As every teacher knows, a classroom full of children is a tough audience, quick to dismiss as boring any subject presented in a style that doesn’t instantly seize their imagination. So far, so universal. But when that subject is Arabic and its teaching is failing to engage pupils in one of the world’s leading Arabic countries, the government is right to step in and shake things up.
Having identified old-fashioned teaching methods as a barrier to students, the Ministry of Education has thrown open the debate to parents and pupils, seeking their views on how Arabic could be better taught.
New digital methods, designed to promote everyday use of the language in a manner familiar to today's screen-savvy children, will doubtless help to bring lessons to life.
This is a step in the right direction, and one that needs to be taken on an urgent basis in order to arrest the decline in pupils’ enthusiasm to learn the language. Last year’s Arab Youth Survey found that 68 per cent of young Gulf Arabs spoke more English than Arabic on a daily basis.
This is not surprising given the influence of Hollywood movies, western popular music and video games – all of which have English as their medium of expression.
Keeping Arabic alive is about far more than merely paying lip service to an ancient language. Certainly, it is the expressive and poetic key to a centuries-old tradition of literature and culture. But Arabic is also a vibrant and relevant modern language, with a rich multitude of dialects and no shortage of outstanding contemporary writing, as the International Prize for Arabic Fiction attests annually.
Already one of the six official languages of the United Nations, Arabic is increasingly coming into its own. There are as many native Arabic speakers worldwide as there are English. Yet few foreign residents in the UAE and beyond make an effort to learn how to communicate in Arabic, a habit that could change if learning was made easier and more appealing.
Rooted in the past, Arabic speaks to the future and is the bridge between the two. With the determined backing of the government and the support of schools, teachers and parents, we can all play a part in ensuring Arabic enjoys a long-awaited renaissance.