Spending time on the internet and gaming are keeping children from developing a love of reading, experts said.
Only 55 per cent of children in Dubai’s private schools read for pleasure, according to a report by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority.
Neil Matthews, principal at Gems Wellington Academy in Al Khail, believes busy lifestyles are to blame for children not taking to reading.
He said it is key to promote a love for reading right from the age children join school. His school tries to instil a love for reading by introducing children to picture books as well as reading aloud to younger ones.
“It’s about bringing stories to life. If children can get their love for reading at a young age, it will stay with them. The older the children become, the harder it is to keep them motivated.
“Technology can be a distraction these days and so it’s important that we look for every opportunity to get children to read,” Mr Matthews said.
The school does sessions of paired reading where children from higher classes go to the juniors’ classrooms and read to them.
“Our older children love going to the younger ones’ classes to read stories because it gives their reading a purpose,” he said.
In secondary school, it becomes a bit more of a challenge to motivate children to read, the principal said. The school also runs a competitive programme called Accelerated Reader that rewards children for the number of books and the amount of words they read. This has encouraged many children to read, Mr Matthews said.
“Reading has a greater profile than when I first arrived in the UAE four years ago. Through the Year of Reading, there is a growing commitment to reading,” he said.
The school also encourages parents to read to children because such a family activity can help to motivate children.
“If we role model reading then it will encourage children to read. People are so busy that it’s difficult to find the time to read to children.
“I think it’s important that we give children dedicated time while reading books or telling stories or just telling them about your day,” he said.
Mr Matthews believes that children need to be taught how to use mobile devices in a responsible manner while ensuring they get the balance right.
“Technology is important but it has to be balanced with the skill of reading,” he said.
Andi Price, English lead teacher at Ranches Primary School in Dubai, says you can teach a child to read but getting them to love reading is tougher.
“We as teachers model the love of reading. All our projects have text around them.
"This year while working on a spy topic, we used the stimulus of Anthony Horowitz's Stormbreaker. We got to meet the author as well," he said.
Meeting authors was a great way to encourage pupils to read, he said.
Mr Price does not believe that only 55 per cent children in Dubai read for pleasure.
“I believe that reading is hidden nowadays. Just because children don’t read paperbacks, people think they’re not reading.
“With the internet, children are reading all the time. There are children reading e-books on devices,” he said.
“If you ask a child, ‘Do you read on the internet?’, you would have a much higher percentage.”
Kingsley Leadership Academy in Malaysia is is one of the first schools to run under the Arthur Carmazzi Leadership Development methodology.
Each pupil integrates learning and writing assignments from several disciplines to write their own book and publish it by the end of the school year. It encourages children to write, edit and market their own books.
Arthur Carmazzi is an expert on leadership who challenged people to publish a book before his children do.
“My 10-year-old wrote 47 pages of his book so far. He wants to be on Amazon so he is excited about it. Doing this in a school system is going to encourage more children to read; help children see a bigger potential. Break it down for the children so they can post and show how far they have got in their reading on social media,” said Mr Carmazzi.