Securing a job within the education sector in Dubai can be both rewarding and comparatively lucrative compared with teaching or management positions in an educator’s home country. With many new schools opening up every year, the opportunities for new starters, and promotions with burgeoning organisations, continue to rise at unparalleled proportions. At present, the UAE delivers top-flight education to the worlds highest number of students enrolled in premium English-Medium International schools, with current students standing at well over 650,000 pupils within 596 English-Medium International schools. With another 8 World-class International Schools set to open by September 2020 the trend looks only to continue as International school operators across the globe look to the UAE for future growth.
Research is key to finding the perfect fit for you. The amount of in-depth research that you invest into a potential role in Dubai will heavily influence your overall level of job satisfaction and personal happiness should you land yourself the role after a successful interview.
Organisation & Role
There are many different types of International Schools in the UAE, and even educational professionals that are accustomed to working within International school environments in their home countries or elsewhere in the world can find the wide array of education types and backgrounds here somewhat daunting. For instance, there are schools delivering British, Canadian, American, French, Swiss, German, Russian, Iranian, Australian, Indian Curriculum, just to name but a few. There are of course many schools delivering the IB program as well, so aligning a school’s curriculum with your previous experience and training, whilst not always necessary, is certainly very useful and may enable the smoothest transition in your new role.
There are also many different types of education organisational structures here in the UAE. There are those which encompass many different schools and campus’ in their organisation, where individuals have great potential for career development and progression, but some may feel lost within the grand scale of the organisation and the level of pressure placed on staff members. You have schools that were set up as not-for-profit organisations by parents many decades ago in Dubai’s earliest days when such International School provision was non-existent here. There are stand-alone schools which focus heavily on staff retention, and there are those which rarely renew contracts in order to profit from cheaper teachers. Ultimately the fee structures, salary structures, teaching and learning cultures, working conditions, and staff expectations vary enormously, which can occasionally be a shock to some new-comers when comparing their previous positions abroad, but something that requires a serious amount of research when considering positions in the UAE, especially if there might be several options available. There are numerous websites providing reviews of schools and/or reports from ex-staff members, which can often provide insight some of the above, such as www.edarabia.com, www.whichschooladvisor.com, www.schoolscompared.com
A current KHDA (The Knowledge and Human Development Authority – school inspection body – www.khda.gov.ae) standing level and report is available for every school in Dubai and is definitely required reading for any considered positions. They are a great insight into each school and will even hold information regarding departments and/or area of development that the school is focusing on next year and will show recent exam results. Bare in mind that schools which have an ‘outstanding’ rating may be effectively managed and stocked with excellent teachers, but positions may also come with added levels of pressure to achieve the same level next year. Similarly, whilst some roles within establishments around the ‘Good’ region may potentially be less pressurised from senior leadership, this may lead to less student discipline or focus or even lack of school direction. The pressure to perform as an organisation in the UAE is much greater than in other countries as schools fight for the top spots on the KHDA list, and KDHA inspections are a very important part of the annual school calendar (Bare in mind that a schools KDHA rating designates how much a school can raise it’s fees by between 3-6.5% a year!). There is often a few hectic and frantic weeks surrounding the inspection, with many staff putting in extra hours of preparation, however this is certainly negated by the shorter working days in the Holy month of Ramadan where school days are considerable shorter as many students may be fasting during the day.
Whilst one can certainly ask questions to further existing knowledge into an organisation structure/position available at the interview stage (and it is generally a good idea to do this to show your current knowledge and time invested into researching such things as it will highlight your commitment to the school and position), it would certainly always be expected that you had conducted thoroughly detailed research yourself into the school prior to the interview stage.
Whilst traversing the UAE on the superb public road system, and especially Dubai and Abu Dhabi, is fast, efficient and cheap, the various locations within Dubai need some consideration too. For instance, which parts of Dubai might you want to visit regularly? Will you be spending lots of time at the ever popular Dubai Marina with its bustling JBR Beachfront? Will you frequently be visiting the numerous 5 star hotels on the Palm for Beach and Pool days out? Do you have family and will be looking in the future to settle in one of the more family-friendly areas such The Springs, The Meadows, Emirates Hills, Arabian Ranches, or the newly built popular Dubai Hills with it’s new mega mall? Perhaps you want to be located near old Dubai with it’s rich authentic cultural history and active working quayside? Or perhaps you have a partner moving with you that might be looking for work in the financial services district of DIFC.
Even if you are to be offered accommodation with your position, this may be negotiable for the second year (and in some cases even in the first year – although I would not necessarily recommend this as a newcomer due to timely visa-related delays on arranging one’s own accommodation on first arrival). Therefore, location of the school and proximity to potential areas that you may wish to live in the future, will certainly contribute to your overall long term happiness in the role.
Standard and costs of Living
Whilst some comments regarding high pressured work environments in educational institutions (especially those in Dubai) and longer days than some educational professionals are used to might put some people off, the good news and for me personally the real draw of the UAE comes in the form of the standard of living provided with the UAE.
The weather in the UAE is fantastically sunny, with pleasantly warm winter temperatures from October to April, and cold enough in the winter evenings to need jumpers. The summer can become oppressively hot for several months, but fortunately for educational professionals the worst of this lies directly during the school summer holidays, so people choose to take this time for travelling, visiting friends and family in their home country, and taking their family on holiday. Also as the majority of conurbation in the UAE is located on the coast, spending time at the beach couldn’t be easier.
Another great incentive to consider the UAE as an ideal place to call home is that Income is not taxed in the UAE. As wages here for educational professionals are similar, if not vastly greater to the equivalent position elsewhere, this can see a significant increase in annual salary (which often includes flights home once a year and a relocation allowance to the region).
The cost of living can at times be slightly more expensive than elsewhere (I am mean we are in the desert after all!) however there are many locally grown food crops such as cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuces, fresh diary and meats, etc, which are very affordable. When dinning out in the UAE many people take advantage of the masses of 2for1 offers on the Entertainer or Groupon, andutilise happy hour deals in order to spend much more conscientiously and frugally.
House prices continue to fall, which whilst not ideal for investors, is fantastic for those of us who choose to rent and are now rental prices are considerably more affordable than other desirable cities around the world.
Another amazing factor to consider if you have children and are looking at potential education sector roles within the region is that most organisations offer varying degrees of free education for your children. As recent study on school fees show that these range from 2500dhs for a poorly managed school and low rated school to a mind-boggling 108,000dhs a year where 48% of Sixth form students leave for Ivy League schools. One point to note here is that whilst researching a position, or even at interview stage, do enquire as to what level of financial support is given to siblings as it can vary dramatically between organisations.
The Local Culture
With an ever-expanding population of nearly 10 million (3.3 million in Dubai alone) and with 88.5% of those being expatriates, it is fair to say that the UAE is truly a centre of cultural integration, if not THE centre. The population was only 4.4 million in 2008, which says something of it’s recent booming population and ever-increasing popularity as a place to live, as well as a place to visit as a tourist. The 11.5% of the population which are Emirati local residents bring their unique history of pearl divers, roaming Bedouins and middle eastern traders with delicious Arabic cuisine to the mix, but are also renowned within the world of oil and gas, business and financial services. Around 58% of the population are of South-Asian origin, with the remaining percentage being of typically European or Russian origin.
With such an eclectic blend of people, origins, modern technologies, entertainments and fine dining options, the UAE continues to be one of the destination cultural hotspots of the world, and will continue to do so for many, many years.