Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum launched the Arab Reading Challenge competition for children in September. Image Credit: WAM/Gulf News Archives

Abu Dhabi: The year 2016 has been declared the year of reading in the UAE to create a generation of book lovers and consolidate the UAE’s position as a global capital for culture and knowledge.

It was declared on Saturday by President His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

The Cabinet approved the declaration of 2016 as the year of reading and instructed the competent authorities to start preparing a national framework that promotes reading among Emirati generations, in a quest to create a generation of book lovers and lifetime readers.

Shaikh Khalifa thanked all bodies, organisations, departments and individuals in the country for their contribution to the success of 2015 the year of innovation, and stressed that the UAE is now on the right track for innovation and will reap its fruits soon.

"We gave our directives that the year 2016 be the year of reading because reading the basic skill for a new generation of scientists, intellectual, researchers and innovators,” the President said.

He added: “Establishment of a knowledge-based economy and changing the path of development is based on science and innovation. This requires nurturing a generation of readers and fully aware of developments happening around them in the world as well as of and the best ideas and the latest theories.”

Shaikh Khalifa underlined the importance of reading in broadening one’s intellect and knowledge, as well as in promoting tolerance, openness and intercultural communication.

“Our goal is to consolidate the UAE as a global capital of culture, bring about lifelong behavioural change and immune next generations culturally," he said.

No progress without reading

Earlier, His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, declared 2016 as the Year of Reading in the UAE, under the guidance of Shaikh Khalifa.

On his Twitter page, Shaikh Mohammad said the country was aiming to become a beacon of knowledge, “just as Baghdad, Andalusia and other civilisations seeking enlightenment were”.

This, he said, was only possible through a nation immersed in the reading culture.

However, Shaikh Mohammad warned of the “reading crisis in the Arab world” and the urgent need to rectify it.

Statistics recently issued by the Arab Thought Foundation elucidate the severity of this crisis. According to the study, the annual average reading rate for an Arab child is six minutes compared with a 12,000 minute average for children in the West. To put it in perspective, for every six minutes spent reading by an Arab child, a child of similar age in the west will have been reading for 200 hours.

In September, Shaikh Mohammad launched the Arab Reading Challenge (ARC) in a bid to encourage students in the Arab world to make reading a part of their daily routine. The ARC aims for a million students in the Arab world to read 50 million books, which will be achieved through an integrated system for supervising students throughout the academic year.

The ARC will provide cash prizes and incentives to students, families and supervisors who participate. The total value of the incentives will be $3 million (approximately Dh11 million).

The student who comes first will get $100,000 —$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.

During the launch of the ARC, Shaikh Mohammad said that the Arab world is currently going through a reading crisis, and the numbers are shocking. “The Arab region has one of the lowest numbers when it comes to reading. This results in the Arab world falling behind in knowledge, and falling behind in civilisation and intellect is something that we are witnessing every day in the Arab world. The ARC is the first step we are taking concerning the issue, and we hope it will have an impact in the long term,” said Shaikh Mohammad.

Shaikh Mohammad stressed that the 50 million books challenge is only a first step that will be followed by many other initiatives, and that the goal is to create a new generation and a better reality.

In October, Shaikh Mohammad signed an agreement with the Court of the Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister to support the Arab Reading Challenge initiative and supply a million books to all schools in the UAE.

Last month, President His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan announced the adoption of the Science, Technology and Innovation’s Higher Policy. The plan foresees an investment of over Dh300 billion with a goal to build a vibrant knowledge-based economy in the UAE.

“The UAE is working towards establishing a solid future for the coming generations, away from the fluctuation of energy prices and markets,” commented Shaikh Khalifa.

“The UAE has set its course for a post-oil world through investing in the development of our people in the fields of science and advanced technology,” he added.