November 3, 2016
More on the UAE’s new reading law
by Nikki Griffiths
As we wrote earlier this week, the first ever National Law of Reading has been issued in the United Arab Emirates, part of a ten-year plan by President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan to make the nation a hotspot of global literacy and print culture.
According to figures issued by the Arab Thought Foundation and reported by Gulf News, the gap between the amounts of time Arab and western children spend reading is vast: 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. The new strategies aim to address this.
In September, Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum launched the Arab Reading Challenge (ARC) which aims for one million students to read 50 million books over the course of the academic year. Incentives and cash prizes will be given to those who participate, with funds for the project reaching $3 million.
As Benedicte Page recently reported for the Bookseller, construction is also currently underway for a new “Publishing City” in Sharjah, the UAE’s cultural capital. Ahmed Al Ameri, chair of the initiative, told Page the completed project would be a “United Nations of books,” more than 200,000 square feet of space for international publishers, distributors, print shops, translators, and booksellers to do business in. It’s expected to open next year.
These moves have now been supplemented by the UAE’s new literacy law, about which the president told Gulf Today: “Our goal is to prepare generations which work towards excelling and achieving the vision of the UAE, which since its inception, has recognised the importance of knowledge, science and culture, and harnessed them in the best interests of the homeland and the Emiratis.”
What, specifically, will the new law’s eighteen articles accomplish? They will require the UAE’s Minsitry of Education to develop schemes for promoting students’ reading skills and language capabilities, make investments in public libraries (including a comprehensive national library database to be maintained by the Ministry of Culture and Knowledge Development), and require coffee shops in malls to provide reading materials for customers.
On the publishing side, the National Media Council, together with the Ministries of the Economy and Culture and Knowledge Development, will develop programs to support and promote the industry in the UAE, including axing fees and taxes on book printing, publishing, and distribution. And funds and plans will be put in place to publish and distribute reading materials for those with special needs.
On top of this, as we wrote earlier this week, lucky Emirati workers now have the legal right to take book breaks during the workday.
Sheikh Mohammed told Gulf Today: “We seek to promote reading and knowledge in schools, universities, foundations, homes and across the state… Our goal is to make reading a daily habit for the people and competent institutions should translate the law into reality.”
Emirati librarian Delores Elliot-Wilson told Roberta Pennington and Ruba Haza of the National:
Students and adults will benefit from this new law. As we all know teaching and working with children and adults that reading stimulates our minds, develops the imagination and affords us the ability to learn new things. This law is very important and will prove to be extremely valuable to society as a whole.
The message is clear; only time will tell if the law will have the desired effect.
Nikki Griffiths is the managing director of Melville House UK.