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Student author Diaco Taaeb with GEMS CEO Dino Varkey and others on the occasion of International Literacy Day Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: Education is a key national priority in the UAE, and since its inception, the country has worked on ensuring widespread literacy among its population by mandating education for children.

Five decades on, adult illiteracy in the UAE is less than one per cent. Bolstered by the UAE’s focus on knowledge, students and graduates are also supporting the country’s strides in the most advanced industries, including space and nuclear energy.

These milestones were highlighted by educational and official institutions in the country to mark International Literacy Day, which is celebrated annually on September 8.

Mandatory schooling

The UAE initiated its first Compulsory Education act within a year of its formation, with Federal Law No 11 of 1972 concerning Compulsory Education obligating parents or legal guardians to send children under their care to school. In July 2021, the UAE Cabinet made it compulsory for Emirati children to start schooling at least by the age of six years, and for them to remain in school until they had turned 18 years old, or completed Grade 12 or its equivalent, whichever occurs first.

The Federal Law No 3 of 2016, popularly known as Wadeema’s Law, further strengthened children’s right to education, and instituted imprisonment or a fine of at least Dh5,000 on violators.

Right to education

“Every child shall have the right to education. Furthermore, the State shall provide equal opportunities among all children in accordance with the laws in force. A person who is in charge of taking care of a child is prohibited [from exposing] such [a] child to abandonment, homelessness, or negligence, or to usually leave such [a] child without any monitoring or follow-up, or to give up guiding and directing such [a] child, or not take care of his/her affairs, or fail to enroll such [a] child into an educational institution, or leave him/her in a situation of not attending education without a reason during the stage of compulsory education,” the law states. These provisions were highlighted on social media yesterday ahead of International Literacy Day, by the UAE Public Prosecution.

Human capital

“The wise leadership of the UAE [recognises] the importance of investing in the human capital. Investing in the improvement of educational services, which is the first step towards development, especially [because] a country’s gross national product is directly associated with its educational systems, the number of its graduates, and the quality of its educational services,” said Dr Najwa Alhosani, acting dean at the UAE University’s College of Education. The UAE University is the country’s oldest university.

“The late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, may God rest his soul, focussed on the importance of providing the new generation, both males and females, with education opportunities, insisting that girls’ education shall be taken care of as much as boys’ education. He believed in the influential role education plays in enlightening people and nations. The UAE government has therefore placed education on the top of its priorities, and allocated huge budgets for taking care of this vital sector”, she added.

Dr Alhosani said that the Compulsory Education Act of 1972 is one of the country’s most notable achievements in eradicating illiteracy, and led to the establishment of educational institutions across the nation.

Women’s education

Dr Alhosani also mentioned the significant efforts of Her Highness Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak, Chairwoman of the General Women’s Union, President of the Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood, and Supreme Chairwoman of the Family Development Foundation, in women education and empowerment.

“Shaikha Fatima has encouraged women to pursue education, providing them with everything they need to participate in the development of community actively and equally, not to mention launching the Women’s Literacy and Education Strategy in the United Arab Emirates in 1975 and declaring 1988 as the year of Women literacy,” she said.

Child author

Meanwhile, Dino Varkey, group chief executive officer at the country’s largest private education provider, GEMS Education, joined 11-year-old student author Diaco Taaeb on the occasion of International Literacy Day to record a digital book for free digital ebook platform, Kupepo.

The audiobook of Little Bird – A Book for Toddlers, written by Taaeb, a student in Year 7 at GEMS Metropole School-Motor City, will be uploaded to Kupepo.com and made available for disadvantaged school children – initially in Africa, and eventually in other parts of the world as the platform expands.

Taaeb wrote his book, Little Bird, during the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown in the UAE. He was inspired by his little brother who loved being read to, and when his family had read every book in the house, Taaeb decided to write his own book for his younger sibling.

Kupepo.com itself is the digital arm of ‘Old Books for New Eyes’, an initiative that is the brainchild of Khushi Gadhia, a Year 5 student at GEMS Jumeirah Primary School. Khushi came up with the idea of collecting old books and donating them to schools in Kenya during a school Ramadan project.