Julianne Murphy felt she was one of the lucky ones when she managed to secure a teaching job at a school in her home of Donegal after graduating from college five years ago. But now she’s joining the hundreds of Irish teachers quitting Ireland for a teaching career in the United Arab Emirates.
Murphy was one of the more fortunate young teachers. She got a job in a school in Ballyshannon, which is only 15 minutes from her home in Donegal Town, not long after she'd left college. Despite this, she yearned for something else.
Early next month Murphy will travel with a group of 50 teachers, who are all heading to the Abu Dhabi and Dubai to begin one to two year contracts with UEA schools. The Irish teachers have been lured by the attractive wages, free accommodation, free health insurance and the chance to experience a new culture and to do some traveling.
“I'm taking a career break so I've wanted to get away for a while, to be honest. I feel now I should have done that year away first, maybe after college,” Murphy, 27, told IrishCentral.
“I'm kind of at the stage now I'm itching to get away and do that year or two away. So a change of scenery really is the main thing.
“I love traveling. I've been aboard five times since January, so I'm just hoping while I'm over there that I'll get to see that part of the world as well. Money wasn't a major push for me. Initially, it was just a change of scenery that was the main thing. I was just so bored in Donegal.”
The Physical Education and Geography teacher secured her new job with Irish recruitment agency Teach and Explore, founded by Garret O’Dowd and Eoin Bolger, both of whom were teachers. O'Dowd and Bolger had identified the opportunity for Irish teachers to go to the UAE after they had spent time there. The pair knew that UEA schools, which were looking to hire foreign teachers, would be a good match for Irish teachers, many of whom were unemployed or unemployed or simply dissatisfied with their work life.
“Since last October/November I've been applying like mad for everything. I applied directly to schools, but that doesn't seem to work. I had no luck. I got no word back that way,” Murphy said. She believes it’s becoming harder for Irish teachers to secure jobs in the UAE straight out of college because of the large numbers now applying.
— primaryschools.ie (@SchoolEnrolment) July 15, 2016
— Paddy Logue (@paddylogue) July 13, 2016
For younger teachers the sense of adventure is the biggest draw of the Middle East, while for others it's the chance to save money.
Myra Reddington is among those who will travel to Dubai in the next few weeks accompanied by her husband Kieran.
"As a couple, my husband and myself have been working 11 years as teachers and in all that time we've barely been able to save towards our future," she said.
"We're actually going to be paid a little bit less than what we're earning here [in Ireland], but with nothing going to the tax man and our accommodation paid for, between us we'll be coming out almost €2,000 ahead each month."
The large numbers of teachers now leaving the country may lead to difficulties in the future, however, as schools in Ireland may struggle to find teachers in certain subjects.
“The only thing is this … now in Ireland you can have your job. Your job is safe now going into your second year so you can get your career break in the third year. It means loads more teachers will head off when they're young,” Murphy explained. She is now eligible for a five-year career break after spending five years in an Irish school.
“Down the line that means, when I come back, the girl who has my job has to be deployed. It could cause loads of problems that way, with deployment and trying to give people jobs down the line when we're all coming back. I don't know what's gonna happen that way.”
In fact, The Teaching Council has raised concerns about the large number of teachers leaving the country for more enticing prospects in the Middle East and UK at a time when class sizes in Irish schools are rising consistently and elementary schools are struggling to find substitute teachers.
Speaking before the annual conference of the teachers’ unions in March 2016, Tomás Ó Ruairc, Director of the Teaching Council addressed the factors that are currently driving up demand for more teachers in Ireland: “the school-going population of children is increasing; pupil-teacher ratios and government decisions to increase the number of teachers in specific areas; the numbers retiring or leaving the profession; and career breaks, illnesses and secondment.”
Many of the younger teachers – those under 30 – are now only able to secure one-year contracts or temporary hours. This is the result of a measure taken at the height of the financial crisis in 2009, but the Irish government has indicated that there will be no change in this situation for the foreseeable future. Many of these new teachers are angry at the differences in pay when compared with their older colleagues, differences caused by the simple fact that they graduated a year or two later. This is a problem they will not have overseas.
“It is broadly accepted that matters have now reached a point where there is a danger that the teaching profession will be downgraded,” said a 2014 report commissioned by the Department of Education.
“The lack of full-time, secure positions operates as a significant disincentive to those considering entering the profession. There has been a loss of morale in the sector.”
According to data from 2014, the teaching profession still provides the highest rate of employment among graduates in Ireland with 90 percent qualified teachers in a job nine months later, although many have had to travel overseas to do so.
— Teach and Explore (@TeachandExplore) June 19, 2014
Ireland's abundance of well-trained, English-speaking teachers is not going unnoticed in countries experiencing teacher shortages. They are now looking to Ireland as a supplier of teachers. To that end, Teach and Explore has placed 300 Irish teachers in international and public schools in the UAE in the past few years.
There is a growing middle class in Asia and the Middle East and these middle class parents increasingly want their children educated through English.
Concern has also been shown in the UAE about the high turnover of teachers the country is experiencing and the effect this will have on education in the country.
18 teachers from one small Irish town have emigrated to the Middle East http://t.co/ZcyMBZudys— EVOKE.ie (@EvokeToday) September 21, 2014
With 15 new schools opening in Dubai alone this September, the education system has become one the the country’s biggest industries, although foreign teachers only stay for three to four years.
“There’s a lot of interest from teachers looking to work in the UAE, particularly because of its strategic location and it offers a certain lifestyles,” said Sanjay Mankani, the Managing Director of Fortes Education and Director of Fortes Holdings, a school in Dubai.
“A lot of teachers stay for three or four years and move on to their next destination and a lot of them are single. But the ones who get married stay.”
Some parents have also voiced concerns that foreign teachers will be distracted by their new country, and trying to settle into a new lifestyle at the expense of their students.
“It’s a negative if the teacher is new to the country because it will take her time to set her own footprint into the country,” Kanika Sinha, a mum of a six-year-old in grade 2, told website 7 days.
“For example, a class of 25 students will look up to a teacher. She has to have some knowledge of the country and an established relationship with students.”