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A student during the project's launch event at Mohammed Bin Rashid Library in Dubai on Tuesday Image Credit: Anas Thacharpadikkal/Gulf News

Dubai: A five-year project was launched today to boost ‘Reading for Pleasure’ and analyse its impact among young students in the UAE.

The Emirates Literature Foundation (ELF) signed a grant agreement with DP World to foster a love of reading for pleasure in children through the school project. The partnership was signed at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Library in Dubai by Nabil Qayed, vice-president – People and General Administration, DP World, and Isobel Abulhoul OBE, founder, advisor and trustee of ELF.

Abulhoul told Gulf News that the project will be carried out at six schools in Dubai. She said it will enhance the habit of reading for non-academic purposes, with no specific reason other than enjoyment, among children aged four to 11.

Under the pilot scheme, the Foundation will work closely with Dubai Schools Al Barsha, Dubai Schools Mirdif, Dubai Schools Nad Al Sheba, Al Rabee Kindergarten, Jumeirah Model School and Dubai Height Academy, Al Barsha.

The project will enhance the school libraries and class libraries in grades covering kindergarten and primary classes.

“We have a full time team working on this. We will have professional development for the teachers. We will have regular meetings with the parents. We will enrich school libraries and put in classroom libraries, and we will have author visits on a very regular basis,” said Abulhoul.

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Abulhoul (fifth from left) with representatives from various entities supporting the project Image Credit: Anas Thacharpadikkal/Gulf News

Research on impact

ELF also signed Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) with the University of Birmingham-Dubai, UAE University, and Zayed University to research and measure the impact of the initiative. The universities will design their research projects, with each university having a different focus, said Abulhoul.

“And then, that research will become part of international global research on the reading for pleasure initiative.”

The results of research on the various interventions and the impact on students, parents, and teachers will be published internationally to add to the body of global research on the benefits of reading for pleasure in children.

One of the purposes of the project is to assess the impact of dual reading. Hence, the Foundation has screened thousands of books to curate a selection in Arabic and English that is culturally and regionally appropriate.

School libraries at the pilot schools will cater to a diversity of interests with wide-ranging fiction and non-fiction books encouraging children to find both a ‘window’ and a ‘mirror’ between the covers of the titles they choose.

The participating schools also aim to become centres of reading excellence and a model for other schools in the country.

In addition to the financial grant, DP World will also support with members of its staff volunteering significant hours to support the initiative.

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A group photo with schoolchildren Image Credit: Anas Thacharpadikkal/Gulf News

Benefits of reading

Global research over the last half century has established that children who read regularly for pleasure outperform their peers, not just in language and science subjects, but in other academic areas too.

The habit of reading also results in positive physical and mental wellbeing, increased empathy and understanding of the world around them and an essential critical-thinking mindset. Reading for pleasure, without the pressure of being tested, is a vital skill.

The initiative targets children, parents, and teachers, providing support through a myriad of activities. Each year, teachers from the six participating schools will be invited to attend professional development sessions. At the same time, regular meetings will be arranged with parents to help them join the initiative at home.

The children will also benefit from author visits to their school, monthly book clubs, literary field trips, and the transformation of the libraries in classes and schools from purely education to informative, fun, and interactive physical spaces that encourage and inspire readers.

Subsequent phases of the pilot scheme will take the lessons learned and scale up the project across UAE, and then the Arab World.

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Nexus model

It was pointed out that one of the fundamental aims of the Foundation is to help as many people, particularly young ones, fall in love with books and reading, through a variety of initiatives, including their flagship event, the annual Emirates Airline Festival of Literature.

The new project, which will serve as a nexus model, was launched as the key focus of the Foundation’s Global Council in consideration of the UN sustainable development goals: 4-Quality Education, 10-Reduced Inequalities and 17-Partnership for the Goals.

DP World also has a Global Council nexus model that includes both Quality Education and Gender Equality, which aligns very closely, and this partnership allows both organisations to achieve these goals together.

Maha Al Qattan, group chief people and sustainability officer at DP World, said: “DP World’s sustainability strategy – ‘Our Future’ – looks beyond business to address the lasting legacy we can create for our industry, society and the communities where we work. It is based on three pillars, Women, Education and Water. We are incredibly proud to join the Emirates Literature Foundation as partners in supporting parents and teachers to enable more children to discover this priceless gift of reading.”

Empowerment through words

Abulhoul pointed out that promoting a love of reading for pleasure amongst the youth of the UAE and beyond is at the very core of Emirates Literature Foundation’s philosophy and ethos where all projects are designed to empower society through the written and spoken word.

“The ‘Reading for Pleasure’ initiative allows us to develop and share best practices in education and equality with the strategic support of equally committed partners. It is an integral step in the journey to COP28 and beyond to ensure future generations have an excellent opportunity to understand the importance of a love of books and reading and the influence this has on caring for this beautiful planet we call home,” she added.

The signing ceremony was attended by Zaki Anwar Nusseibeh, cultural advisor to the UAE President and Chancellor of UAE University; Mohammed Ahmed Al Murr, chairman of the Board of Directors of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Library; Aisha Abdullah Miran, assistant secretary-general of The Executive Council of Dubai; Dr Hanada Taha, the endowed chair professor of Arabic Language at Zayed University; and Dubai Abulhoul, CEO of Fiker Institute and member of the Global Council on SDGs, as well as principals of the six schools and other Global Council members.