ABU DHABI // A new reading programme hopes to promote a love of words among families in the capital, some of whom read for less than 45 minutes a day.
The emirate's education authority, Adec, will distribute free children's books in schools, homes, parks and malls as part of the two-week Abu Dhabi Reads programme launched yesterday
"We don't just want pupils to read," said Dr Mugheer Khamis Al Khaili, director general of Adec. "We want them to learn through reading."
A recent survey by Adec in public and private schools found 50 per cent of families were not engaging in enough reading time, spending five hours or less with books a week.
The result compares favourably with other countries in the region: Turkish media recently reported families there were spending about 11 minutes a week, while the UK Reading Agency estimated families spent 5.4 hours reading a week in 2000.
But Dr Al Khaili said the authority needed to instil an even greater desire to read and promote creativity to move the country towards a knowledge-based economy.
"Oil was the basis of our economy in the past, but now there is an increasing demand to move away from that dependence, especially with the increase in population."
More than 75,000 kindergarten and primary school pupils will take part in workshops and competitions organised by Adec with the support of the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority, the municipality, UAE Writers Union, General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowment, Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalid Al Nahyan Association for Future Generations and Abu Dhabi Media Company, which publishes The National.
Dr Karima Al Mazroui, Adec's Arabic curriculum section manager, said reading formed the basis for acquiring knowledge.
"It is a shock to see some students who move up to secondary school without knowing how to read," said Dr Al Mazroui. "Children who get involved in reading activities also keep away from mischief and bullying. This is a good way to keep them engaged."
She said parents had an important role to play in inculcating the habit of reading at a young age.
Schools will get involved by organising character days, where children will come dressed as their favourite fictional characters, as well as storytelling sessions and home reading programmes.
Children will also be taken to the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, which runs at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre from the 24th to the 29th of this month.
Dr Al Khaili said there will be more emphasis to get pupils to read books in Arabic this year.
The authority will be delivering 27 lectures to parents in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain and the Western Region, and dedicate the Friday sermons in mosques to raise awareness about the importance of reading.
The Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi will be handing out environmental books at Khalidiya Mall, Bawadi Mall and City Mall.