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Dubai: Work pressure is taking a heavy toll on school teachers with many ending up in hospitals for stress-related diseases while trying to meet unrealistic deadlines ahead of the summer vacation.

Unable to cope with the rigours of their excessively demanding job, scores have resigned and many more are expected to follow in the coming days, XPRESS can reveal.

Testimonies gathered during interviews conducted with nearly two dozen women teachers picked randomly from various Indian curriculum schools across the UAE present a chilling story.

Every teacher we spoke to said they are forced to carry piles of work home and stay awake till way past midnight, often on weekends, to prepare assessment sheets, lesson plans and a host of other things before schools close for the summer break in July.

Devastating impact

The increased workload is having a devastating impact on their lives both inside and outside the classroom. At least five teachers have collapsed at their work places in recent days and had to be rushed to hospitals with symptoms of fatigue and hypertension.

Now Thumbay Group Hospitals and Clinics is holding a Teachers Health Awareness Week from May 21 to 26, which, besides blood pressure checks, includes stress-management workshops and exercise demonstrations for chronic neck and back pain. Orthopaedic surgeons said there has been a spike in the number of teachers seeking treatment for repetitive stress injuries and cervical spondylosis caused by prolonged computer use.

“One of the main causes of concern for teachers is back pain as they often stand or sit for long hours, bend or crouch over children at their desks, lift young children or heavy objects,” said Dr. Sebouh Z Kassis, specialist neurosurgeon at Burjeel Dubai.

“In recent weeks, we’ve had to call an ambulance twice -- the most recent was a few days ago when a teacher fainted in the classroom. It’s too much work,” said the supervisor at a Jebel Ali school, where 20 teachers have put in their papers, including 11 from one section.

“I am next. I can’t handle it any more,” said the woman who has been with the school for 10 years. A longtime primary school teacher who quit last fortnight said she couldn’t balance work and family life. “All my evenings and weekends were spent preparing worksheets and logbooks. The obsession with data creating evidence of activities, needless documentation and the dreaded school inspections had taken the joy out of the profession and turned me into a robot. My life was a wreck. I had no time for myself or my family,” she said.

Sham show

“It was a wasted effort as all our efforts were directed towards pleasing the KHDA (Knowledge and Human Development Authority) and the real job of teaching had been put on the backburner,” said another teacher who put in her papers earlier this month.

“Since a good rating means a licence to increase fees, our work targets are raised every year but not the salaries,” said another teacher whose last annual increment was Dh60. “Even the bus conductor got Dh40 more,” she rued.

Pinned to the bottom of the pay scale, Indian teachers earn between a measly Dh2,000 and Dh4,500 per month. “Our salaries do not commensurate with the duties our job demands. Our work never ends. My supervisor has added us to a WhatsApp group and she sends us one assignment after another daily. Yesterday, I got a message from her at 1am and I had to spend the next hour uploading pictures and videos on the school portal,” said a teacher at a Sharjah-based school. “Of course, it’s assumed that you will have a smartphone and wi-fi connection at homee,” she said.

Earlier this year, a survey found that 8 out of 10 teachers want to change jobs because of low pay. The UAE School Teacher Survey 2016 conducted by WhichSchoolAdvisor.com and the UAE Learning Network showed that a whopping 76.92 per cent of respondents cited “an improvement in pay” as the top reason for staying in their job after their contract expired.

Alarming as they may sound, the numbers tell half the story because 70 per cent of the 531 teachers covered in the survey worked in British, American and IB curriculum schools, which pay more and have a lower work load compared to other schools.

Desperate situations call for desperate measures. To ease their burden, many class-teachers have sought demotion. “Such is the work pressure that qualified and experienced teachers are willing to take a pay hit and work as assistant teachers. I have got five demotion requests from some of our best class-teachers I can’t blame them,” said a school headmistress.

As schools grapple with staff retention, GEMS Education has come up with a retention plan called Share our Future where teachers and staff will be offered free shares.

“Teachers and staff can now take genuine ‘owner’s pride’ in the institution. We hope their sense of ownership will invoke an even greater commitment to excellent student outcomes within the classroom and beyond. We are optimistic this initiative will provide added incentive to attract and continue to retain the best of talent from around the world,” said Sunny Varkey, group Chairman of GEMS Global and Founder of GEMS Education and Varkey Foundation.

“This is all very good, but can we have a salary hike instead,” said a teacher who works for a Gems school in Dubai.