We take a deeper look at the hiring process and lives of foreign teachers at international schools in Cairo. Are they qualified and are you getting the education you pay for?
Many foreigners who come to Egypt looking for a job stumble upon teaching at international schools. Some are qualified and others are not, and as the costs of education in international schools in Cairo continue to skyrocket, we decided to investigate the process by which international teachers are hired, shining a light on what new teaching candidates can expect based on a variety of personal experiences.
On a sweaty day in a university gymnasium in America, Jaclyn* was recruited to teach at a school in Egypt. She had not quite finished her BA in communications but she knew she wanted to travel some place 'exotic.' She soon decided to take time off from school and move to Cairo. She had never lived alone and had only traveled outside of the US on a school trip to Europe. She had to submit the following documents to the recruitment agency:
When she arrived in Cairo she had four days to move into the apartment the agency had found for her. Sunday, she took the microbus the school hired to take her for her first day of work. After a brief orientation, she had the opportunity to chat with her new colleagues. She quickly discovered she was the most qualified new teacher. Most of the teachers did not have a college degree, had no experience with children, and had no teacher qualifications. All of these teachers had similar benefits and most had similar pay to her, although she had been told not to disclose her salary or she would immediately have her contract terminated. These benefits frequently include:
Exact details of individual packages vary from school to school, depending on what the teacher or recruiter negotiates for, and of course the teacher's experience and educational background.
Teachers tell us they were enticed to come to Egypt by the "adventure, rich Middle Eastern history and culture," as well as "cheap travel to many countries and within Egypt, a stepping stone into the international world of teaching, ample school holidays, good professional development opportunities, salaries (typically) paid in international currency, potential (to) advance careers, and meeting a community of excellent teachers thereby making new friends."
New teachers may find those pleasant experiences, but they also may receive a rude awakening about the harsh realities of teaching in an unstable, developing nation filled with harassment, according to a group of teachers from six different schools.
We wanted to know more about the recruitment and hiring process, as well as get a better understanding of what these teachers' lives are really like so we reached out to more teachers, recruiters, and schools and unearthed some interesting discoveries regarding Egypt's education system.
Almost everyone we talked to had issues with the administration and management at the schools they had worked at, including teachers, two principals, and one recruiter. One teacher said, "I had a horrible experience at this school and was treated very poorly. The head of my department had power issues. She didn't like me for some reason, and it was apparent that she wanted me out of there. Luckily, the agency I was working with supported me and let me get another reference elsewhere."
Though power-hungry admins have been cited by many as a huge issue, perhaps the more prominent issue stems from the hiring practices of the schools. A principal told us, "Ideally you would have a Bachelor’s Degree and some kind of teaching experience. If you have a Teaching License in your country of origin you could qualify for a really nice expat package which includes round-trip airfare, housing, medical insurance, and a really nice salary in USD or GBP. The more degrees and experience you have, the better. But here is where another grey area comes in. I know plenty of people that don’t have a BA and they still have decent salaries. Unfortunately in Egypt, it is most important for their foreign teachers to be just that - foreign. Be prepared to be paid far more than your Egyptian counterparts, whether or not they are more qualified than you. This can and does create tension in the work place."
The consistency in hiring criterion is nonexistent. We contacted Fotis Sevastakis to discuss his thesis, Understanding The Current Status Of Teacher Training And Development In Egyptian Schools, where he spoke with 57 teachers from Cairo, representing 25 schools, as well as eleven school administrators who represented their own schools. He conducted his research during eight weeks, over April and May of 2015. We were saddened to discover his research further lowered our expectations of hiring criterion.
His thesis shows some schools require as little as two years of teaching experience, while the majority only require some kind of college degree.
Outside of schools that are a part of external training organizations, many "schools are able to manage and change their own hiring criteria to fulfill their own needs." He cites Ingersoll, indicating that “there is surprisingly little consensus on how to define a qualified teacher.”
Some schools we spoke to did require some form of professional certificates like CELTA, TESOL, CITT, etc. Other schools offered such certificates and professional training throughout the school year. We were further disheartened to discover that many teachers decline these training opportunities, not due to lack of desire to enhance their resume and knowledge base, but because they were required to attend these training sessions during evenings and weekends when they were already scheduled to do extra work by their admins.
However, research suggests that despite the fact that many schools will hire teachers with little experience, they do seem to put forth a concerted effort after the fact, working to provide them with training prior to, during, or even after the academic year.
We were hoping to see some positive changes in hiring criteria with one of the new schools here in Egypt. Malvern College, which made our Most Expensive Schools in Egypt List, has had wonderful press coverage. They have a prestigious pedigree and have received testimonials from a lord, a baroness, a British prince, a former Egyptian First Lady, The British Ambassador in Egypt, and a former Prime Minister of the UK, but when we looked at their hiring criteria, it is very similar to all the other international schools in Egypt. According to the Malvern site, the minimal requirements for teachers being: "Experience in dealing with students...Bachelor degree in any discipline."
Despite all of this, there are good teachers that are still excited to come to Egypt. In fact, one of them has written The Guide to Teaching Abroad in Egypt and 10 Reasons Why You Should Teach Abroad in Egypt.
What can parents and families do to protect their children and try to ensure that they get a quality education? Go to the school's employment pages and read the hiring requirements, read online reviews that teachers have written about the schools, and ask other families about their experiences. If you are looking to send your child to a new school, look at what group owns the school and Google that group. Remember, these schools, as one principal told us, "are run by owners/shareholders for profit and the educational value is lost on them. Thus there is a regimented directive to achieve grades and not wholesome education (meaning) values, life skills, work ethics etc." As such, and given all of the above discoveries, it is imperative that parents do their research about who will be imparting knowledge onto their children.
* In order to protect the interviewees’ privacy, all names have been changed.
Teachers and staff that participated in this piece represent but are not limited to the following schools: