Teachers quit in droves for high paying Gulf posts

Lured to Abu Dhabi by good money there and tough times here

30 September 2018 - 00:00
Tatum Niemack graduated with her masters in education on 28 September 2018.
Image: Rogan Ward Tatum Niemack graduated with her masters in education on 28 September 2018.

The prospect of earning the equivalent of five years' salary in one year is luring South African teachers to classrooms in the Gulf.

But apart from the possibility of earning between R50,000 and R78,000 a month, teachers are also being driven from SA by the high crime rate, religious intolerance, race-based policies, burgeoning class sizes and workloads and an ineffective curriculum.

They are ending up, in the main, in Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates.

A study of the trend by University of KwaZulu-Natal master's student Tatum Niemack cites financial, religious, social and political reasons for it.

There are no statistics readily available for the number of teachers who have left, but the South African Council of Educators (Sace), which issues teachers with the letters of professional standing needed to teach abroad, expressed "grave concern".

"This has implications for the brain drain and is leaving the country in short supply of the valuable experience and good teachers," said Sace spokesperson Thembinkosi Ndhlovu.

"Teachers, especially experienced ones, leaving the profession is not good for the country as invested knowledge and skills are needed."

Nicole Miller, from SA-recruitment, a Cape Town teacher-placement agency, said close to 80 teachers had been recruited through the agency for Abu Dhabi posts in the past two years alone.

Niemack, herself a migrant teacher who has been teaching in Abu Dhabi since 2014, said: "A higher salary was a significant pull factor to Abu Dhabi as it has the potential to economically empower teachers to purchase property, pay for their children's tertiary education, build up their pensions, save and enjoy a better quality of life."


The average per annum earnings of a high school teacher with 5-10 years’
experience in SA (Naptosa) versus R750,000 on average per annum earned by an SA teacher
working in Abu Dhabi

One teacher was quoted in Niemack's study as saying: "So let's say they kick me out and I have one year's salary there [Abu Dhabi], that means I would have had to work five years in SA to earn this, so that gives me four years to get another job."

The study found Abu Dhabi's salary packages are more lucrative than those in the UK, which used to attract many South African teachers with incentives such as "discount shopping cards, free internet and gift vouchers".

"Similar benefits were offered to South African teachers recruited to Abu Dhabi, with salary offers ranging from $3,500 (about R50,000) to $5,500 a month, depending on the teacher's years of experience and qualification," Niemack's study says.

As well as top-notch salaries, teachers are provided with housing, medical insurance and flight allowances for the teacher, spouse and up to three children. A month's salary is offered as a bonus for every year of service, received at the end of the contract period.

"Previously teachers were offered two-year contracts. However, this has recently been extended to three years and at the end of the initial contract teachers may renew on a yearly basis."

Said Miller: "Most of the candidates who apply with our agency request to teach in Abu Dhabi specifically. The drawcards would have to be the tax-free salaries which can range from $2,500 to $4,000-plus . this all depends on experience and qualifications."

The National Professional Teachers' Organisation of SA (Naptosa) is also concerned about the teacher exodus.

"Being English-speaking, our teachers find employment easily abroad. Often these are good teachers feeling badly treated by the system either [because of a lack of] promotion possibilities, violence not [being] addressed or simply just bad teaching conditions," said Basil Manuel, Naptosa's executive director.

"We don't believe the government sees this as a problem. There have been no attempts in any province to address the exit. No coherent strategy exists," said Manuel.

The department of basic education said it had no information about teachers leaving the country but in terms of retention had continuous initiatives "to improve the con-ditions of service for educators and particular the salaries".