Dubai: The Arab Reading Challenge aims to double its scope for the second edition, enlisting at least seven million children in the region, it was announced at the Knowledge Summit in Dubai on Tuesday.

The initiative was launched in September 2015 and by October 2016, 3.5 million students from 30,000 schools in 15 countries across the Arab world each read and summarised at least 50 books, collectively reading more than 150 million books.

If the second edition’s aim is met, it would mean 350 million books read.

The initiative was launched by His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.

On Tuesday, Aiman Jarrah, deputy secretary-general of the Arab Reading Challenge, told the summit that the five-year plan is to enlist participation from at least half of the children in Arab countries.

“We have to reach them no matter where they are, no matter how, and no matter by traditional or digital books,” Jarrah said. His comments came during Tuesday’s fourth panel session on The Arab Reading Challenge: The Future of Knowledge, held at Grand Hyatt Dubai hotel.

Jarrah added that “because of the political situation, we were not able to reach all Arab countries [in the first edition of the challenge] but we did manage to engage the Arab diaspora in other countries, such as in China and in India”.

One of the aims of the initiative, he said, was to address not only a perceived “reading crisis” in the region, but a “cultural suffering” because of an inadequate focus on literature, as well. Jarrah said the initiative has sparked a renaissance of a reading culture and called on Arab publishers and authors to ensure the content is “relevant to our times”, to make it more appealing to youth.

Muna Al Kindi, manager of the first edition of the Arab Reading Challenge, said poor reading habits have, in part, led to a reinforcing of “the label of extremism” over the region. She explained that reading was the cornerstone of knowledge, which dispels ignorance and intolerance.

Al Kindi added that the momentum built up by the first edition of the initiative would be sustained through a wide range of activities, such as awareness campaigns, road shows, book orders and distributions, the recently announced Reading Law in the UAE, and Ramadan reading initiatives, among others.

She said the myriad reading activities and initiatives, such as the Arab Reading Challenge, launched in 2016 — declared the Year of Reading by the UAE leadership — has contributed in the charting of the National Strategy for Reading (2016-2026).