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Teachers' Pay Deal Welcomed

Education officials and school administrators have welcomed a government initiative to boost the number of teachers and raise their pay, predicting that the plan will help ease staff shortages throughout the country.

The government announced last month that it was to create 15,000 new jobs in education, including 11,000 teaching positions.

Most of the posts are for contract or supply teachers, who will get between 60 and 120 lira (1.20 to 2.40 US dollars) per class period – double the pay they have received until now. The government is also raising the pay of staff working in remote areas by 10 to 20 per cent.

Qasim Nasr al-Din, an educational supervisor in the countryside near Damascus, said better pay and more job openings will attract more non-tenured teachers to state schools. He said the additional funding would also improve teachers’ performance, which would have a “positive impact on education”.

Until now, contract positions have been hard to fill because of the low pay, and because these teachers do not receive benefits such as vacation pay and can be replaced if a decision is made to hire a staff teacher. Education officials acknowledge that contract teachers often take better-paid posts in private schools or seek work abroad.

The improved pay deal is now enticing some of them back to the state sector.

A headmaster at a secondary school in the Doma area near Damascus said that with the changes, he had been able to hire 17 contract teachers for the upcoming school year. By contrast, he had been unable to get a full complement of teaching staff until halfway through the last academic year.

He said specialised subject teachers, as opposed to generalists, were particularly difficult to find.

Basim Radhi, a 27-year-old university graduate from the Aleppo countryside, has been waiting to take part in a competition for a full-time position for three years now. But with better pay on offer, plus the increment for working in out-of-the-way places, he is now considering taking a contract post.

“Even if I don’t get a tenured position, I will work for the [local] school because the wages have doubled,” he said. “I won’t miss that opportunity”.

Teachers compete for tenured slots by sitting a state exam, but education officials and teachers complain that too few of these positions are made available.

“There are a large number of graduates but only a few positions are available through the competitions,” said the headmaster.

All things being equal, many teachers prefer government schools to the private sector because full-time positions there offer better security.

Sulafa, a 26-year-old teacher at the private Al-Noor Institute for intermediate and high school students on the outskirts of Damascus, is currently considering a move to teach science in her home province of Dara in southern Syria.

Working in the state education “more secure for the future – as long as there is a real chance of getting a tenured position”, she said.

Over the next ten years, Syria may not need as many teachers as before. According to a 2006 report on teacher supply and demand in Arab countries, Syria’s primary school-age population is expected to shrink by 21 per cent by 2015.

(Syria News Briefing, a weekly news analysis service, draws on information and opinion from a network of IWPR-trained Syrian journalists based in the country.)

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