Hussain bin Ibrahim Al Hammadi, Minister of Education, pointed out that the nation’s direction in making 2016 a year of reading articulates the leadership’s vision and marks an important step in driving forward the education process. Reading is inextricably linked to knowledge and the academic achievement of students. This has led the Ministry of Education to accelerate its efforts in setting up a plan that instills reading as an important activity for students.
He added that the education program for the strategic national reading plan focuses on four main objectives – enhancing the linguistic abilities of students, instilling reading as a main component in the educational system, putting in place qualified human resources, and providing an enabling reading environment with suitable content.
The Minister added that a reading program comprises several initiatives. The program includes an innovative plan to link curricula with extracurricular activities that support a culture of reading. Another ongoing initiative aims to shape school libraries into innovative centers that offer an encouraging environment to spread the culture of reading among students. He noted that the first phase of the initiative saw the development of seven such libraries. The ministry is currently working with six more schools.
Al Hammadi added that the Ministry of Education has allocated a large budget to equip school libraries with the necessary books and reference resources. In order to get the initiative underway at the earliest, the ministry has earmarked funds to purchase books from the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair.
The Minister noted that reading is included as a full-fledged criterion in the annual operational plans of schools and is linked to specific indicators. Reading is currently included in the annual performance assessment of schools to gauge the impact of their programs and initiatives.
In addition, an annual reading festival will be initiated – the first of these will be held in October 2016. The agenda will comprise innovative reading activities, showcase key initiatives to promote reading, honor leading schools that have supported the reading program. Yet another program will be launched to select the best school, team, and family that reads as part of the ‘UAE Reads’ initiative.
Drawing the participation of students, educators and members of the community, reading ambassadors have been identified in each school. A special corner will be dedicated for reading in schools as part of a reading club initiative. Furthermore, the ‘Aqdar Writing’ initiative has been launched in cooperation with the ‘Aqdar Writing’ program to train 50 writers annually – including students and teachers – who will become authors and contribute to the local literary landscape. A special page on the ministry’s website (Kashkool) has also been created to provide updates about the UAE Reading Year. The culture of reading will be seamlessly integrated into the ministry’s annual agenda and will highlight school events and best international practices with regard to reading.
He elaborated on the ministry’s broader goal to enhance the skills of teachers and library supervisors through workshops and training sessions. Voluntary reading will be allocated in schools and linked to the fourth objective of the teachers’ annual performance document. He also factored in a suggestion to launch a diploma in library management for those keen to work in school libraries as dedicated librarians. In addition, the Minister spoke about conducting community partnerships with varied entities to support reading projects.
Abdul Rahman bin Mohammed Al Owais, Minister of Health and Prevention; Hussain explained during his address that the mental capacity of a child forms between birth and the age of three, in which time 90% of the final size of the brain forms. He stressed the importance of communicating with children through this early stage, through reinforcing speech, vocabulary and introducing the basic skills of reading. With this early stage of human development critical in building mental capacity and the fundamental building blocks of mental health, reading in early childhood is considered a public health issue in many countries around the world.
He pointed to the importance of reading to reduce tension by 60% for each 6 minutes of reading. He also pointed out that awareness of reading through doctors is four times more effective from other awareness methods.
Talking about the major projects that will be handled by the Ministry of Health and Prevention within the reading strategy, he referred to the Knowledge Bag project for new born children throughout the UAE, which helps parents to read to children in three age groups: after birth, at the age of two when vaccinating, and at the age of four years during nursery.
He also announced the Family Knowledge Awareness project, which focuses on persuading families of the value of reading from pregnancy for couples starting a family and during visits to the family doctors, through vaccination programs, as well as by educating visitors to primary health centres, and encouraging individuals to use reading as an effective means to enjoy a healthy life with a reduction in psychological pressures and tensions.
The third project is the Reading for Patients project, with volunteers providing relief and mental engagement for long-term patients in hospitals.
Dr. Sultan Al Jaber, UAE Minister of State and Chairman of the National Media Council (NMC), said: “In line with our leadership’s direction to make 2016 the year of reading, a national comprehensive plan is being put together with the participation of relevant stakeholders to achieve the desired results. This will facilitate the UAE to enter into a new phase that will consolidate its status as a beacon for creative content, knowledge and thought leadership. Media will serve as a strategic partner in instilling the culture of reading as a key component of the UAE society.”
He added: “Under the media program within the reading strategy, media outlets will be encouraged to promote content that boosts the culture of reading. We are studying a number of initiatives that include assigning leading national personalities as reading ambassadors. For its part, the National Media Council will collaborate with stakeholders to launch a program that enhances the content and publishing industry in the UAE. Yet another initiative will classify children’s books in Arabic by age and content to make it easier for parents to find appropriate reading material for their young ones. Through such efforts, our aim is to increase the availability of rich content to serve our national goals and consolidate the UAE’s position as a major cultural centre in the region.”