Thousands of books are to be delivered to government schools to increase awareness among Emirati children of Arab and Islamic history and culture. The countrywide initiative comes amid concern that traditions are at risk from the influx of expatriates and the potential loss of Arabic language skills. More than 6,000 books on subjects such as Islam, Arabic language and culture have been provided by the Juma al Majid Centre for Culture and Heritage and are being given to 30 schools initially, the Ministry of Education said.
Later this year the project will be extended to 50 more government schools, with 24,000 books distributed in total. This will improve library facilities that have been described as inadequate. "It is critically important to raise the level of awareness in both high schools and elementary schools regarding history, culture, Islamic studies, and heritage," said Dr Hanif Hassan, the Minister of Education.
This agreement "encourages our students in reading and writing and at the same time enlightens society with distinctive books and cultural collections". The importance of reinforcing indigenous culture and identity was reflected in the decision of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, President of the UAE, to name 2008 as the year of national identity. With the majority of UAE residents being expatriates, many of whom speak English, experts are concerned that young Emiratis will lose touch with their linguistic, religious and cultural origins. Dr Fatma al Sayegh, professor of UAE and Gulf history at UAE University in Al Ain, said young UAE nationals must learn more about their heritage. "Most of the books the younger generation are dealing with are concerned with things such as technology," she said. "Perhaps by providing books it will encourage them [to learn about] culture and heritage. "They are important for providing students with social values and for creating identity. How do you create identity? It's by reading history and culture." Pupils will be given the opportunity to attend workshops organised by the Juma al Majid Centre. The books focus on the history of the UAE, Arab history, Islamic culture, Arabic language, Arabic poetry, Islamic civilisation and Islamic personalities. "The agreement with the Ministry of Education assures our beliefs in preserving books and culture," said Juma al Majid, chairman of the Juma al Majid Centre. Library facilities in many government schools are "very small", according to Conley Hathorn, an adviser to the principals of two state schools. "There is a great need for libraries," he said. "It varies from school to school. Some have really nice rooms but they need to be stocked with adequate books." According to Sultan al Mutawa, principal of Zayed al Thani School in the capital, "of course" it is a good idea that schools are getting more books in subjects such as Arabic language, history and culture. "We need our children to learn English, science and mathematics, but Arabic and Islamic studies are the most important subjects." The library at Jumeirah Girls Model School in Dubai already has 4,000 volumes, but the head librarian, Khadija al Yousef, said more books were welcome. "Teachers do need more books on Islamic culture and we also need storybooks written by Emirati writers," she said. "There is not a problem within schools, but we want to increase the awareness of the students," said Dr Mohammed Amro, the assistant general manager of the Juma al Majid Centre. He said the books would not be an obligatory part of the curriculum, but would have a dedicated section in the school library. The centre has suggested schools purchase trolley tables which can be stacked with books and pass by classrooms each week to encourage the students to read. * The National