by Belinda Breeze

Emirates Literature Foundation have signed a grant agreement with DP World to foster a love of reading for pleasure in children.

Under the five-year pilot scheme, the Foundation will work closely with six schools – Dubai Schools Al Barsha, Dubai Schools Mirdif, Dubai Schools Nad Al Sheba, Al Rabee Kindergarten, Jumeirah Model School and Dubai Height Academy, Al Barsha – focusing on ages 4 to 11. These schools aim to become centres of reading excellence and a model for other schools in the country.

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. 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 essential critical thinking mindsets. Reading for pleasure, without the pressure of being tested, is a vital skill.

The Foundation will also work with select universities to provide independent research on the various interventions and the impact on students, parents, and teachers. The results will be published internationally, to add to the body of global research on the benefits of reading for pleasure in children.

The 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.

One of the fundamental aims of the Foundation is to help as many people, particularly young ones, fall in love with books and reading

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. Finally, the children will 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 the project across UAE, and then the Arab World.

In addition to the financial grant, DP World will also support with members of its staff volunteering significant hours to support the initiative. 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 the Emirates Literature Foundation. The signing ceremony was attended by H.E. Zaki Anwar Nusseibeh, Cultural Advisor to the UAE President and Chancellor of UAE University,  H.E. Mohammed Ahmed Al Murr, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Library, H.E. 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 Member of the Global Council on SDGs plus principals of the six schools and other Global Council members.

Maha Al Qattan, Group Chief People and Sustainability Officer, 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.”

Isobel Abulhoul OBE, Founder, Advisor and Trustee of the Emirates Literature Foundation said: “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.”

The initiative targets children, parents and teachers, providing support through a myriad of activities

H.E. Aisha Abdulla Miran, Assistant Secretary General of The Executive Council, welcomed the new initiative of Emirates Literature Foundation in collaboration with DP World. She said: “A love of reading is one of the most important and enriching gifts a society can instill in its young people, opening a window to new worlds, ideas and perspectives and fostering a deeper appreciation for our shared history and culture. Reading is also the key to educational excellence, which is one of the foundations on which our county’s long-term, sustainable ambitions will be built. The Reading for Pleasure is set to make an invaluable contribution to our efforts develop, inspire and nurture the next generation and unlock a passion or lifelong learning.”

Emirates Literature Foundation also signed Memorandum(s) of Understanding (MoU’s) with leading universities, University of Birmingham – Dubai, UAE University, and Zayed University, to research and measure the impact of the initiative.  One of the purposes of the project is to assess the impact of dual reading, so 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.

H.E. Noura bint Mohammed Al Kaabi, Minister of State, President of Zayed University, marked the initiative with keenness, saying: “We are fully aware of the importance of magnifying ‘Reading for pleasure’ amongst the youth of the UAE, moreover, we always encourage our students and create opportunities for them to partake in initiatives that enable them to develop their characters and empower them as future thinkers and leaders. The University promotes academic and extra-curricular activities that help them achieve these goals.” “Zayed University has also taken a step further by introducing exciting interdisciplinary initiatives, such as SARD, which has been developed by Zai Center; an impressive and new smart tool in the UAE to support the teaching and learning the Arabic language. SARD is a new Arabic smart reading screening tool which will ensure that helps schools identify students who are experiencing difficulties in learning Arabic early, enabling them to receive the extra and right support they need. And we look forward to working with Emirates Literature Foundation and DP World and gladly support the initiative with our knowledge, expertise and research initiatives.”

David Sadler, Provost of the University of Birmingham Dubai said: “We are honoured to be part of this first of its kind research project in the UAE.  Our civic mission is rooted in equal education for all, enabling access and driving inclusivity.   The Reading for Pleasure project aligns with the strategic direction of the UAE truly to make an impact and improve the lives of the coming generation.   Reading acts as a gateway to culture and connectivity, and we are delighted to be part of the team assessing impact over the next five years to ensure that reading remains the beating heart of inspiring learning outcomes.”

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