Sheikh Mohammed reading challenge 2021
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum congratulated the winners in a video message during the ceremony. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: A 17-year-old Jordanian boy won Dh500,000 as the champion of the Dubai-based international ‘Arab Reading Challenge’ during the contest’s closing ceremony on Monday night.

Abdullah Abu Khalaf was declared the champion of the competition’s fifth edition, in a ceremony aired on MBC Channel on Monday, held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of UAE and Ruler of Dubai, who congratulated the winners in a video message during the ceremony.

Arab Reading Challenge 2021
Abdullah Abu Khalaf from Jordan was declared the champion of the competition’s fifth edition, in a ceremony aired on MBC Channel Image Credit: Supplied

‘Reading will remain our shield’

Sheikh Mohammed said in a video speech during the ceremony: “Passion for the Arabic language persisted during the coronavirus pandemic.”

Congratulating the winners, Sheikh Mohammed added: “I thank the 21 million Arab students who participated in the challenge despite the pandemic.”

He said: “I would have loved to meet the finalists like I do every year in the UAE, but the circumstances posed by pandemic prevented that. Reading will remain our shield against any difficult times.

The winner outperformed the other four finalists, with Sarah Al Daeef from Morocco named second, Diaa Al Qaisum from Saudi Arabia named third, Yousra Mohammed Al Imam from Sudan in fourth place, and Abdul Rahman Mansour Ahmed Mohammed from Egypt in fifth position.

Abdullah emerged triumphant among the 21 million participants from 52 countries across the world who took part in the challenge.

UAE-based winner

Moza Al Ghanna from the UAE bagged the Dh300,000 ‘Outstanding Supervisor’ award for her efforts in guiding and motivating students to participate in various stages of the challenge – especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic. She was selected from 120,000 participating supervisors in this year’s challenge.

Egypt’s Al Ghoraib School for Basic Education won the Dh1 million ‘Best School’ award, outperforming 96,000 schools with activities and efforts to make reading an integral part of students’ lifestyle.

The ceremony, hosted by George Kordahi, the recently announced Lebanese Minister of Information, was broadcasted on MBC Channel and the Arab Reading Challenge website. It showcased the inspiring journey of participants in this year’s challenge amid the exceptional circumstances posed by the pandemic, demonstrating the power of reading to overcome difficult times.

Winners of the challenge, which distributes awards totalling Dh11 million, received their awards this year through UAE embassies and diplomatic envoys in the targeted countries.

Surprise visit

Abdullah received the news of his win as the Arab Reading Champion via a surprise visit from Ahmed Ali Al Balushi, the UAE Ambassador to Jordan, who congratulated him and his family on his achievement.

He had stood out in successive judging committees with his confidence and clarity with which he expressed his ideas and opinions, underlining the role of reading in building skills and capabilities and transforming individuals into active contributors to their communities.

Best School Award

While Egypt’s Al Ghoraib School for Basic Education was named the Best School, Al Hassad Al Tarbawi School in Jordan came second, and Alanjal Private School from Saudi Arabia came in third. The winning schools were selected based on their success in raising the participation rate of students in the Arab Reading Challenge and in creating a solid habit of reading.

Outstanding Supervisors

While Emirati Moza Al Ghanna took home the Outstanding Supervisor award, Asma Saqr from Tunisia came in second, and Khaled Al Bukiri from Morocco received the third place.

Hero of determination

In the category of Arab students living in foreign countries, Alexander Voros from Italy was crowned the Arab Reading Champion, taking home a prize of Dh100,000. Voros, a teenager with special needs, inspired millions for his persistence and determination to learn the Arabic language, which is not his mother tongue.

Afnan Abdul Ghani from Malaysia won second place, while Farah Al Ayoubi from Netherlands came third.

Special tribute

The closing ceremony featured an emotional video as a tribute to Al Taher Bin Ahmed, the Arab Reading Challenge’s coordinator in Mauritania, who recently passed away after a long struggle with his illness. Bin Ahmed helped encourage thousands of students in Mauritania to take up reading as a habit since the launch of the Arab Reading Challenge in 2015.

Biggest challenge

The latest edition was the largest to date, drawing a record of 21 million participants from 14 Arab countries and 38 foreign countries with Arab diaspora, representing a 55.5 per cent growth from the previous year’s 13.5 million participants from 49 countries. It attracted 120,000 supervisors from 96,000 schools compared to the previous edition’s 99,000 supervisors from 67,000 schools.

New model

The fifth edition saw an effective application of online technologies in response to the pandemic that prompted a widespread shift to digital learning. This year’s event introduced the principle of electronic summaries instead of paper passports. Each eligible participant had to read and summarise 50 books in five digital passports (each of which has 10 pages), with each book to be summarised in one page.

Qualifying stages of the challenge were conducted virtually this year at school level, proceeding to the level of the educational district, directorate or governorate, leading up to selecting the top 10 students from each country before filtering down the national winners. The five finalists were selected from the 16 national winners.