• 7 September 2016
  • Author: Tariq Al Gurg, CEO of Dubai Cares

It might come as a shock to many of us that the United Nations Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization, which most of us know as UNESCO, indicates that despite great strides being made in recent years, there are still approximately 757 million adults of 15 years of age and above worldwide, who cannot read or write a simple sentence, with roughly two-thirds being female.

With Dubai Cares being so passionately involved in safeguarding the education of school-age children, as well as the promotion of gender equality, this issue is close to the hearts of all of us in the organization. The ability to read and write is a fundamental human right and is essential in bringing together communities, educating people about the past and increasing the levels of prosperity.

It’s fitting, then, that this year marks the 50th anniversary of UNESCO’s International Literacy Day, which is being celebrated under the banner of “Reading the Past, Writing the Future”. The annual event celebrates and honors national and international engagement efforts and progress made to increase literacy rates around the world. It also addresses current challenges and looks to innovative solutions to further boost literacy in the future.

Here in the UAE we are fortunate that our leaders show great wisdom in actively encouraging their citizens to enjoy the gift of being able to read. In fact, according to the UNESCO, the UAE is recognized as one with the lowest rates of illiteracy in the Arab world, with the most recently published figures showing the illiteracy rate to be lower than one percent. This is a remarkable achievement and would not have been possible without the absolute attention to education displayed by the country’s leadership.

A wonderful example of the drive of our leaders for literacy was our government’s recent announcement that 2016 was to be known as the UAE Year of Reading. As the UAE government said at the time, “the prosperity and success of the people are measured by the standard of their education. The doctrine of the founder of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, could well form the cornerstone of the UAE’s ongoing campaign to instill the habit of reading in the people, particularly children.” 

His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President, Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, immediately issued directives to establish a higher committee to manage and supervise the UAE Year of Reading efforts. The committee was set up to establish a comprehensive strategic plan and a national framework to encourage reading and trigger a behavioral change in all segments of UAE society.  It was also set up to align efforts to further boost the UAE’s position as a global capital for innovation and knowledge and produce what the Ministry of Cabinet Affairs refers to as “a cultured generation that will lead the UAE’s march towards the knowledge-based economy”. It is evident to all, then, how important our inspirational leaders view literacy to be. In their opinion, the ability to read is a cornerstone of any successful civilization.

To achieve the objectives of International Literacy Day, many educational and humanitarian institutions in the UAE have been tirelessly working to reduce the rate of illiteracy in the country through the development of reading and writing skills throughout the region and around the world. Dubai Cares is one of these active institutions.

We have helped children of school age in no fewer than 41 different developing countries, as well as built and renovated over 2,100 classrooms and schools. Moreover, Dubai Cares is building more than 3,400 latrines in schools and helping provide healthy meals for more than half a million school children every single day. We helped in keeping more than 2.75 million children free from intestinal worms through a number of de-worming activities. We have also provided training for more than 42,000 teachers and distributed more than 2.2 million books in local languages to help the education of children around the world.

According to a UNESCO report published in 2011, “most Arab states have made progress in providing education over the past decade. However, the quality of education remains poor, many children still leave primary education prematurely and illiteracy rates are relatively high.” The reason? Unrest and political instability. 

Approximately six million primary school-aged children in the Arab World remain out of school, with the majority being girls. Syria continues to face devastating humanitarian crises, and as a result there are more than four million people displaced, with one million of them being children. Some two million refugees have fled to Jordan and Lebanon and the refugee crisis in Syria is now recognized as the fastest growing in the world. The cumulative effect these disasters have on literacy levels for Syrian people should not be underestimated but efforts are underway to help. For instance, Dubai Cares supports education interventions for Syrian refugees in the region, and more than half the books collected in the Reading Nation campaign during Ramadan will be donated to them.

In recent years the occupied Palestinian territories have witnessed a huge fall in primary school enrollment and as part of Dubai Cares Rebuild Palestine, Start with Education initiative; children were provided necessary supplies of learning materials, social cycle programs as well as building a school and sustaining the capacity of teaching staff.

Literacy is extremely effective in empowering individuals, communities and societies. Without the ability to read and write, the World Wide Web, for example, becomes irrelevant and even something as simple as sending a text message is impossible – both things most of us take for granted but remain out of reach for hundreds of millions of people across the globe. The negative impact of this on underprivileged societies should not be underestimated and we join UNESCO in doing what we can to increase levels of literacy for school-children, irrespective of gender, race, nationality or religion.

The target everyone involved in International Literacy Day is aiming for is, that by 2030, all youth and a substantial proportion of adults, both men and women, achieve literacy and numeracy – surely something we can all get behind. By educating children and adults in developing countries and communities, we can help make the world a better place. Literacy really is the foundation that a civilized society is built upon.

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