Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid’s reading initiative ‘to enrich children’s imagination’

Teachers and parents welcome Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid’s campaign to get one million children in the region to read 50 Arabic books each.

Aahaan Ved, 7, takes part in the challenge, in which children in grades 1 to 2 across the Arab world can participate. Antonie Robertson / The National
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SHARJAH // Teachers and parents welcome Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid’s campaign to get one million children in the region to read 50 Arabic books each.

They said the initiative from the Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai was a great way to bolster an activity that is a rarity among youth in the Middle East.

Emirati Mahla Al Hammadi, an Arabic language teacher at Al Arqam Primary School in Sharjah, said the recent revelation of low reading rates in the Arab world was a cause for regret.

“This significant initiative will help make reading a daily habit among children and will contribute to improving their Arabic language and writing skills,” she said, adding that she could not understand how some pupils reached Grade 5 without knowing how to write their names correctly.

“Reading will not just help children write correctly but it will also enrich their imagination and knowledge.”

Children in Grades 1 to 12 in the Arab world can take part in the Arab Reading Challenge, which will begin every September/October and will end the following year in March/April. The competition includes five stages, and at each the children are required to read 10 books and summarise them. Finalists will then be selected based on their summaries, after which the finals will take place in Dubai in May/June.

The campaign has a range of prizes, with US$150,000 (Dh551,000) for the winning pupil – US$100,000 (Dh367,000) for university fees and US $50,000 (Dh184,000) for their family.

A sum of US$300,000 (Dh1.1m) has been set aside for school supervisors and promotional incentives for schools, and more than $1m in rewards for pupils.

Aisha Saif, secretary of Sharjah Educational Council, urged parents to encourage their children to read and take part in the competition.

“It is illogical that we are called the nation of ‘read’ when we do not read,” she said.

Dubai resident Umm Mohamad, who has three children between the ages of six and 12, said it was very unfortunate that reading is no longer a passion for children.

“When I was young, reading was a big part of my childhood, but nowadays, children prefer to play online or video games,” she said. “My husband and I encourage them to read books by promising them a reward afterwards, although it is still unfortunate that they feel they must be rewarded when reading is a reward itself.”

Thouraya Al Zoughbi, from Lebanon, said that she, too, encourages her children, aged 6 and 8, to read Arabic books and she believed that the initiative was a step forward.

“We do read Arabic books together. I would read out loud and they would listen and spell out a word every now and then,” she said.

However, Ms Al Zoughbi said that her children were sometimes resistant to Arabic writing.

“This is because we at home don’t use Arabic as our main language of communication, and so my children would prefer a book in English,” she said.

The challenge will play an essential role in spreading reading among people, and will create a movement that will take individuals back to printed books, said the principal of a primary school in Sharjah. “Reading has a great impact on one’s self-esteem because it gives the one who reads intellectual and cultural richness,” she said.

“The desire to read exists in our children but always needs to be fed by us and by the family.”

Ali Al Hosani, director of the Model Schools Department at Sharjah Education Council, said the challenge will help stimulate dialogue between children, youths and adults.

“A book is for all times and all generations,” he said.

Some of the well-known Arabic children’s books are The Enchanted Sultan, Finger’s Knuckle and The Wise Minister.

“These books were my passport to a different world, where I flew, became invisible and at other times turned into a princess,” said 39-year-old Nora Khalid, a mother of two who ensures she reads a story each day to her children.

“I can’t imagine how one can live without reading, without holding an actual book then travel in time and place.”