Friday, October 31, 2014

One more U-turn on female teachers!

That the kingdom of Saudi Arabia is one place which never stops generating surprises is well-established. This blog has recorded several times in the past the number of impractical rules and regulations which were passed, only to be withdrawn with equal speed. This time was no exception too!

For some strange reason, expatriate teachers working in Saudi Arabia have been a target of authorities who have absolutely no clue about education. Teachers have been insulted, abused in local media and there was even an arrest of teachers a few months back (click here to read about it). 

Teachers have been treated in the most horrific way to the extent that they have been portrayed in cartoons in the local media as though they were money-crazy morons. The tightening of regulations then started.  First came the rule that female expat teachers could not change jobs during an academic session. Then came the rule that female expat teachers could not change jobs for two years from the date they took the assessment examination conduction by the Education Ministry. (Click here to read my earlier article on the same).

A recap of the developments. Female expatriate teachers who were under the sponsorship of their husbands could no longer work in the kingdom unless they first transferred the sponsorship to the respective schools where they worked. Also, it was mandatory for them to take the assessment exam of the Ministry of Education. A big list of do's and don'ts followed suit. These teachers were supposed to have their qualification certificates attested by both Ministry of Education as well as Ministry of Higher Education. For this to happen, the certificates must be attested by the Saudi Cultural attachés in the home countries of the teachers. The Saudi Cultural attaché will attest this only if the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the home country attests it, who will in turn do so only if the Vice Chancellor or his designated official of the University from where the teacher completed her education attests.

Additional requirements by the Ministry of Labor are that the teacher must be between 18 to 60 years old, must have a valid iqama and must have spent at least one year under her husband's sponsorship before even applying for a transfer of sponsorship to the school. Which means that if someone brings his wife to the kingdom and she finds a job in a local school, she had to wait at least a year till she could even think of applying. 

Wait, there is no end to the non-stop nonsense. The Ministry of Labor's guidelines insist that the qualifications of female expat teachers must match with the subjects they would teach. No harm in this. Problem is, if the teacher had post graduate qualifications in a different stream, she was not supposed to teach that. What mattered was only the qualifications at graduation level. Finally, daughters of expatriates working in Saudi Arabia still cannot transfer their sponsorships to the schools, only sons can do so!

With rules like the above, did you still expect female expatriate teachers to continue? The obvious happened. Very few teachers opted to transfer their sponsorships to the schools. After all, why would anyone want to face a situation where the husband and kids leave the kingdom on termination of employment, while the wife is forced to stay back because her passport is with the school? 

The pressure became intense due to the severe shortage of teachers and what happens next? You guessed it. There is a complete U-turn now, but not without the usual comedy of errors. First, it was widely reported in the local media that female teachers were now allowed to work while still under the sponsorship of their husbands. The news articles made it appear as though there was an official announcement to that effect. Then the expected happened. "A senior official from the labor ministry" rejected this news as untrue. And this senior official was none other than the Labor Office Director himself ! (Click here to read his denial). 

Now, I have seen enough flip-flops and U-turns since the nineties when I first landed in the kingdom that nothing surprises me any more (click here to read about similar and funny U-turns). When there is a U-turn in the rule, there has to be another one to keep the drama alive, isn't it? The Under Secretary at the Ministry of Labor has now confirmed (click here) that female expatriate teachers working in Saudi Arabia would indeed be allowed to work without transferring their sponsorships from their husbands. The rest of the rules still apply. Now if this is not hot potato, what else is?

History has proved time and again that no country could  progress or could ever be considered part of the civilized world,  unless it respects its women and teachers and unless it gives them the dignity they rightfully deserve.  Are we heading in the right direction?

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