The author discusses the declaration of 2016 as the Year of Reading by the UAE leaders and the hope that this will bring forth.
Our visionary leaders have done it again. With the belief that a nation can only prosper through the knowledge and wisdom of its people, the UAE President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan and the Vice President, Prime Minister of the UAE, and Ruler of Dubai, His Highness Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, have mandated that 2016 be the “Year of Reading”. This time, it is not about having the biggest and the best that money can buy, but rather the brightest minds that can impact the country and drive society to a better future.
This is in a bid to encourage the citizens and residents of the UAE to spend more time in reading and appreciating books. The Arab Thought Foundation has released alarming figures of how little time is spent reading in the Arab world. It has claimed that an Arab child’s average reading rate per year is only 6 minutes, while in the West it is 12,000 minutes. To counteract the potential threat of declining intellect in the Arab world, our leaders in the UAE established the “Year of Reading”.
Our leaders recognize the importance of reading and how this needs to be revived again amongst our children and future generations to come. They have, therefore, taken this upon themselves to spread the message nationwide. This is now trending all across social media, with the hashtag “Year of Reading” and “UAE Reads” (عام القراءة). As with all things on social media, this may be another phenomenon that quickly catches on as people jump on the bandwagon, but the hope is that some will see beyond this “trend” and actually become genuine drivers of this goal.
In a time where social media has given rise to regular people to become “influencers”, some without any real justification, it is great to have a chance for book lovers to also get a voice and be heard. Today’s generation may be all about the latest technology, and being immersed in tablets and video games, but the world of books is also not far behind. The book scene has also evolved for the “modern” users by being available on various online platforms, such as the Kindle and Kobo. Book lovers may argue over their preference of traditional paperback versus online books, but that is a debate for another day. Whichever platform you prefer, a book is still a book and provides the same value and learning opportunity.
Reading is not only a form of entertainment, but a door to knowledge and greater understanding of the world. Reading provides access to information that you may not normally have at hand. It can help bridge gaps between different cultures and religion by promoting tolerance and understanding. Research has also shown that reading fiction can build empathy as readers learn to understand the feelings and thoughts of others. Readers get to place themselves in various shoes and see life from a different perspective. Reading is also beneficial to one’s personal health, not only can it reduce stress, but it also improves memory and concentration, as well as encourage mental stimulation.
I hope that the “Year of Reading” does take precedence, especially with schools and parents, as they hold the key to raising a generation of book lovers. Schools should incorporate books and storytelling across all ages in a fun and interactive way, and allow students to have access to various genres to ensure that everyone can find a book they are interested in. Book clubs and discussions should be regular occurrences to encourage critical thinking.
Parents should also devote time every day with their children and read them stories. This does not only encourage children to love the art of reading, but also provides an opportunity for bonding. Children can learn social skills, morals, and all about the world around them as they tend to soak up information that is presented to them. Books and storytelling are great ways for children to enjoy and learn valuable lessons as they grow up. Imagine a world of possibilities with just 30 minutes of reading to your children every day.
The “Year of Reading” is already on the go with various initiatives already approved by our leaders, such as competitions to encourage reading, the donation of books, the building of new libraries, and many others. This can only bring us hope that the UAE is on its way to a brighter future, through intellect, knowledge, and open minds.
- Gulf News Report (2015). “UAE Declares 2016 as Year of Reading”. Retrieved 14th January 2016. http://gulfnews.com/news/uae/government/uae-declares-2016-as-year-of-reading-1.1631695
- Julianne Chiaet (2013). “Novel Finding: Reading Literary Fiction Improves Empathy”. Retrieved 31st January 2016. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/novel-finding-reading-literary-fiction-improves-empathy/
- Lana Winter-Hebert. “10 Benefits of Reading” Why You Should Read Every day”. Retrieved 31st January 2016. http://www.lifehack.org/articles/lifestyle/10-benefits-reading-why-you-should-read-everyday.html