The Mobile Library, a Childhood Cultural Centre project, brings books to young readers in a converted bus.

Ready for reading

By Nidhi Chandran

According to a survey on reading habits in the Arab world conducted by Yahoo! Maktoob Research in 2011, almost 30% of people below 25 years in the Arab world never read. People aged between 46 and 50 were the most frequent readers, followed by those aged between 36 and 45, which makes up 25% of the population.
The youth read less than any other segment of society, it reported. The survey polled 3,503 people in Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.
Some say that technology has taken over reading. But whatever be the reasons, there should be serious efforts to bring back quality reading, especially among the young generation.
The Childhood Cultural Center (CCC) in Qatar has started off with some work in this direction to inculcate reading habits among children. In order to bring positive results it has initiated programmes to train educators, provides workshops focusing on reading and writing and continues research on reading.
CCC was established in November 2002 by the initiative of Her Highness Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser with the objective of promoting early education and talent among children at a very early age. It also focuses on cultural awareness in them and assumed its full-fledged role only in 2005. Since then it has been holding regular workshops on various aspects of the upbringing of children and has been conducting several studies and research. Along with this, it has been holding many events, programmes and activities on a local scale and participated in external events and conferences.
Asked about the motivation to start such programmes Hanan el Hail, Project Manager at the centre explained, “Our main objective is to improve the standards of cultural awareness among children in Qatar. Besides this, keeping in view of the field study we had done, we want to increase the percentage of reading among kids. Therefore we are focusing more on creating a very close and well-knit relationship between children and books and a unique involvement to attract them more in to it. Developing reading habits among kids has also been part of the national strategy.”
“We have laid great stress on training educators in this regard, holding workshops on the importance of reading and writing, doing research and studying how to make it more attractive to them. We have also published periodicals titled I Want Him as an Educated Person and My Story Through My Picture giving pupils a showcase for their skills and creativity. We also have projects such as ‘My Library’ and ‘Mobile Library’ among others,” she added.
The Mobile Library was launched a few months back where a bus was converted into a reading and activity area providing a number of books, storytelling and interactive games for students. The bus regularly visits local children at their schools and is aimed to motivate them to read more and come closer to books.
It mainly focuses on leisure reading than for academic purpose and has been well-received by many primary and nursery school students. Digital technology is used in storytelling and activities to create more enthusiasm for reading among children.
The CCC had conducted a survey among children in Qatar which provides some valuable data on their reading habits. The report indicates that gender plays a great role in determining reading habits in them. It showed more positive trends in reading among girls. In the survey, it was also found that girls were more inclined towards reading than boys and like to own books. They also prefer independent reading than boys who get bored sooner and do not read unless they are asked to. Boys read school textbooks over anything else. Also, they are more interested in watching television than reading, the survey found.
Independent schools in Qatar are doing a lot of work to boost reading and improving skills among students. The school libraries play a big role in this aspect keeping with Qatar National Vision 2030. “Pupils of the primary independent schools have started showing positive attitude towards reading as a hobby and also as a school requirement. They have been found to read even during holidays and trying to select books of their own liking. They are also seen to spend their pocket money on story books and exchange them with friends,” she added.
“All schools have well-equipped libraries to promote reading. Female teachers play a great role in developing the school library and putting it to the best use for students and different techniques are used to instil interest in them. However, the female teachers need to be trained more in this respect. There is also a need to have a yearly inventory of the books and educational resources in all libraries, and to update them regularly, besides applying more computer programs in creating reading skills,” she adds.
“We play a significant role in highlighting the role of child development in the context of the family, school and society at large. Our plans are in light of Qatar National Vision 2030 and the Five-Year National Strategy 2011-16, as well as the strategy for Family Development announced in 2010. We help children to nurture their skills which are showcased in many exhibitions and selected publications which has their involvement. We are in touch with several schools and clubs in Qatar and the number of students participating in our activities is ever increasing,” she informed.
The centre also provides counselling to parents on the importance of stimulating reading habits in kids. It also strives to create awareness among Qataris and Arabs in general on the importance of culture and education for children.
Around 4,800 students (6-12 years) have participated in science awareness programmes organised by the centre. It has also provided media training for children between 10-18 years and various competitions such as Arabic story-writing. Around 32 stories written by them were published in 2010, 14 stories in 2011 and 22 in 2012. Through a programme titled My Story Through My Picture in which around 3,361 students participated, 111 stories were selected and published in 37 volumes.
In line with the Qatar’s strategy to preserve the official language Arabic and as part of its development activities, the Childhood Cultural Center has launched ‘The Promising Poet’— an initiative to strengthen poetry. It also aims to create a new generation who can preserve the Arabic language in this Westernised society dominated by social media and intends to develop Arabic poetry talents through training, workshops and competitions among young males and females aged 14-18 years. This would also allow discovering and developing poetry talents among school children and to showcase their capacities.
The institution also stresses on the importance of childhood health. For this purpose, it has been holding a campaign on nutritious diet and how to avoid obesity. Around 112 workshops were held on this subject and 40,000 awareness kits were presented to children, containing literature on this. Also, around 72 workshops were held regarding information on human anatomy through a multimedia presentation in which 2,160 students (6-12 years) were involved. It also trains them in public speaking.
The centre has also come up with some findings and valuable suggestions to improve reading among both children and adults in the country. Reading programmes for those in charge of libraries; introducing mobile libraries within the school premises and allocating periods of the school schedule for spending time in the library; setting up public libraries in different districts; encouraging parents to provide reading material in vehicles in which children travel when they go out with them; conducting workshops for parents; using media to develop reading skills; holding periodical meetings to discuss research on cultivating reading skills; encouraging social, sports and cultural clubs to have libraries for children within their premises; preparing wall-charts and journals on reading to attract the general public; adding reading hours in the radio service and dedicating ‘Reading Day’ in a year for the whole country are some among others. It also says that there should be better use of Al Jazeera’s children channels, especially to take part in their competitions and urge local clubs to conduct competitions related to reading books.
The centre continues to strive for a well-educated generation who can contribute to the future development of the state.

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