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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 October 2018

UAE leaders hailed for promoting literacy in push for a knowledge-based economy

By declaring 2016 the Year of Reading, the country’s Rulers are leading the way in promoting literacy and establishing a foundation for building a strong knowledge economy, experts say.
Children should develop good reading habits from a young age to encourage life-long learning. Christopher Pike / The National
Children should develop good reading habits from a young age to encourage life-long learning. Christopher Pike / The National

ABU DHABI // By declaring 2016 the Year of Reading, the country’s Rulers are leading the way in promoting literacy and establishing a foundation for building a strong knowledge economy, experts say.

“The UAE leaders have been in the forefront in the Arab world for stressing the importance of literacy, both in their own language and in English,” said Mary Pittman-Jones, elementary school principal at the American International School.

“We know that our UAE students hold their Rulers in high esteem, and so we feel that this initiative is important for our school.”

President Sheikh Khalifa last week issued a directive declaring 2016 as the Year of Reading.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, has voiced his support for the initiative.

“No nation, people or country rises without reading,” he said on Twitter. “We have a literacy crisis in the Arab world and changing course to knowledge-based development means getting our youth reading. Our goal is for the UAE to be a beacon of science and knowledge, as Andalusia, Granada, Baghdad and others were sources of enlightenment.”

Emad Eid, head of libraries at Abu Dhabi Municipality, praised the country’s leaders for promoting literacy.

“This will be a very good celebration year to support reading everywhere,” said Mr Eid, adding that the UAE must lead by example in reversing the “literacy crisis” across the Arab world.

“There are so many indicators that show that the reading habit is minimal in Arab countries if we compare it to the West.”

The publishing industry in the Arab world, he added, was “almost nothing” when compared to other parts of the world.

“If you look to the new research, the contribution of Arab countries is very low also,” said Mr Eid. “Even borrowing books from public libraries is also minimal if you compare it to the western countries.”

When it came to reading, the UAE ranked 44th out of 65 countries that took part in the latest Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa), which measures 15-year-old students’ reading, mathematics, and science literacy every three years.

The UAE has a high literacy rate – 93.8 per cent of the population between 15 and 64 years of age is literate, according to Unesco Institute for Statistics. But it is often a challenge to get people to read books, according to Zeyna Al Jabri, owner of Buzoor, a Dubai-based distributor of Arabic books.

“In terms of reading – as in pleasure reading, just holding a book and reading – it is very challenging here,” she said.

“Then, in my case, you add to the challenge of getting them to read in Arabic. Literacy, or the reading habits in Arabic, the numbers are even [worse] than just reading in general, I think.”

rpennington@thenational.ae