Dubai teachers face bleak pay prospects despite fee hike

Does your pay reflect the amount of work you put in? Rarely, will you find an answer in the affirmative. While most people might be unjustified for their grouse, for reasons bordering on greed, there still exists a genuine case in the UAE, where a section aren’t remunerated for the effort they put in.

And, this is the school teaching staff.

Despite education regulatory authority Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA)’s recent verdict, allowing Dubai schools to increase fees based on the DSIB grading, there’s no breakthrough in terms of revising or unifying the salary scale in the teaching department.

“It’s extremely demotivating when we aren’t compensated for our hard work or the number of hours we put in,” asserts a teacher, requesting anonymity.

She elaborates how she often ends up working over 13 hours a day, with project work eating into her time at home. The hard work, many agree, is not proportional to the salary offered. And, the reason why many still pursue this profession is purely because  of passion. “I get paid Dh3,500, which isn’t even enough to pay my rent. But, I continue teaching because I find my work hugely gratifying,” reveals a Dubai nursery teacher.

In fact, part of the reason why many are still able to continue in this line of work is because they are on dependant visa and their husbands bring home a huge pay cheque. “I wouldn’t have been able to take up teaching, if my husband was not doing well. With the cost of living on the rise, it didn’t make economic sense to take up teaching when the pay is pittance,” states Sheetal.

This issue has been highlighted many times in the past, but hasn’t seen any breakthrough yet. What stands out in one’s memory is a local reportage of May last year, about how a group of teachers in a local school lodged a complaint against the institution over low wages, revealing that they were paid a measly Dh2,000 irrespective of their experience.

The wages, however, vary extensively over various curricula, with Asian schools, mainly Indian and Pakistani guilty of underpaying their teachers.

A British teacher confirms that teaching jobs fetches between Dh8,000 and Dh14,000, with additional perks like housing and travel allowance, medical insurance and annual travel ticket to home country.

"Indian school teachers don’t get any benefits. There’s no other allowance,” reveals an Indian teacher, on condition of anonymity. In fact, this allegation further strengthens the theory that because of the low pay, schools end up hiring unqualified teachers.

“My son’s teacher blatantly lifts matter from the internet and passes it off as her work. It’s when I cross-checked with the studying material that I spotted the plagiarism. Some of the words are too tough for young kids, who are left to mug up whatever is given to them without actually understanding its meaning,” reports a concerned Indian parent. There's also accusation that since the low pay forces many Asian schools to employ inexperienced home-makers, who are looking to make quick pocket money.

Many parents are unanimous about the need to reward the teachers with good pay. “Teaching is a thankless job, and yet these people are working day in and day out, to ensure our children are well-groomed. Surely, paying them right is the basic thing the schools can do,” asserts S Kumar, parent of two school-going children.

There’s however conflict among the torchbearers in many institutions. “I have seen that there is a range, and I think it’s time for a review. If it’s streamlined then it can motivate them to work better. And rewarding long-standing service is a motivational force,” Emma Leigh-Bennett, Head of Secondary at GEMS Wellington International School. But some school-heads insist that involving the government could only complicate the process. “It’d be difficult to accommodate  the wide range of curriculum across this country. If teachers aren’t happy they should negotiate with their schools,” maintains Robin Appleby, Superintendent Dubai American Academy.

“They need to understand that with the tuition fee increase being regulated, it does limit what the school managements can do. So, adding another level of regulation and getting the government involved might just make the situation all the more complicated,” she adds.

The KHDA, in fact, insists that the issue lies with the employment contracts. “We are working with the ministry of labour on the contractual  greements as we’ve seen a huge staff turnover in this sector. It ranges between 10 to 30 per cent.

And, it happens in the best schools even. They can’t leave the job half way in an academic year. So, I want to focus more on the teachers’ contracts,” upholds Dr Abdulla Al Karam, Chairman of the Board of Directors and Director General at KHDA.

It’s a Catch22 situation, with the low-pay triggering this massive staff  turn-over that the KHDA attempting to plug.

“Compensation will help clear the contract. The contract looks at both parties – the school owners and the teachers, each has certain responsibilities. Teachers can’t be allowed to move during mid-year. So, compensation is one element of it, training is another. That’s what I’m interested in.”

Karam concedes that there is a “strong link between the quality of the teacher and the quality of the school. And we are definitely looking at it”.

Hopefully, there’s a ray of light at the end of this tunnel.

(Image courtesy Shutterstock)


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