Several private schools have just increased their tuition fees, blaming this on a rising cost of living, including spiralling rents. At the same time, the teachers continue to be poorly paid, many struggling to just make ends meet. The result: An increasingly commercialised education system that satisfies neither the student, parent nor the teacher. What does the Ministry of Education think about this?
P.G., an Asian schoolteacher, earns Dh2,200. Seven years ago she received Dh1,400 a month. Her basic salary was raised after the Ministry of Education stipulated a minimum of Dh2,000 for teachers.
"In this last seven years I had received a salary raise only twice - Dh125 and Dh65. But the basic remained the same," she said.P.G. said the management of the school has stopped providing an air ticket every two years.
"When we enquired about the matter the school management told us that we would be able to meet our travel expenses as the ministry has brought up the minimum wage to Dh2,000." She said the school where she teaches has announced an increase of 15 per cent in tuition fees.
"The whole talk given by the school management on improving teacher salaries is a cover-up to hike the fees. Our salaries remain the same. Private schools are today running a profit-making business," she said.
Similar is the case of A.F., an Arab teacher who earns Dh2,300. She says that in the last ten years she received a total of Dh300 in salary raises. "Female teachers are earning less than their male counterparts. I am not sure why. My husband is also earning a middle income salary.
"I have four children and with the ongoing fee increase it has become imperative for teachers in my situation to take private tuitions and earn additional income. The ministry should be more involved in determining the salaries of teachers in private schools," she said.
R.J., who works as an administrator in an Arab school, said her salary is Dh2,000. "The cost of living is skyrocketing but the salary remains the same.
It does not reflect inflation. I am married. We pay Dh2,500 monthly for a flat in Sharjah. We have a lot of debts. How are we going to manage when the rents increase, the fee increases and the even the cost of basic things like milk and tea has gone up while the salaries are not improving? The ministry should issue a new level for minimum wages of teachers," she said.
A senior official from the Private Education Zone in Dubai said that many schools are taking advantage of the Dh2,000 minimum wage that has been stipulated by the Ministry of Education despite their ability to provide a much better pay package for their teachers.
According to a senior official from the Ministry of Education about 22 schools have applied for fee increases. The range of increases requested by the schools is 15 to 20 per cent. As per federal law tuition fees can be raised only every three years.
Juma Al Salami, Undersecretary in the Ministry of Education, said the number of schools that increase their fees for the next academic year will probably go up to 40 nationwide.
"But schools can apply for an earlier increase if they have provided new services in the school," said Mona Lootah, head of the private education zone.
But she believes that the fee hike should go hand in hand with an increase in teacher salaries. "The minimum wage for teachers should be raised to Dh5,000," she said.
According to her, schools should look at the increase in teacher salaries as an investment rather than a cost.
"By paying better salaries to teachers the schools will improve the quality of teaching and the services provided. But the problem we face is that complaints about salaries come forward only when the teacher decides to resign or is fired. We always ask the teacher to inform us from the beginning so we can intervene and change their situation," said Mona.
Salamah Al Bati and Noaima Al Hashemi, administrators in the zone, said the 20 per cent fee increase imposed by some schools is not reflected in teacher salaries.
School principals took a different stand, saying that they are in a Catch 22 situation. On one hand they have to maintain the quality of education while on the other they are subjected to rising rents and increased costs of living.
Mohammad Keenan, principal of the Oxford School, said: "We don't want to overburden the parents, but at the same time the running costs are getting higher.
"In the school's 18 years we have raised our fees five times. We will have a fee increase of 5 per cent for the next academic year," he said.
Keenan called the fee hike justifiable if it is put in the context of inflation. "Of course we need to make a profit, but it should not be the ultimate objective," he said.
A few principals feel that schools should be allowed to raise fees annually instead of every three years. This would help the education provider as well as the customer to budget properly.
Hugh McPherson, chief operating officer of GEMS Schools, said there are numerous factors that should be borne in mind when talking about fee increases and teacher salaries.
The group manages 22 international and Asian schools across the UAE and has asked for a 20 per cent fee increase for some schools.
"We have to be conscious of the market, but having said that there are certain dynamics that are global in this context. Although it seems strange to talk about it in that way, there is a world shortage of teachers, for example. What we are seeing is a common characteristic that is having an impact in many locations in that respect and the UAE is only one of them.
"Today you have fewer people going to universities to train to be teachers. That is one impact. The second impact is that as a result of that and the growing awareness of the need to improve education continuously you have teacher salaries being reviewed by government and private providers with a trend upwards. Obviously that is intended to attract people to this profession at the first entry point when they come out of university and at schools when they are choosing their careers. So we want to make teaching a popular profession again."
McPherson said there is also a reluctance by teachers who are state employees to give up the excellent pension packages and security tenure provided in their respective countries and look for employment overseas.
"This stream of expatriates is perhaps not as fertile as it used to be in terms of numbers and from our perspective we have to be conscious of that, if for example we are going to India to recruit staff for our Asian schools.
"We have to be competitive. We have to be able to offer them decent standards of living and career development opportunities that will not encourage them to leave. In addition you have the largest percentage of teachers who are state employees. They enjoy pensions and security tenure. The UK, US and India are the same in that respect. Those are the people who are encouraged to come out of their respective countries and work."
He said that the cost increase in Dubai is a challenge. "As you have seen we have rent increases in triple digits. That will have an impact. This is challenging as we have to come up with a sustainable formula to maintain the quality of education and for that what we are trying to do is develop partnerships, putting a lot of thought and engaging lots of people on how we can provide education for, say, the next ten years," he said.
The chairman of the Gulf Model High School, advocate A. Najeeth, also feels that fee hikes should be annual.
"The hike should be strictly regulated by the ministry and should be of a small per cent. I am running an Asian school and as per my information 40 schools are in dire financial need," he said.
The school recently granted a 10 per cent increase in teacher salaries. "It might seek a nominal fee increase in the next academic year," he said.
Principal Nobogh Naseer of the Al Mawakeb School admitted that teacher salaries in the Arab world are at an all-time low.
"In my school nobody complains about their wages. But we need to improve the teachers' situation. One of the main reasons for the fee increase is to increase the salaries of our teachers. The rent and inflation make it iimpossible for teachers to live comfortably," he said.
What an official says: Juma Al Salami, Undersecretary in the Ministry of Education, said: "I personally don't agree with the Dh2,000 minimum wage. It undermines the teaching profession in the UAE. In my opinion it is ridiculous. You cannot pay a teacher as little as Dh2,000 and expect them to be good teachers. After all, teachers are not superhuman or creatures from Mars.
"Several times there has been a suggestion to have an ideal type of contract in which the rights of the teachers as well as the school managements are taken into consideration. The minimum wage should be set according to the GDP and inflation in living costs."
The undersecretary said that there are serious intentions of bringing about a change in the article of the by-law of minimum wages.
"It is considered an obstacle to the Emiratisation of some jobs in private schools. The minister is giving serious attention to this subject. Greater emphasis is given to the well-being of teachers."
Monthly salaries in government schools - Over 520,000 teachers across the UAE.
UAE national average
Not married Dh9,000
(extra benefits Dh1,300-Dh1,600)
Married Dh7,000 to Dh16,000.
Source: The Ministry of Education
Private school teachers' monthly salary range
British Curriculum Dh9,000 - Dh25,000
American Curriculum Dh7,000 - Dh20,000
Asian Curriculum Dh1,700 - Dh5,000
Ministry Curriculum Dh2,000 - Dh6,000
Source: The Ministry of Education
Arabic schools Dh2,875 - Dh26,000
International schools Dh7,800 - Dh33,000
Asian schools Dh2,200 - Dh5,520
Source: Private schools