Tuesday, 25 June 2019

Questions (47)

Maureen O'Sullivan

Question:

47. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Education and Skills the detail and agenda of his recent visits to Abu Dhabi and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, UAE, to meet Irish teachers working in the region; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26557/19]

View answer

Oral answers (8 contributions) (Question to Education)

My question is to ask the Minister for Education and Skills the detail and agenda of his recent visits to Abu Dhabi and Dubai in the UAE, to meet Irish teachers working in the region.

I thank the Deputy for the question.

It relates to my recent education trade mission to the UAE. While there, I engaged with 450 Irish teachers at two meetings in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. I thank all the teachers who turned out on both nights. These meetings gave me the opportunity to hear the challenges facing these teachers and gave them a chance to offer practical solutions to some issues. The meetings allowed me in my role as Minister to meet with these teachers and discuss first hand with them the challenges they face in returning to Ireland, and to consider ways that we can work together to support them when they decide to return to work in Ireland.

To facilitate this, teachers volunteered to form a group to liaise on the identified issues with the embassy and my Department. Arrangements are being made for the first meeting of this group in the autumn. During my visit, I also had a number of productive meetings that will further develop and enhance the co-operation that currently exists between Ireland and the UAE in the higher education area.

Today I had a follow-up meeting as a result of that engagement in the UAE.

The education system plays a key role in forging crucial global relationships and building an international outlook and awareness. One of the core ambitions of my Government’s international education strategy, Irish Educated, Globally Connected, is to support the development of internationally-oriented and globally competitive institutions. The visit has assisted us in delivering on this ambition. I met my counterpart, the Emirati Minister for Education, H.E. Hussain Ibrahim Al Hammadi. We discussed some of the common challenges we faced in our respective education systems and agreed that we would work together to address these challenges through the exchange of information and collaboration.

I also visited a number of Emirati higher education Institutions such as Khalifa University and the City University College of Ajman, where I had the opportunity to promote the Irish higher education sector and very fruitful discussions on how to increase the number of academic, research, staff and student exchanges between higher education institutions in both countries.

While in Dubai I attended a business breakfast of the Irish Business Network to highlight possibilities for partnerships between Irish and Emirati educational institutions and to meet key Irish business community members.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

I also visited RCSI and Mohamed Bin Rashid University in the Mohamed Bin Rashid Academic Medical Centre. The RCSI has been present in Dubai since 2005 offering postgraduate education, training and consultancy in leadership, management, patient safety and quality. There is already a strong connection through the RCSI alumni network and my visit as Minister for Education and Skills aimed to strengthen that relationship.

I thank the Irish ambassador and his staff in the Irish Embassy, the local Irish groups, including the GAA, and the Irish living in the UAE for the work they did to make the visit a success.

I thank the Minister. I nearly feel like suggesting Dubai and the UAE should be making some contribution to the education system since they are getting the benefit of our graduates who come through really good teacher training programmes in the teacher training colleges. It is positive that the Minister went there, but those of us who are involved in education or know about it could tell him what the challenges are. Pay inequality is one and housing another. I know young teachers who have gone there. They say that if they go for two or three years, they will come back with at least the deposit for a house, if not the full price. That is fair enough for graduates who go directly after graduation. However, the phenomenon of teachers travelling abroad on career breaks has an impact on schools here. We have had terrible situations. It has got to the point where boards are having to refuse applications for career breaks because of the impact they are having. In fact, I know of a case where a person resigned rather than come back sooner than they had intended. Did the Minister meet any principal who was on a career break, or any teacher on a career break who was interested in a principalship? Are these vacancies part of the agenda, or will they be?

Tá Teachta Joan Collins ag iarraidh teacht isteach. B'fhéidir go ligfidh mé don Aire freagra a thabhairt. I will let the Minister answer and then let Deputy Joan Collins comment.

There was a question of whether I should even have been there because I knew what the issues were before I went. I knew a lot of them - the pay equality issue, problems in teacher supply, the price of accommodation in Dublin and the uncertainty facing substitute teachers when they came back. It was an opportunity for me to highlight what we had done in the past few months to set up teacher supply panels for substitute teachers in counties Dublin, Galway, Meath, Kildare and Cork. The most important part - believe it or not - was the engagement that took place after the meeting during the one-to-one discussions. It was an opportunity to acknowledge the work the teachers were doing internationally. They are acting as Irish ambassadors and doing so well in terms of career progression. They are heads of departments, principals and deputy principals. They have a skill set and there was a conversation about how we could value it when they returned. If someone has been a head of a department for four years in the UAE, how can we inform boards of management of how beneficial that experience would be to their schools? In a nutshell, I felt there would be a positive outcome. I got a sense that we needed to have a better communication system between the Department and all of our teachers abroad, not just in the UAE but also in Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong and all over the world. I see them as a tremendous asset. Like most Irish people who go away, they want to come back home at some stage.

I agree that it was positive that the Minister went to listen, even though he probably knew the answers. He did not answer my question about principalships, although he might when he replies again. Some two or three years ago it was a nightmare to find teachers to replace those who had gone on a career break. This week we were supposed to interview nine on a panel for two permanent jobs, but by the time they had received notice from the school eight had found permanent jobs. I acknowledge that there has been some movement.

I have a further question two places down the list. I will also bring up this issue when we reach them. I refer to middle management and the extent of the paperwork that must be done. To me, middle management should be about more than paperwork. It should be about enhancing the quality of teaching and the relationship with the students. The extent of the paperwork which must be done is affecting those who are not applying for principalships. What is it actually adding to the educational process? How is it making life better for children in schools? I agree that when people come back from abroad, they bring experience and a skill set. I just want them to come back at some point.

I have a similar question on this issue, Question No. 77. The Minister has said he knows what the issues are. I quote from a report on his visit:

Denise Somers, who has just completed her first year in Abu Dhabi, is the type of person McHugh is hoping to convince to return home. She graduated in 2016 and moved for job security after struggling to make ends meet in Ireland, where she did insecure short-term cover work.

Ms Somers is quoted as saying she worked as a substitute in Ireland and that now she is getting full-time work over there. She earns nearly one third more than what she would be paid here. Her job is permanent and her housing and medical insurance are paid for. Coming back to Ireland, where she would be put at the bottom of the queue and possibly on substitute panels, is not an option for her. The same report describes a couple who went to Abu Dhabi and came home to try to work here. They decided that it would not work out because they could not afford to live here. They went back to Abu Dhabi to save money for a house. The Government must ensure there is housing available, decent pay and permanent work of a standard that these teachers will want to come home as otherwise they will not.

There are several issues. I do not think I met any principal. There were teachers on a career break and a lot of young teachers who had gone out in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012. I was aware of this before, but the pay equality issue is big. Those teachers have advocates all around them, not just those who were recruited from 2011 to 2014. People have different motivations for going abroad. We will never be able to compete with the UAE where teachers do not pay tax and their accommodation is paid for. We will not compete as people understand when they go away. The question is how we can make things easier. I acknowledge the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals, NAPD, the Joint Managerial Body, Education and Training Boards Ireland and the Association of Community and Comprehensive Schools. They have produced a one stop shop portal. If a vacancy to teach a subject is available in certain schools, teachers can apply online and interview by Skype. That is happening. We have to think about how we can make things easier and communicate with teachers. I also acknowledge the strong input they are making on the international scene. I met a lot of former teachers who had moved into the UAE's ministry of education. That is a very important link for us. Several other issues were mentioned, but I do not have time to address them.