating teachers had remained flat. “The market has got much more competitive,” said Mrs Jacoutot.

Eoin Bolger, business development manager for UAE teacher recruiting firm Teach and Explore, said the increased number of private schools in the country had made it a “buyers market for teachers” who usually only end up staying between two or three years at one school.

“They can shop around and find the school that is going to give them the package that they want and also help them progress their career a little further.”

Common retention tactics include offering free or heavily subsidised education for the staff’s children or funding graduate level education or training for teachers, said David Allison, chief executive of SSAT Education, a UAE education consultancy.

“Not all schools do that, but a lot of them do,” Mr Allison said. “It’s usually around the theme of we will further your skills, we will further your professional qualifications if you stay with us longer. It’s those sorts of things that I’ve generally seen.”

Mr Allison said a few schools also offered sabbaticals to staff who wanted to take a year off to study full-time or work in another school owned by the company.