Dubai: More than 100 million books were read by 3.5 million students from 15 Arab countries until March 1 as part of the Arab reading Challenge.

The Arab Reading Challenge (ARC) was launched by His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, in September last year with the aim of having 50 million books read by one million students in the Arab world to encourage sustainable and regular reading among students.

A total of 30,000 Arab schools have participated in the Arab Reading Challenge so far, reading a total of 100 million books, Shaikh Mohammad said on his Twitter account.

“I was pleased to find out today that 30,000 schools in the Arab world participated in the Arab Reading challenge who read so far 100 million books,” he tweeted. “Reshaping our region culturally and intellectually starts with generations that value education, appreciate books and have a passion for exploration like our ancestors,” he said.

“We are optimistic with the engagement of the millions of students who are enthusiastic to read, the 60,000 Arab officials participating in the challenge and we are also optimistic about the future of our Arab nation’s knowledge,” Shaikh Mohammad added.

Mohammad Abdullah Al Gergawi, Minister of Cabinet Affairs and the Future and head of the Higher Committee of the Arab Reading Challenge, announced the results, expecting that students will read more 175 million books by the end of this year.

“The number has increased several times and exceeded the one million students to reach 3.5 million, 10 per cent of the total Arab students,” Al Gergawi said yesterday during the committee’s meeting.

He said they aimed at reaching 50 per cent of the total Arab students over the next four years, and revealed that 150,000 students from the UAE have completed reading five million books.

Students who complete the Arab Reading Challenge will receive a signed personalised letter by Shaikh Mohammad, and winners will receive cash prizes totalling $3 million (Dh11.02 million) for all categories. The student who comes first will get $150,000 (Dh367,295-Dh550,923) towards his or her university tuition fees and $50,000 (Dh183,648) to the student’s family. Dh1 million in prizes has also been allocated for Arab schools with the highest participation.

The awards for outstanding supervisors are valued at $300,000 (Dh1.1 million), and there are incentives for schools, as well as awards for students valued at $1 million.

“The Arab Reading Challenge is no longer an Emirati project but a pan-Arab scheme thanks to all Arab governments which adopted it and provide their full support for it. The aim of the upcoming challenge is to bring the percentage of participants to more than 50 per cent of the total Arab students over the next four years,” Al Gergawi said.

The reading challenge initiative has printed 14 books to help students summarise what they read.

The ceremony to honour the winners of the challenge will be a pan-Arab Olympiad and a celebration of reading and knowledge, with the participation of senior Arab officials, and enthusiastically awaited by 35 million Arab students.

The challenge mainly aims to encourage sustainable and regular reading among students, which will be achieved through an integrated system of supervising students throughout the academic year.

Best schools and supervisors in Arab countries will be honoured, in an effort to nurture a new generation excellent in reading and with a passion for knowledge.

Jameela Salem Al Muhairi, Minister of State for Public Education, said that participants from the UAE surpassed 157,000 students who read 5 million books.

The Arab reading challenge will bring about a unique jump in the rates of reading among students over the coming years.

Reports and studies have shown significantly low reading levels in the Arab world. The average reading time for an Arab child is six minutes a year compared with 12,000 minutes in the West, according to the Arab Thought Foundation’s Arab Report for Cultural Development.

The reading rate of an Arab individual is a quarter of a page a year compared with 11 books in the US and seven books in the UK, according to a study conducted by the Supreme Council of Culture in Egypt.

With inputs by WAM