DUBAI: Education, it is said, is an investment in the future. This is why the Gulf Arab States have invested heavily in high-quality schools, creating the infrastructure necessary for students to reach their full potential and build careers that are personally satisfying and beneficial to society at large.
However, the rapid proliferation of these schools has led to fierce competition for the best teachers, especially those with expertise in such important subjects as physics, chemistry and mathematics, amid a looming international crisis. .
About 69 million new teachers will be needed to provide universal quality education worldwide by 2030, according to UNESCO figures. But with fewer qualified teachers, particularly in the UK, Ireland and the US, the occupation faces a looming shortage internationally.
To attract and retain good teachers, many Gulf schools offer generous salaries, which has made admission fees more expensive. The concern of many experts is that low-income households will be regularly deprived of a quality education.
According to Jo Vigneron, Founding Director of the Pearson Online Academy, the teacher shortage is a global phenomenon that is not unique to the GCC region.
Over the past two decades, more has been expected of teachers in Western schools and little of that increased workload is reflected in their salaries, she said, leading many to seek better-paying opportunities abroad. foreign.
“Young teachers in the UK are frequently working second jobs as they struggle to pay living expenses, student loans and other expenses,” Vigneron told Arab News.
“As a result, an increasing number of British and American teachers have sought work overseas where pay and conditions are more attractive. One would think, then, that there would be plenty of supply. In fact, there has been a simultaneous boom in the international UK education market.
Natasha Ridge, executive director of the Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al-Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research in Ras Al-Khaimah in the United Arab Emirates, believes schools need to look at incentives other than pay to attract top talent.
“Beyond salary increases, which will obviously increase tuition, schools could provide more professional development opportunities for teachers, including attending lectures and online classes,” Ridge told Arab. News.
“Promotion opportunities are also important so that teachers feel like their careers are progressing and not being blocked when they come abroad.”
Flexible leave during school time could also make roles more attractive, Ridge said, as could rewarding teachers who stay for five or 10 years with time off so they can continue their professional development in their home country. origin.
“Teachers are underpaid for the important work they do and there needs to be financial incentives for top performing teachers to come and stay,” she said.
“The problem in the Gulf is also that the majority of schools are run for profit, so investors try to make maximum money with minimum investment. This is a huge problem for the region.
“Teacher salaries are the biggest expense in a school’s operating budget, so that’s where they try to save money, hiring younger teachers, letting older teachers go. older and more expensive, having basic health insurance and not paying for professional development.”
Governments in the region could consider encouraging more schools to become non-profit organizations with minimum salaries and class sizes. “But it’s onerous and expensive for governments, so they’ll have to weigh the costs and the benefits,” Ridge said.
However, unless the reform is implemented quickly, there is a danger that a two-tier education system could emerge in which low-income families are completely deprived of access to quality education.
In general, “what that means for society is a growing wealth gap, and then you see more social problems, crime, violence, health problems, unemployment and even social unrest,” he said. said Ridge.
“It is in the interest of every country to have a well-educated population for social cohesion and for economic growth.”
For Judith Finnemore, a UAE-based education consultant and academic director at Svarna Training Institute in Dubai, the question is not just how to attract good teachers and boost retention, but also how to raise standards. principles of modern education.
“The quality that the best teachers bring to education should be taken into account,” Finnemore told Arab News. “Over the next five years, the whole nature of the skills required for the workforce in the MENA region will change.”
According to a study by the World Economic Forum, how children in GCC countries are educated today will determine the livelihoods of more than 300 million people in the coming decades.
Home to one of the youngest populations in the world, it is imperative that the region makes adequate investments in education that has value in the labor market and prepares citizens for the world of tomorrow, according to research.
For Finnemore, very few teachers have the knowledge and skills that will be needed in all areas of business and industry – from data analysis, machine learning and statistics to computer programming. using Java and Python languages, computer networks and parallel and distributed computing.
“It’s a serious problem,” Finnemore said. “We don’t need teachers with traditional mindsets. We need those who see technology as a force capable of radically transforming the way they teach individuals and groups and the ability it has to educate everywhere, not just in “their” classroom.
If the Gulf States are to be at the forefront of what the WEF has dubbed the Fourth Industrial Revolution, students in the region will need proper training in the skills and relevant areas of the future workforce. ‘work.
“My own observations tell me there is a disconnect between who is teaching in schools and the new demands that GCC economies will need in five or 10 years,” Finnemore said. “So in short, he doesn’t need just any teacher. He needs many good teachers.
Investment in professional development will prove essential in preparing teachers for the needs of the modern classroom.
“No teacher comes straight out of college with all the right skills,” Finnemore said. “They may have a lot of enthusiasm, but rarely the ability to pull it all together to achieve the highest levels of any teaching quality framework. It takes time and now their skills need to be constantly updated. Don’t train them or let them fester for too long, which effectively makes them unskilled.
Offering teachers the incentive to retrain on short sabbaticals is one possible solution. “This would continue throughout their careers and would be funded by a guaranteed salary paid jointly by the government and the school,” Finnemore said.
Other options include raising the retirement age for teachers above 60 and emptying teachers’ training schools and universities so they can teach in schools.
Another potentially strong incentive would be the creation of a fair and equitable salary scale for teachers, independent of nationality and eliminating individual negotiation between schools and employees.
“Western countries have salary scales, just like the public sector in most MENA countries,” Finnemore said. “If MENA wants good teachers, schools must pay teachers fairly and they will come.”
If schools in the Gulf region strike the right balance, attracting the most qualified teachers to train the workforce of tomorrow without disadvantaging the poorest students, the economic and societal dividends could be enormous.
“The real asset of any advanced nation is its people, especially educated people,” Vigneron told Arab News. “The progress of countries and nations can only be measured by the level and extent of their education.
“A nation built on integrity as well as talented and creative individuals is a nation that will thrive. It will include and embrace its employees, retain its talents which in turn will nurture future talent, facilitating a culture in which all are able to contribute and thrive.