Books gift may turn new leaf in schools

Every public school in Dubai will receive between 500 and 700 Arabic books.

United Arab Emirates - Dubai - April 24, 2011.

ARTS & LIFE: The Princess Haya School for Girls students (left to right) Aisha Hassan Al Mas (cq-al), 18, Khulood Al Falasi (cq-al), 17, and Huda Ahli (cq-al), 17, check out the new books their library received from The Mohammed Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation and the Knowledge and Human Development Authority on Sunday, April 24, 2011. Most of the books were translated from English to Arabic. "I like to visit the library eery week," said Al Falasi. "My favorite hobby is reading books and stories." Amy Leang/The National
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DUBAI // Public school libraries in the emirate are to receive 50,000 Arabic books as part of a programme to promote reading in Arabic.

Picture books, novels and non-fiction titles - all translated and developed by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation - will be donated to 80 government schools in collaboration with the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA). Each school will receive between 500 and 700 titles.

Alyazia Khalifa, 16, a pupil at Princess Haya Public School in Rashidiya, said she knew the importance of reading but did not enjoy it. "During my spare time I chat online and play video games."

She said she only used the library's resources to put together projects or assignments. "I know I should be reading more often because it will help in my academics as well, but I do not like it that much."

Yesterday, her school was the first to receive a donation of books from the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation, which gave 713 books to the school's library.

The donated books are all a result of the foundation's Oktub (Writing) and Tarjem (Translation) programmes.

The Oktub programme provides aspiring writers with professional and financial support, while the Tarjem initiative translates foreign works for Arab readers. Among the books translated into Arabic are non-fiction bestsellers like Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point and Rhonda Byrne's The Secret.

The foundation's work is made possible by the Dubai Ruler's commitment of about US$10 billion (Dh36.7bn) to foster literary skills among young Arabs and develop Arab authors in the Middle East.

The Emirati children's author Maitha al Khayat admitted that even she found it challenging to make her children read Arabic books. "My daughter finds it more interesting and entertaining to read in English. She feels Arabic literature is more boring stuff," said the author of I Love My Dad's Long Beard. "I do find a lot of translated books, but I believe that is not enough. We are in great need of books with Arabic themes that focus on our traditions and are cool at the same time."

Fozeya Budebs, a librarian at the Al Zabeel High School for Girls, backed Mrs al Khayat's sentiments. "The students read more English books because there is a lot of variety. There are some very good Arab authors but the content is not always what the children are looking for."

Parents played an important role in improving literacy rates, said Fatma al Marri, chief executive of the Dubai Schools Agency at KHDA. "The culture should be adopted at home with parents reading to the children," she said.

Mrs al Khayat added: "I advise parents to act while reading. Also, reward your children by buying them a book instead of a toy."

The poor reading skills of pupils in the emirate were highlighted by the results of the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) test, published in December last year. Students in the emirate were placed 42nd out of 65 countries in reading literacy.

A study conducted in 2007 found 44 per cent of pupils in Dubai owned fewer than 25 books, and only 12 per cent had more than 100 books.

A culture of reading needs to be revived, according to Ms al Marri. "Nowadays, books are competing with video games and other technology for children's attention, and clearly they are not the preferred choice," she said.

Ms al Marri said the foundation's new books were the first step to making children read quality content.

"We want to strengthen the Arabic language of our students. For that, they need to read. It can be from resources online as well. But by giving them books first, it will create the habit."