Students arrive for class at Our Own English High School in Oud Metha. The school is owned and managed by GEMS. Image Credit: Megan Hirons Mahon/Gulf News

Dubai: The fuss over an increase in school fees made by GEMS in order to increase their teachers' salaries has turned into a farce, their teachers have complained, after the management announced paltry salary increases.

Discontented teachers from GEMS schools like Our Own English High School (OOEHS) in Sharjah and Dubai say the Dh100 to Dh250 increments they've received amount to mocking their hopes of a better pay structure.

Six GEMS schools announced a 10 to 15 per cent increase in the tuition fee last month after they received permission from the Ministry of Education despite the Knowledge and Human Development Authority's (KHDA) freeze on school fees in Dubai this year.

"The school has hiked its fees by Dh80 - Dh100 per month. The total strength of our school is around 7,600. The school would thus rake in a minimum of Dh650,000 every month. Out of around 350 teachers, more than 300 would get a ‘hike' of Dh200 and around 25 would get Dh650. That brings the expenses of teachers' salaries increasing by a maximum of Dh80,000 per month. Parents were told that the increase in fees is in order to pay the teachers," said a teacher from Our Own English High School, Sharjah who requested not to be named.

"I do not understand how the management expects us to accept this increment to our already meagre salary of Dh2,650 to Dh2,900 per month. We all had high hopes that the school will offer us a substantial increase after they fought it out with the authorities to get approval for fee increase," said another teacher from Our Own English High School, Dubai.

A primary school teacher with around five years of experience, she has received a Dh200 increment. Teachers in grades above grade 10 are offered an increment of Dh650.

No complaints

Responding to complaints raised by teachers, Richard Forbes, Director of Marketing and Communication at GEMS Education, said most teachers are happy with the increments.

"The facts are that the average teacher's salary at OOEHS has increased by 28 per cent over the past three years. In 2008, teachers received a 20 per cent increase in salary despite there being no fee increase to cover this expense. Not one of the 310 teachers at OOEHS has approached the principal over the past two weeks to complain about the salary increase. The principal of the school says that the majority of teachers were very happy with the salary increase," he said.

In his ardent pleas to the authorities for the restructuring of fees, GEMS Chairman Sunny Varkey had said that old Asian schools like OOEHS that charge an average of Dh5,000 annually as fees are losing their teachers to new schools that charge an average of Dh15,000 as fees.

Pointing out a 30 per cent disparity in the allowed fee increases and operational costs in the last six years, he said the schools are driven to breaking point if more funds are not permitted.

"Our current fees do not now accurately reflect the cost of providing the education your children deserve and will need to rise this year. This (fee increase) will help us retain our best teachers because we will be in a stronger position to increase their salaries," GEMS stated in the circular issued to parents a few weeks ago explaining the need to raise fees.

A group of teachers from OOEHS, Sharjah wrote to Gulf News stating that "the sole purpose of increasing school fees as mentioned by the GEMS to the parents was to motivate the class teachers by offering decent revision to the wages, which would have a positive impact on the educational standards". However this little increase after three years is certainly unacceptable and disappointing."

Asian schools teachers are among the lowest paid in the market with the minimum salary fixed at Dh2,500 by the Ministry of Education. Many parents who spoke to Gulf News said teachers are overburdened and disgruntled and it is adversely affecting the quality of teaching in schools.

Does a low salary lead to poorly motivated teachers? How does this affect the quality of our children's education?