Jordanian teenager Abdullah Abu Khalaf saw off competition from 21 million school pupils to be crowned Arab Reading Challenge champion and secure a Dh500,000 top prize.
The young literature lover, aged 17, was named the fifth annual winner of the prestigious competition at a live ceremony broadcast on television on Monday evening.
He took top spot ahead of fellow finalists Sarah Al Daeef from Morocco in second, third-placed Diaa Al Qaisum from Saudi Arabia and Yousra Mohammed Al Imam from Sudan, and Abdul Rahman Mansour Ahmed Mohammed from Egypt in fourth and fifth places, respectively.
Abdullah was told of his success during a surprise visit from Ahmed Ali Ali Balushi, UAE Ambassador to Jordan, who congratulated him and his family on his achievement.
He had impressed judges with the confidence and clarity with which he expressed his ideas and opinions, underlining the firm foundations laid down by reading in shaping young minds and helping set pupils on a path to achievement.
The Arab Reading champion is selected based on the pupil's ability to articulate general knowledge, their critical thinking and communication skills, plus the diversity of books they have selected.
The Arab Reading Challenge was launched by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, in 2015, to encourage a million young people to read at least 50 books in a year.
It has proven to be a huge success story with the latest chapter in the event's history proving the biggest and best yet, with participants drawn from 52 countries.
Love of books a shield against pandemic
Sheikh Mohammed hailed the millions of young hopefuls who took part in the competition in a speech transmitted by video during the ceremony.
“Passion for the Arabic language persisted during the coronavirus pandemic,” he said.
“I thank the 21 million Arab students who participated in the challenge despite the pandemic.
“I would have loved to meet the finalists like I do every year in the UAE, but the circumstances posed by the pandemic prevented that.
“Reading will remain our shield against any difficult times.”
Winners share Dh11 million in prizes
Moza Al Ghanna, from the UAE, scooped Dh300,000, along with the title of Outstanding Supervisor in honour of her work guiding and motivating pupils to take part in the challenge amid the difficulties of the pandemic.
She was selected from 120,000 supervisors.
Egypt’s Al Ghoraib School for Basic Education won the Dh1 million Best School award, vied for by 96,000 schools, thanks to a concerted strategy to make reading an integral part of pupils' lives.
In the category of Arab pupils living in foreign countries, Alexander Voros was named the champion.
The teenager with special needs impressed judges with his determination to learn the Arabic language.
Challenge adapts to Covid-19
An emphasis was placed on digital learning to ensure no pupil missed out on participation during the pandemic.
This year’s event introduced the principle of electronic summaries instead of paper passports. Each participant had to read and summarise 50 books in five digital passports, each of which had 10 pages, with each book summarised on one page.
The qualifying stages of the competition were held virtually this year, with safety of pupils paramount.