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UAE teacher shortfall is looming ‘iceberg’

There are more than 1 million school-age children in the UAE, which will grow to 1.25 million by 2030, threatening a teacher shortfall Unsplash/Husniati Salma
There are more than 1 million school-age children in the UAE, which will grow to 1.25 million by 2030, threatening a teacher shortfall
  • Trainee teachers dropping
  • Pupil numbers rising
  • Authorities ‘need to be creative’

The UAE will need up to 30,000 more teachers by 2030, a shortfall that needs confronting, an expert has warned.

The total number of students in the public and private sector in the UAE for 2020-2021 stood at 1.04 million. This is expected to increase to 1.25 million students by 2030.

Based on this growth rate, Mansoor Ahmed, executive director at Colliers in Mena, said there would be a requirement for up to 30,000 extra teaching staff over the next six years in the country, the majority being needed in kindergarten and primary education.

Shaun Robison, CEO of the education management company BBD Education and the education operator GSM Middle East, told AGBI: “The drawback and the challenge is just the volume of teachers needed, because the scale of growth here is substantial, and generally teaching as a profession is on the decline in terms of new graduates.”

In England alone, a key source for UAE operators hiring teachers, the number of new entrants to initial teacher training has fallen by over a third in the past three years, from 40,377 in 2020-2021 to 26,955 in the current academic year, according to UK government statistics.

The UAE also faces competition from neighbouring Saudi Arabia in combatting the threatened teacher shortfall. The kingdom has almost 7.5 million school-age children and a total of 6 million enrolled students, according to Colliers research. Saudi Arabia allocated 17 percent of its 2023 budget to education.

Taaleem, which has 10 premium schools and 21 government schools across the UAE, saw student enrolments increase 26.6 percent in the first quarter of the academic year (ending November 30) taking its student number up to 35,715.

Its CEO, Alan Williamson, said the company was looking to recruit around 500 new teachers in the private sector and a further 500 for its government school partnership business.

A social media posting from the Dubai-based Kings Education earlier this month advertised 36 positions, including teaching and administration roles, to be filled for the next academic year across its Al Barsha and Nad Al Sheba schools.

New economies

Gems Education, one of the biggest operators in the world, with 9,000 academic staff working across the GCC, is turning its attention to “new economies” including Eastern Europe, parts of Africa and the Americas.

John Mayes, the company’s chief people officer, said: “In a competitive economy you want to continually explore new markets. I think the range is as big as a world map, to be honest.”

Simon O’Connor, director at Deira International School in Dubai and chief education officer for Al-Futtaim Education Foundation (AFEF), said the foundation had received 1,100 applications for a primary school teaching role last year.

However, he said, there were concerns of a teacher shortfall for the years ahead.

“We’re still able to get a significant number of applications, but we’re having to think about what we’re going to do down the line, because there’s no question that in three or four years those numbers won’t be what they are today,” he said.

“There’s an iceberg coming that we need to make sure we confront.”

AFEF is working with the University of Birmingham in the UAE to accept post graduate certificate of education (PGCE) students and early career teachers (ECT) to expedite the learning and experience of newly qualified teachers.

Robison suggested that authorities “need to be more creative” and called on schools to be given licence to award teaching qualifications on site.

“If they were able to actually work in a school and get that all on site from day one, that would change everything,” he said.

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