UAE’s Dh100m reading fund will help boost literacy, say experts

The National Policy for Reading and its accompanying Dh100 million reading fund has been hailed as the kick-start the nation needs to boost literacy.

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DUBAI // The National Policy for Reading and its accompanying Dh100 million reading fund has been hailed as the kick-start the nation needs to boost literacy.

Dr Janet Martin, a Dubai librarian, said Tuesday’s announcement was “brilliant” news.

“Anything that can be done to improve literacy here should be applauded,” said Dr Martin. “There is a real lack of really good quality Arabic reading materials in a range of levels and we really need interesting materials for the Emirati population. .

“There are some lovely children’s books being produced in Arabic, but very little, so anything that can be done with that would be excellent.”

Dr Martin said research shows not enough reading is going on across the country and that levels of critical thinking are too low to support a knowledge economy.

“Reading has got to be central to that,” she said.

Education expert Dr Senthil Nathan, director and co-founder of Edu Alliance, praised the initiative which he said is based on strong insight and understanding of national culture which has traditionally favoured oral communication.

“Universities and schools often work around this deficit in reading skills by averaging student competencies across the four language skills (reading, writing, speaking and listening). It would be good if schools and universities are mandated to establish minimum, rigorous passing standards in reading skills both in Arabic and in English.

“Many community libraries as well as national libraries may be established as part of this initiative.”

Ahmed Al Shoaibi, an academic at the Petroleum Institute and author, said he was thrilled to hear about the UAE National Policy for Reading which he hoped would be a major enabler in the execution of the UAE’s vision for a knowledge-based economy.

“I am even more excited about the support that the government will be giving to the development of local content. If we want our children to be engaged in reading, we need to provide them with material they can relate to. We are extremely grateful for our country’s wise leadership who are helping us take leaps forward in the fields of education, culture and tolerance.”

Khalifa University’s president, Prof Tod Laursen, called the policy “an inspiring initiative by the government”.

“For children, reading is a key gateway to a life of curiosity, pursuit of knowledge, imagination and innovation. Support from society and family is key to instilling good reading habits and the information literacy that depends on them.

“Khalifa University’s students are some of the brightest in the country, and success in technical fields depends on communication skills. Development of such skills hinges on reading, both for work and for pleasure. At the university level we see a strong correlation between academic success and early access to books and regular reading habits.”

Wayne Jones, head of the academic bridge programme at Zayed University, said: “I think it is very wise to adopt a long-term strategy not only to cultivate an understanding of the importance of reading within educational contexts, but also to foster a genuine love for reading within the wider community.

“At university level, it is imperative that students have well developed reading skills and strategies to be able to cope with the demands of academic texts. During the nation’s ‘Year of Reading’, this has become a key component of Zayed University’s approach to language across the curriculum.”