How our teachers are lured abroad
There is a growing demand for teachers in other countries
Published 13/01/2016 | 02:30
This week about 200 Irish teachers are being interviewed in Dublin for hundreds of jobs in schools in the Middle East. They come with tax-free salaries of €36,000-€42,000 a year and accommodation thrown in.
Irish teachers are in growing demand in the Middle East, and elsewhere, and the arrival in Ireland this week of a group representing both primary and post primary schools in thr United Arab Emirates (UAE), including Abu Dhabi and Dubai, is but one example of recruitment activity.
A sense of adventure is the attraction for some, along with an opportunity to build up savings towards a house back home, something that may be nigh impossible to do on current Irish teacher's salaries. While basic salaries for teachers in Ireland with a few years' experience may be broadly similar, paying no tax and the free accommodation are financial bonuses.
At a time of rising enrolments at both primary and second level schools, with a consequent increase in demand for staff, it may seem strange that teachers are looking abroad.
But Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO) general secretary Sheila Nunan is not surprised: "Pay cuts imposed on new entrant teachers since 2011 means that more attractive pay packages are available to them in other countries".
She says this is compounded by the Department of Education's failure to put in place panels of supply teachers at primary level to cover absences, which has led to a situation where principals cannot find teachers for cover for illness or maternity leave. The INTO says the problem is particularly acute since Christmas.
According to the union the recruitment of Irish teachers to schools abroad is a significant challenge.
At second level, alongside salary issues, there is ongoing frustration at the difficulty in getting a permanent job, with up to half of teachers under 35 employed on a casual basis, many with only a handful of hours every week.
"For several years, second-level teachers have been forced to apply for fragments of jobs with no guarantee of being retained. Such teachers experience income poverty, often struggling and sometimes failing to pay the rent," says Gerry Quinn, president of the Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI). He says shortages are emerging in some subjects.
The former principal of the 1,250 pupil St Andrew's College, Dublin, Arthur Godsil, now an education consultant, says the demand for teachers around the world is growing apace, fuelled by the rise in the number of international schools, sought by middle-class parents in places like the Middle East and Asia to equip children for a globalised economy
Some 326,000 teachers worked in international schools in 2014 - projected to rise to 437,000 by 2020.
His company will have a stand at next month's Dublin City University (DCU) Teaching Fair, an annual event where students can meet employers or their representatives.
There is high level of interest this year for the DCU fair from international recruitment agencies - mainly for the UK market, which is particularly interested in DCU science education graduates - but also for the Middle East. The number of international recruiters had to be capped this year to ensure a balance with Irish exhibitors.
The interviews taking place in Dublin this week were arranged through Teach and Explore, a company set up by Drogheda-born Garrett O'Dowd and his friend Eoin Bolger.
It links teachers from Ireland, England, Canada and America with schools across the world - primarily in the UAE, but also in Thailand, Japan, China, Qatar, Brazil, Kazakhstan and the UK.
After graduating from UCD, Garrett headed to the UK to study primary teaching. When he returned home, he found it difficult to get permanent work.
Increasingly frustrated with a string of substitute teaching jobs, Garrett began looking into opportunities in the UAE through a Canadian agency. Following a Skype interview, he was offered a position in Abu Dhabi in 2012, and spent two years working in the public school system.
"We had an awful lot of people getting on to us asking about what it was like. We felt there was a gap in the market, particularly for Irish teachers who want to speak to other Irish teachers who know the lay of the land.
"It can be culturally challenging so it's difficult to adapt straight away. The curriculum is very different from the Irish curriculum - they don't rely as much on books, so you've got to formulate the lessons yourself.
"It's a lot more hands-on and task and activity-based, but we've found that Irish teachers are very adaptable and will always find the smarter way to do things," says Garrett.
Teach and Explore is faciliating interviews this week for positions in primary and second-level schools across the UAE, including Al Ain, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Ras Al Khaimah, and Dubai.
Another group is coming shortly to interview for vocational schools.
Garrett notes that there is a high demand for primary teachers and post-primary teachers of English in particular.
"We have a lot of people who have been qualified three or four years, but don't have permanent positions."
He adds that while some may have concerns about the social customs in the UAE being strict, the culture is more laidback than people expect.
'We weren't as reliant on books in Abu Dhabi'
When she graduated from St Patrick's College, Drumcondra, six years ago, Sara Moffatt struggled to find a job.
On the recommendation of a friend, she applied to work in Abu Dhabi.
"The language barrier was the most difficult thing, but the children were fully immersed in English so they picked it up quickly and I had an Arabic co-teacher if I needed translation.
She says the system was "all about the children figuring out the answers themselves. We weren't as reliant on books as we are here."
After three years, Sara decided it was time to come home, and says the insight into Islamic religions and culture has helped her in an increasingly multi-cultural Irish classroom.
"It's a great way of seeing different parts of the world, it challenges you professionally so you learn a lot and you can save money."