Dh100 million fund set up to promote reading in UAE

The fund is part of the Ministry of Cabinet Affairs and Future’s National Strategy for Reading, which has a 10 year goal to create a nation of avid readers.

Amal Al Ahmad teaches pupils of from Ajyal International School how to make puppets on the final day of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair at Adnec on Tuesday, where the major push to encourage Emiratis to read was launched.  Satish Kumar / The National
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ABU DHABI // A Dh100 million fund has been set up and a national law is being drafted to encourage more people to pick up a book.

The President, Sheikh Khalifa, on Tuesday announced the moves as part of the Ministry of Cabinet Affairs and the Future’s National Strategy for Reading, which has a 10-year goal to create a nation of avid readers.

The Dh100m National Endowment for Reading will support voluntary activities and will be overseen by Shamma Al Mazrui, the Minister of State for Youth Affairs.

“The UAE has moved during the past few decades from a country seeking to reduce illiteracy to a country seeking global competition in technical and scientific fields,” Sheikh Khalifa said.

“Reading and knowledge are our path to excel and compete. Reading policies and strategies are policies for building the nation and establishing educated, conscious, empowered and tolerant people.

“Our goal is to prepare our future generations to achieve developmental leaps, underpin our national leadership goals, strengthen our competitiveness and achieve our future vision.”

The National Reading Law will provide a sound basis for lifelong learning for all members of the community, he said.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, said the UAE “will be a pioneer in our region in issuing a law to promote and support reading”.

The process to introduce the law will start in the next few weeks.

Sheikh Mohammed said the plan “will put reading at the heart of government work in ministries and institutions to build an avid reading generation”.

“There is no knowledge-based economy without knowledge-based societies,” he said.

“Our development strategies cannot be built without building the capacity of our young generation. We can’t create a socially aware, tolerant society with strong family values and a sense of national identity without culture, reading and knowledge.

“A reading society embraces civilised values, is flexible and adaptable and has the intellectual capacity to drive development to take a role in our multicultural world.”

The announcement on Tuesday, on the last day of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, also included increasing the amount of reading material in Arabic, plans to provide three bags of books for each Emirati child under 4, and support for local publishers.

Mohammed Al Gergawi, Minister for Cabinet Affairs and the Future, said the 10-year plan was based on more than 100 global studies on reading, more than 4,000 ideas and suggestions from the public and a survey of 12,000 people in the region.

“The survey showed that people in the UAE read 1.5 books a year, while 78 per cent of Emirati adults do not actively read,” Mr Al Gergawi said.

“Our homes include only 20 books on average, compared to 200 in the UK. The average rate of reading for UAE pupils is four books a year, compared to 40 in South Korea.”

The strategy aims to make reading a lifelong habit for 50 per cent of Emirati adults and 80 per cent of pupils, who should read on average at least 20 books a year, while half of local parents should read for their children.

It was also announced that March would be the UAE’s Month of Reading each year starting from 2017, along with October this year.

“The reading strategy is a government priority because it’s a building block of all subsequent future plans,” said Mr Al Gergawi. “The UAE’s plans for the future cannot be achieved without creating a generation that’s cultural and conscious”.

The policy would also include changes in the education systems and curriculums to “evaluate schools and systems of higher education to enforce reading in UAE society”, Sheikh Mohammed said.

“The reading strategy is a road map for building a civilised society, capable of change, a leader in development and tolerant of all cultures.

“Enforcing reading in the new generations is long-term work with deep impact and lasting consequences.”