Dubai: The Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) and the Emirates Festival of Literature entered into a strategic partnership to increase Arabic literacy among Dubai school students on Tuesday.

Under the terms of the arrangement, the two bodies will seek new ways to engage the community and promote a love of reading among students enrolled at private schools in Dubai, and to get their parents more involved.

According to the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa), Dubai students in the 15-year-old age group came first in reading proficiency in the Middle East.

The latest Pisa data pointed to the fact that students whose parents often read books with them during their first year of primary school performed markedly better than students whose parents do so infrequently or not at all, regardless of a family’s socio-economic background.

However, Dubai students are still below the international average, despite leading their counterparts in Middle East.

Speaking to Gulf News on the Pisa results and the decline of the Arabic language among Arab youth, Fatma Al Marri, chief executive officer of the KHDA’s Schools Agency, said the problem was two-fold — a decline in reading Arabic and a decline in the love for Arabic as a language.

Al Marri said the present generation of students were exposed to English more than Arabic through the media and schools themselves and added that Arabic, as a mother tongue, was losing out and this would eventually affect national identity.

“That is why we try to launch such initiatives to preserve Arabic and promote the Arabic language,” Al Marri said.

Al Marri added that they hoped to increase the participation of schools in the festival in order to promote the Arabic language among students.

“We also hope to raise awareness among parents about the importance of reading because studies have proved that reading for 30 minutes a day will improve a student’s academic performance,” Al Marri said.

Isobel Abul Houl, festival director of the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, told Gulf News that the partnership with the KHDA makes them a formidable force.

“The KHDA is an education body and they are the heart of strictly private education within Dubai,” she said.

“Basically the KHDA are doing the statistics so they are looking at the trends in reading, what needs improving among schools while we are looking at celebrating the fun side of it,” she said.

“So together we are the two sides of the [same] coin and this makes us a formidable force. We are excited about this partnership because we can actually go to a further stage together and accomplish things that we couldn’t do separately.”