ABU DHABI, UAE - The Irish Minister for Education and Skills Joe McHugh on Wednesday began a two-day trip to meet with Irish teachers working in the United Arab Emirates.
Two town hall meetings are being held so the minister can get the views of Irish teachers on teaching abroad.
One of the meetings was scheduled to take place in the capital Abu Dhabi on Wednesday night, and the other in the emirate of Dubai on Thursday night.
Whilst in the Gulf country, McHugh will also meet with his UAE counterpart Hussein Al Hamadi.
Minister McHugh began his trip on Wednesday morning with a visit to Brighton College in Abu Dhabi, where he met with Irish teachers and pupils of the school. He was also to visit Khalifa University before travelling on to Dubai to visit the local Choueifat School and also the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland-Dubai, which offers postgraduate education, training and consultancy.
The minister was also scheduled to have a breakfast meeting in Dubai with the local Irish Business Network on Thursday.
"This is a great opportunity to see first-hand the education links between Ireland and the UAE and to see how we can build on these as well as seeing for myself the work of our highly-regarded teachers in the classrooms in the Gulf region," McHugh said Wednesday.
The minister also expressed condolences to the family of Irish teacher Fiona Geraghty, who was one of seventeen people killed in an horrific bus accident in Dubai last week.
"There are more than 2,000 Irish people working in education in the UAE. They are a huge asset to the schools and the education system in the region and they are phenomenal ambassadors for our country."
"This trip is part of a learning process. We are not in the UAE to recruit teachers or convince anyone to come home. It is about trying to see what practical measures can be taken for teachers who have made a decision to return home and whether that journey can be made easier for them," the education minister said.
Ahead of the visit, the Embassy of Ireland in the UAE carried out an online survey last month of teachers working in the UAE, and neighbouring Gulf countries Qatar and Kuwait.
"This work has provided an invaluable opportunity to better understand some of the key issues for our teachers if and when they consider a return to Ireland," McHugh said.
Key findings from the survey carried out by the Irish embassy in which 1,002 Irish teachers in the UAE responded were:
1. Salary, pay inequality, housing and lack of permanent positions cited as some of the main reasons for teachers leaving Ireland.
2. More than half of respondents are planning on definitely returning to Ireland with just 10% saying they would not. The remainder were undecided.
3. More than two thirds of respondents were female and more than three quarters were aged 25 to 34.
4. Some 59% have been living in the Gulf for less than three years, while 25% have lived there for between three and five years.
5. 76% of those who responded said they moved to the Gulf for financial opportunities; 40% cited lifestyle change; 35% unemployment or underemployment in Ireland; and 30% for career development.
6. 56% were teaching primary level and just under one third are post primary teachers.
7. Salary was the most commonly identified issue relating to a return to teach in Ireland - 74% cited this reason; 69% cited pay inequality for post-2011 entrants; 62% housing; and 58% lack of permanent teaching positions.
8. 80% were registered with or eligible to be registered with the Teaching Council of Ireland. 12% said they were not eligible and 8% don't know.
9. 27% were on a career break from an Irish school or institution.
The survey was conducted online and communicated with the teaching community in the UAE through the Embassy of Ireland's UAE website.
It was distributed primarily on social media channels, including Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter.
Irish communities and groups including the GAA, Irish societies and the Irish Business Network Dubai promoted the survey amongst their members and on social media.
There were 55 questions in total on background, education, work, connection with Ireland and engagement with the Irish Embassy in Abu Dhabi.
The full results of the survey are as follows:
69% of respondents were female.
76% were aged between 25 and 34.
22% were married and 13% had children.
90% resided in the UAE, 8% in Qatar and 2% in Kuwait. Dubai was the most common location 42%, followed by Abu Dhabi 30% and Al Ain 8%.
59% lived in the Gulf for less than three years; 25% for three to five years.
76% had moved to the Gulf from Ireland, while 17% were living in the UK prior to moving.
56% were teaching primary level and approximately 30% said they were post-primary teachers.
59% had a post-graduate qualification.
91% had a teaching qualification.
73% obtained their teaching qualification in Ireland.
85% of those that obtained their teaching qualification elsewhere are recognised/registered teachers in their country of qualification.
Bachelor of Education was the most common qualification 39%, followed by PCGE (UK) 22% and Higher Diploma in Education 13%. Almost 20% had a Master's degree.
80% were registered with or eligible to be registered with the Teaching Council of Ireland. 12% said they were not eligible and 8% don't know.
83% had post-qualification teaching experience prior to moving to the Gulf. 67% had gained their experience in Ireland and 26% in the UK.
10% had less than one year's teaching experience; 46% had more than five years.
27% were on a career break from an Irish school or institution.
98% were currently working as teachers.
93% said they would recommend a career as a teacher in the Gulf to others.
86% said that the quality of life is better in the Gulf than in Ireland.
62% had been working in the Gulf for less than three years.
85% were teaching in an international private school.
55% applied for their job directly to the school/institution, while 37% used a third party recruitment agency. Only 3% said they were recruited at a graduate recruitment fair.
Life in the Gulf and future plans
56% plan to return to teach in Ireland, and 33% don't know. 45% said they plan to return to teach in Ireland within three years.
76% said they moved to the Gulf for financial opportunities; followed by lifestyle change, 40%; unemployment/underemployment in Ireland, 35%; and career development, 30%.
Salary was the most commonly identified barrier to returning to teach in Ireland 74%, followed by pay inequality for post-2011 entrants 69%, housing 62% and lack of permanent teaching positions 58%.
88% said they were aware of websites advertising teaching posts in Ireland. 22% said they were aware of the Department of Education and Skills' 'Teaching Transforms' programme.
66% said they keep up to date with developments in the education sector in Ireland.
90% used Facebook, 86% used Instagram and 57% used Snapchat.
78% were involved with Irish community groups in the Gulf, of which 80% said they were members of a GAA club. 35% were members of an Irish society, and only 8% were members of an Irish business or professional network.
19% had consulted the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's Travel Advice and 10% had registered their location in the Gulf on the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's Citizens' Registration.
30% had engaged with the Irish Embassy over the past three years, predominately for passport services.
(Pictured: Ireland's Education Minister Joe McHugh meeting Irish teachers and pupils at Brighton College in Abu Dhabi).