The ongoing World Cup in Qatar has meant the world’s eyes are currently on the Middle East – a region of contrasts, where local laws and attitudes do not always align with Western European ones. Despite this, teaching in the Middle East* is enjoying a boom like no other.
According to Tes, the global schools software and jobs provider, there has been a marked increase in teaching posts required in the Middle East. Data shows that jobs advertised on the tes.com jobs portal for this region have risen by 59 per cent in the last three years (from 2019 to 2022). But what has made this such a popular destination for teachers?
The Middle East has long been an attractive alternative location for many reasons. Sam Horwood, Year 6 leader and lead practitioner for CPD and training at the British School Muscat in Oman, explains: “The region has historically been a popular destination for teachers due to tax free salaries and benefits which are favourable in comparison to the UK.
“For many, the opportunity for adventure, sunny climate and a favourable work-life balance compared to other expatriate teaching locations is also a strong pull. Oman in particular is highly sought after for its cultural diversity, stunning scenery and opportunities to teach and develop in a progressive school setting”.
“Changes in local laws have made the region more inviting to teachers over the last few years.”
It is a well-known fact that there has been an incredible growth of international schools in the region over the last few years as these countries develop both economically and culturally and as they become more open to western influences such as international schools.
Data released from ISC Research on 1st July 2022, suggests there are 1,995 English-medium international schools in Western Asia (the Middle East excluding Egypt) teaching 1.75 million students. The UAE leads the region with 762 international schools. This is a vast increase from only three to five years ago.
The recent report What makes the international schools market different also published by ISC Research, outlines some of the differentiating factors from a “school offering” and “parent choice” point of view. This helps unpick why there is such demand for these schools by both international and local families and hence why they are on the increase.
For example, the global higher education pathways that international schools offer are considered an extremely important selection factor for local and expatriate families living in this region. Also, the international viewpoints and cross-cultural preparation these schools offer, that help prepare young people for higher education and careers is highly valued.
“The UAE leads the region with 762 international schools.”
It is recognised that many of these schools offer a wider choice of facilities and extra curricular activities. For example, many international schools in the Middle East offer sports and creative arts facilities and clubs, and some have media studios, maker spaces as well as a better choice in curricula for humanities, music and the arts.
Schoolwide pastoral care and wellbeing focus is a significant factor that differentiates them from other schools in the Middle East too.
It is reasonable to assume that the same reasons highlighted above also make these schools more attractive to teach in.
Additionally, changes in local laws have also had an impact on making the region more inviting to teachers over the last few years. For example, in November 2020, in the UAE (United Arab Emirates) there was a major overall of the country’s stringent laws and regulations.
One of the main changes that took place that affected teacher and teaching couples coming to the region was the allowance for the “cohabitation of unmarried couples”. This meant that living with a partner if you are not married to them was no longer illegal in the UAE.
“There is a noticeable increase in staff wishing to move away from the UK to teach in the international sector.”
Another big change in the loosening of restrictions included the scrapping of penalties for alcohol consumption, sales and possession for those aged 21 and over. Although spirits and beer were widely available in bars and clubs in the UAE’s luxuriant coastal cities, individuals were required to have a government-issued license to purchase, transport or have alcohol in their homes.
Other changes included the introduction of new laws that allowed non-Emiratis to have their personal affairs dealt with according to the law of their home country and a number of amendments seeking to protect the rights of women.
Sadly, many of the countries in this region still run under strict legislation on the above, particularly concerning laws around LGBT+ and women’s rights. All this has been very much in the spotlight with the World Cup currently taking place in Qatar.
In a recent meeting of senior leaders from international schools across the globe, another interesting phenomenon was highlighted. This was the “West to East, East to West” teacher movement trend.
Simon O’Connor, who is director at the Deira International School Dubai, explains: “Dubai seems to have had a marked rise in applications over the last year. There seem to be three factors in play. The first is the noticeable increase in staff wishing to move away from the UK and try teaching in the international sector.
“The second is international teachers who wish to move away from certain countries in the Far East, particularly in light of the Covid protocols in place there, but nonetheless want to extend their international teaching experience. Finally, teachers from UAE / Dubai seem more reluctant to return home and are seeking positions elsewhere within the local area. The combination of these three elements has resulted in healthy numbers of strong candidates to the region.”
“Budgetary support for teacher CPD is strong in the region.”
Covid has of course affected international teacher movement. The ways in which countries and regions dealt with the pandemic have made some destinations more attractive to teachers than others post pandemic. Generally, the Middle East, despite enforcing Covid precautions fairly strictly at the time, demonstrated how their swift vaccination programmes and tight management meant that residents were able to live fairly “normal” lives.
Schools in the region were hampered with restrictions for long periods which was frustrating and certainly drew on the well-recognized skills of tenacity and creativity that international school leaders and staff possess!
One of the factors that is often highlighted as a plus of teaching internationally is the opportunity for development. This is certainly still the case, and as the student base of these schools becomes more diverse and the schools look to develop more “home grown” talent from their host countries these opportunities grow.
Budgetary support for teacher CPD is strong in the region and there are more teaching qualifications available for teachers that want to develop their careers internationally. There are many options which are now 100 per cent online and specifically designed for international teaching careers like the ones offered at Tes in the form of the IPCGE or the Masters in Education with Pedagogy.
It was interesting to note at the recent gathering of many middle eastern school partners and leaders at the GESS Dubai conference there was much discussion around the incredible increase in schools and pupils in the region, and the pressure this would put on both UK schools and existing schools in the region regarding teaching positions.
“I have seen upwards of 200 applications per role at times.”
Some countries did stress that they were more focused on training local talent rather than relying on the existing international teaching pool of talent.
Natasha Hilton, who is head of Primary at Park House English School in Qatar agrees and summarises why the region is such an attractive teaching destination:
“Over the last few years even with the uncertainties around the world with Covid, applications to schools in the Middle East have still been very high, I have experienced upwards of 200 applications per role at times. Great teachers are hard to come by and as a school it’s challenging and competitive to get the best teachers.
“The Middle East offers the benefits of working in environments that promote CPD, have excellent financial packages, hardworking and motivated children and supportive parents plus who doesn’t want to live where the sun shines all year round?”
- We refer to the Middle East and North Africa region, including: Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.