How GCC countries can attract the right teachers for the future workforce

Special Kuwaiti students celebrate graduation amid regional concerns about skills shortages among teaching staff. (AFP)
Kuwaiti students celebrate graduation amid regional concerns about skills shortages among teaching staff. (AFP)
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Updated 12 May 2022

How GCC countries can attract the right teachers for the future workforce

How GCC countries can attract the right teachers for the future workforce
  • Proliferation of high-quality schools in Gulf region has led to fierce competition for the best teachers
  • Challenge is to attract the best teachers without pricing poorer students out of the education market

DUBAI: Education, it is said, is an investment in the future. That is why the Gulf Arab states have invested heavily in high-quality schools, creating the infrastructure necessary for students to reach their full potential and build careers that are satisfying personally and beneficial to wider society.

However, the rapid proliferation of such schools has led to fierce competition for the best teachers, especially those with expertise in such important subjects as physics, chemistry and mathematics, amid a looming crisis at the international level.

About 69 million new teachers will be needed to provide quality universal education worldwide by 2030, according to figures from UNESCO. But with fewer teachers graduating, particularly in the UK, Ireland, and the US, the occupation faces an imminent shortage at the international level.

To attract and retain the right teaching talent, many Gulf schools offer generous compensation packages, which in turn have made admission fees more expensive. The worry for many experts is that low-income households will be steadily priced out of quality education.

According to Jo Vigneron, founding principal at the Pearson Online Academy, teacher shortage is a global phenomenon that is not reserved to the GCC region alone.




The GCC region is home to one of the youngest populations in the world, with early-years education vital for its development. (AFP/File Photo)

Over the past two decades, more has been expected of teachers in Western schools with little of this increased workload reflected in their salaries, she said, leading many to look for better-paid opportunities abroad.

“Young teachers in the UK frequently work second jobs as they struggle to pay their living costs, student loan and other expenses,” Vigneron told Arab News.

“As a result, an increasing number of British and US teachers have sought work overseas where the pay and conditions are more attractive. One would think, then, that there would be plenty of supply. In actual fact, there has been a simultaneous boom in the international market for British education.”

Natasha Ridge, executive director of the Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al-Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research in Ras Al-Khaimah in the UAE, believes schools need to examine incentives other than pay to attract the best talent.

“Beyond increases in salary, which will obviously push up fees, schools could be offering more professional development opportunities for teachers, including attending conferences and online courses,” Ridge told Arab News.




Gulf schools are being urged to offer career incentives beyond good salaries to attract top talent as a global shortage looms. (AFP/File Photo)

“Promotion opportunities are also important so that teachers feel like their career is progressing and not stalled when they come overseas.”

Flexible leave during term time might also make roles more enticing, Ridge said, as would rewarding teachers who stay for five or 10 years with a period of leave so they can pursue professional development back in their home countries.

“Teachers are underpaid for the important job that they do and there need to be financial incentives for high-performing teachers so that they will come and stay,” she said.

“The issue in the Gulf is also that the majority of schools are run for profit, so investors try to make maximum money from minimum investment. This is a huge problem for the region.

“Teacher salaries are the single largest expense in a school’s operating budget, so this is where they try to save money, by hiring young teachers, letting older, more expensive teachers go, having basic health insurance, and not paying for professional development.”

Governments in the region might want to consider encouraging more schools to become non-profits with minimum salaries and class sizes. “But that is onerous and costly for governments, so they will have to weigh the costs and benefits,” Ridge said.

However, unless reform is implemented soon, there is a danger that a two-tier education system could emerge in which low-income families are deprived of access to quality schooling altogether.

FASTFACT

* A three-day education forum began in Riyadh on Sunday.

* International Education Conference 2022 is being attended by 262 institutions.

* Theme of the forum is “Education in Crisis: Possibilities and Challenges.”

In general, “what this means for society is an increasing wealth gap and then you see more social problems, crime, violence, health issues, unemployment, and even social unrest,” Ridge said.

“It is in the interest of every country to have a well-educated population for social cohesion and for economic growth.”

For Judith Finnemore, a UAE-based educational consultant and academic director at the Svarna Training Institute in Dubai, the issue is not merely about how to attract good teachers and boost retention but also how to raise overall standards of modern education.

“The quality the best teachers bring to education has to be considered,” Finnemore told Arab News. “In the next five years, the whole nature of skills required for the workforce in the MENA region will change.”

According to research from the World Economic Forum, how children in GCC countries are educated now will determine the livelihoods of more than 300 million people over the coming decades.




Arab students need teachers who see technology as a 'radical force,' experts have said. (AFP/File Photo)

Home to one of the youngest populations in the world, it is imperative for the region to make adequate investments in education that holds value in the labor market and prepares citizens for the world of tomorrow, the research states.

For Finnemore, very few teachers have the knowledge and skills that will be needed across all areas of business and industry — from data analytics, machine learning and statistics, to programming using Java and Python languages, computer networks, and parallel and distributed computing.

“This is a serious issue,” Finnemore said. “We don’t need teachers who have traditional mindsets. We need those who see technology as a force capable of radically transforming how they teach individuals and groups and the capacity it has for educating far and wide, not just in ‘their’ classroom.”

If the Gulf states want to be at the forefront of what the WEF has dubbed the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the region’s students will need a proper grounding in the relevant skills and subject areas of the future workforce.

“My own observations tell me there is a disconnect between those who teach in schools and the new requirements GCC economies need five or 10 years down the line,” Finnemore said. “So, in short, it needs not just any teacher. It needs a lot of the right teachers.”




About 69 million new teachers will be needed to provide quality universal education worldwide by 2030, according to figures from UNESCO. (AFP/File Photo)

Investment in professional development will prove essential to prepare teachers for the needs of the modern classroom.

“No teacher comes straight out of college possessing all the right skills,” Finnemore said. “They might have plenty of enthusiasm, but rarely the ability to get it all together to meet the highest levels of any teaching quality framework. This takes time and now their skills need constant updating. Don’t train and leave them festering too long, effectively making them deskilled.”

Offering teachers the incentive to retrain on short sabbaticals is one possible solution. “This would go on throughout their career and be financed through a guaranteed salary paid for jointly by the government and the school,” Finnemore said. 

Other options include raising the teacher retirement age above 60 and emptying out training colleges and universities of professors so they can teach in schools.

Another potentially strong incentive would be the creation of a fair and equitable pay scale for teachers that is nationality agnostic and eliminates individual negotiation between schools and employees.




Jo Vigneron (left), founding principal of Pearson Online Academy says teacher shortages were a global trend. Judith Finnemore (right), director at the Svarna Training Institute in Dubai, says overall educations standards must rise. (Supplied)

“Western countries have salary scales, as does the government sector of most MENA countries,” Finnemore said. “If the MENA region wants good teachers, schools should pay teachers fairly and they will come.”

If schools in the Gulf region get the balance right, attracting the best-qualified teachers to educate the workforce of the future without putting poorer students at a disadvantage, the economic and societal dividends could be huge.

“The real asset of any advanced nation is its people, especially the educated ones,” Vigneron told Arab News. “The progress of countries and nations can only be measured by the level and extent of their education.

“A nation underpinned by integrity as well as talented and creative individuals is one that will thrive. It will include and embrace its people, retain its talent who will, in turn, grow the future talent, facilitating a culture in which all are able to contribute and thrive.”


Tunisian government, unions agree to talks on IMF reform program

Tunisian government, unions agree to talks on IMF reform program
Updated 12 August 2022

Tunisian government, unions agree to talks on IMF reform program

Tunisian government, unions agree to talks on IMF reform program
  • Prime Minister Najla Bouden, UGTT labour union chief Noureddine Taboubi and UTICA commerce union chief Samir Majoul had agreed a "social contract" to tackle national challenges
  • The UGTT reposted the statement on its Facebook page

TUNIS: Tunisia’s government and both its main labor and commerce unions agreed on Friday to start talks on Monday over economic reforms required by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a rescue program.
State news agency TAP reported that Prime Minister Najla Bouden, UGTT labor union chief Noureddine Taboubi and UTICA commerce union chief Samir Majoul had agreed a “social contract” to tackle national challenges, citing a government statement.
The UGTT reposted the statement on its Facebook page.
The labor union, which represents a vast syndicate of workers, has been a staunch critic of IMF economic reforms proposed by the government, including subsidy cuts, a public sector wage freeze and the restructuring of state-owned companies.
It previously said, such reforms would increase the suffering of Tunisians and lead to an imminent social implosion.
Tunisia is seeking $4 billion in IMF support amid the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic and the war in Ukraine, though diplomat sources told Reuters any IMF program approved would be unlikely to reach that level.
The IMF wants the UGTT, a powerful union that has a million members and has previously paralyzed parts of the economy in protest, to formally agree to government reforms.
Efforts to secure the IMF bailout have been complicated by Tunisia’s political upheavals since President Kais Saied seized most powers a year ago, shutting down parliament and moving to rule by decree.
Last month, he pushed through a new constitution formalising many of the expanded powers he has assumed in a referendum. Official figures showed that 31 percent of Tunisians took part, but opposition groups have rejected the figure, calling it inflated.


Tunisia says 82 migrants intercepted or rescued

Tunisia says 82 migrants intercepted or rescued
Updated 12 August 2022

Tunisia says 82 migrants intercepted or rescued

Tunisia says 82 migrants intercepted or rescued
  • Tunisia is in the throes of political and economic crises, and Libya has been gripped by lawlessness since 2011 that has seen militias turn to people trafficking

TUNIS: Tunisian authorities intercepted five new migration attempts and rescued or intercepted 82 people, the Interior Ministry said on Friday.
National Guard units “from the north, center, south and coast” of Tunisia foiled the attempts “as part of the fight against irregular migration,” a statement said.
Tunisia is a key departure point for migrants hoping to reach Europe — usually Italy — and sea crossing attempts tend to increase during spring and summer.
Friday’s statement said 76 people were rescued in four operations at sea, and another six were intercepted on land in the Gabes and Sfax areas.
It did not provide details the nationalities of the migrants or report on the condition of the boats they used.
The statement said that both Tunisian and foreign currency were seized, although the amounts were not specified.
Media in the North African country reported a shipwreck on Tuesday off the Kerkennah islands in which eight Tunisians — three women, four children and a man — died. Another 20 people were saved.

BACKGROUND

Tunisia is a key departure point for migrants hoping to reach Europe — usually Italy — and sea crossing attempts tend to increase during spring and summer.

And on Sunday, the National Guard said that 170 people from sub-Saharan Africa were among 255 migrants intercepted during 17 attempted crossings.
Tunisia and Libya are the main points of departure for migrants trying to reach Europe from Africa.
Tunisia is in the throes of political and economic crises, and Libya has been gripped by lawlessness since 2011 that has seen militias turn to people trafficking.
Italian authorities say 34,000 people arrived in the country by sea up to July 22 this year, compared with 25,500 over the same period in 2021 and 10,900 in 2020.
Meanwhile, a search and rescue operation was conducted for a third day for migrants reported missing after their boat capsized south of the Greek island of Rhodes.
The coast guard said on Friday that a Greek frigate and three merchant ships were searching the area roughly 40 nautical miles (74 km) south of Rhodes and 33 nautical miles southeast of Karpathos,
A total of 29 survivors, all men, were picked up by a merchant ship and a Greek air force helicopter in the early hours of Wednesday after the boat sank.
Survivors had initially indicated that between 60 and 80 people had been on board, but that figure was later revised, and the coast guard said Friday that a total of 50-60 people were now believed to have been on board.
Two of the 29, who the coast guard said were Turkish nationals, were rescued by helicopter and flown to Karpathos, while the other 27, all nationals of Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq, were picked up by the merchant ship and transported to Kos.
The Turkish coast guard had also said on Wednesday that they had rescued five people. No further survivors or bodies have been located since the initial rescues.
It was not immediately clear why the boat sank, but weather conditions in the area were rough at the time, with strong winds and choppy seas, Greek authorities said.
The most common sea route for asylum-seekers from the Middle East, Asia and Africa has been from Turkey to the nearby Greek islands in the Aegean Sea.
But with Greek authorities increasing patrols in the area and facing persistent reports of summarily deporting new arrivals to Turkey without allowing them to apply for asylum, many are now attempting the much longer, and more dangerous, route directly to Italy. Greek authorities deny they carry out illegal summary deportations of asylum-seekers.


Drought tightens its grip on Morocco

Drought tightens its grip on Morocco
Updated 12 August 2022

Drought tightens its grip on Morocco

Drought tightens its grip on Morocco
  • The situation is critical, given the village’s position in the agricultural province of Settat, near the Oum Errabia River and the Al Massira Dam, Morocco’s second largest

OULED ESSI MASSEOUD, Morocco: Mohamed gave up farming because of successive droughts that have hit his previously fertile but isolated village in Morocco and because he just couldn’t bear it any longer.
“To see villagers rush to public fountains in the morning or to a neighbor to get water makes you want to cry,” the man in his 60s said.
“The water shortage is making us suffer,” he told AFP in Ouled Essi Masseoud village, around 140 km from the country’s economic capital Casablanca.
But it is not just his village that is suffering — all of the North African country has been hit.
No longer having access to potable running water, the villagers of Ouled Essi Masseoud rely solely on sporadic supplies in public fountains and from private wells.
“The fountains work just one or two days a week, the wells are starting to dry up and the river next to it is drying up more and more,” said Mohammed Sbai as he went to fetch water from neighbors.
The situation is critical, given the village’s position in the agricultural province of Settat, near the Oum Errabia River and the Al Massira Dam, Morocco’s second largest.
Its reservoir supplies drinking water to several cities, including the 3 million people who live in Casablanca. But latest official figures show it is now filling at a rate of just 5 percent.
Al Massira Reservoir has been reduced to little more than a pond bordered by kilometers of cracked earth.
Nationally, dams are filling at a rate of only 27 percent, precipitated by the country’s worst drought in at least four decades.
At 600 cubic meters of water annually per capita, Morocco is already well below the water scarcity threshold of 1,700 cubic meters per capita per year, according to the World Health Organization.
In the 1960s, water availability was four times higher — at 2,600 cubic meters.
A July World Bank report on the Moroccan economy said the decrease in the availability of renewable water resources put the country in a situation of “structural water stress.”
The authorities have now introduced water rationing.
The Interior Ministry ordered local authorities to restrict supplies when necessary, and prohibits using drinking water to irrigate green spaces and golf courses.
Illegal withdrawals from wells, springs or waterways have also been prohibited.
In the longer term, the government plans to build 20 seawater desalination plants by 2030, which should cover a large part of the country’s needs.
“We are in crisis management rather than in anticipated risk management,” said water resources expert Mohammed Jalil.
He added that it was “difficult to monitor effectively the measures taken by the authorities.”
Agronomist Mohamed Srairi said Morocco’s Achilles’ heel was its agricultural policy “which favors water-consuming fruit trees and industrial agriculture.”
He said such agriculture relies on drip irrigation which, although it can save water, paradoxically results in increased consumption as previously arid areas become cultivable.
The World Bank report noted that cultivated areas under drip irrigation in Morocco have more than tripled.
It said that “modern irrigation technologies may have altered cropping decisions in ways that increased rather than decreased the total quantity of water consumed by the agricultural sector.”
More than 80 percent of Morocco’s water supply is allocated to agriculture, a key economic sector that accounts for 14 percent of gross domestic product.
Mohammed, in his 90s, stood on an area of parched earth not far from the Al Massira Dam.
“We don’t plow the land anymore because there is no water,” he said, but added that he had to “accept adversity anyway because we have no choice.”
Younger generations in the village appear more gloomy.
Soufiane, a 14-year-old shepherd boy, said: “We are living in a precarious state with this drought.
“I think it will get even worse in the future.”


Beirut bank gunman still behind bars as family takes to the street in protest

Beirut bank gunman still behind bars as family takes to the street in protest
Updated 12 August 2022

Beirut bank gunman still behind bars as family takes to the street in protest

Beirut bank gunman still behind bars as family takes to the street in protest
  • Bassam Al-Sheikh Hussein was arrested on Thursday after holding employees hostage
  • After surrendering himself he was told he would not be jailed

BEIRUT: The Lebanese man who held eight bank employees hostage at gunpoint while demanding the release of his frozen savings remained behind bars on Friday pending further inquiries.

Bassam Al-Sheikh Hussein was arrested after voluntarily leaving the Federal Bank branch in Beirut on Thursday evening following a seven-hour standoff.

On Friday, members of his family blocked Al-Ouzai Road in Beirut in protest at his continued detention saying it was in breach of an agreement made the night before.

An armed man Bassam al-Sheikh Hussein, 42, speaks with one of his hostages inside a bank, in Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022. (AP)

Al-Sheikh Hussein, 42, surrendered after being told his family would be given $35,000 of his money and being promised he would be questioned and then set free. Inside the bank he had been armed with a pump-action shotgun and gasoline, which at on point he said he would use to set himself alight.

Many people in the crowd that had gathered outside the bank during the siege applauded as he was led away. Lebanon’s central bank imposed a freeze on all bank deposits in 2019.

Despite the promise that he would be allowed to walk free, after leaving the bank Al-Sheikh Hussein was arrested and detained on the orders of the Lebanese judiciary.

Lawyer Haytham Ezzo told Arab News that Al-Sheikh Hussein was detained by the Information Branch of the Lebanese Internal Security Forces and denied access to a lawyer despite it being his legal right to have one present.

“Even if no one sues him, there’s the public right,” he said. “Either the investigating judge asks for his release after he’s referred to him by the Information Branch, or asks for his arrest.”

Ezzo said it was possible that Al-Sheikh Hussein had been arrested for endangering state security or threatening to kill or kidnap.

As for the money paid to the family, that could not be reclaimed by the bank as “it doesn’t constitute a criminal tool. It is the arrested depositor’s right and property,” he added.

Hassan Mughnieh, the head of Lebanon’s Depositors Association, who was in charge of the negotiations between Al-Sheikh Hussein and the bank, told Arab News that “neither the employees who were held hostage nor the Federal Bank sued him.”

But the gunman would remain behind bars until next week at the earliest, he said.

“Things will become clear on Tuesday, as it’s the weekend and judges do not work on Monday in the Justice Palaces.”

He added: “As depositors, we will organize a protest in front of Beirut’s Justice Palace on Tuesday and in front of the Directorate General of the Internal Security Forces. We don’t have a problem with Al-Sheikh Hassan’s arrest, but justice says the bank owner should also be arrested.”

Mughnieh said he had received many calls from other disgruntled bank depositors saying they wanted to act as Al-Sheikh Hassan had done.

Lebanese bank customers have had their deposits frozen since the start of the country’s economic crisis and slump of its currency.

Castro Abdallah, head of the National Federation of Trade and Employees Unions, said on Friday that “the affected people should stand together in order to recover the stolen public and depositors’ money.”

He called on unions to protest next Thursday in the commercial street of Hamra in Beirut.

Lebanon’s caretaker deputy Prime Minister Saade Chami warned that Lebanon was standing at a crossroads.

“We need to acknowledge the reality and the crises we are facing and confront them. This means that we should take the needed measures and carry out the critical and necessary reforms that put the country on the right path.”

He added that the financial and monetary policies adopted in recent years in a bid to buy time had failed and that time was now running out.

“No one will rescue us if we don’t try to rescue ourselves,” he said. “Receiving help from the little friends we have left in the world will not achieve the desired outcome.”


Hundreds linked to Daesh transferred from Syria to Iraq

Hundreds linked to Daesh transferred from Syria to Iraq
Updated 12 August 2022

Hundreds linked to Daesh transferred from Syria to Iraq

Hundreds linked to Daesh transferred from Syria to Iraq
  • It is the fourth operation of its kind this year from the camp, which lies less than 10 kilometers from the Iraqi border
  • The men, women and children belonged to 150 families and left the camp on Thursday

BEIRUT: Syria’s autonomous Kurdish region transferred to the Iraqi government more than 600 relatives of Daesh group members who were detained at the notorious Al-Hol camp, a monitor said Friday.
It is the fourth operation of its kind this year from the camp, which lies less than 10 kilometers from the Iraqi border.
In the latest transfer, around “620 people, relatives of Daesh members, left Al-Hol,” coordinated between the camp administration and the Iraqi government, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in a statement.
The men, women and children belonged to 150 families and left the camp on Thursday, an official in the Kurdish administration told AFP.
Thousands of foreign extremists joined Daesh as fighters, often bringing their wives and children to live in the “caliphate” declared by the group across swathes of Iraq and Syria in 2014.
Kurdish-led forces backed by a US-led coalition dislodged the militants from their last scrap of territory in Syria in 2019.
Kurdish authorities have repeatedly called on countries to repatriate their citizens from crowded displaced camps, of which Al-Hol is Syria’s largest.
More than 100 people, including many women, were murdered in Al-Hol over an 18-month period, the UN said in June, calling for camp residents to be returned home.
But nations have mostly received them only sporadically, fearing security threats and a domestic political backlash.
The first repatriation of Iraqi families from Al-Hol, involving around 300 people, took place in May last year.
Iraq should repatriate 500 families in total from Al-Hol this year, the official Iraqi New Agency announced on Wednesday.
In addition to the returned family members, the Iraqi government also received this week about 50 Iraqi Daesh fighters and leaders who were detained by the Syrian Democratic Forces, according to the Observatory.
The SDF spearheaded the fight against Daesh in Syria with the support of the US-led coalition.
In early June, Iraq repatriated another 50 Iraqi Daesh fighters who were detained by Kurdish forces. They were among 3,500 Iraqis held in Syrian Kurdish prisons, a senior military official said at the time.
In April, a senior Iraqi security official said the Al-Hol camp is a security threat and should be dismantled.
It houses around 55,000 people, the UN reported in June.