New Dubai forum to fight illiteracy in region

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Dubai: A new UAE-based initiative will unify efforts of separate governments, entities and individuals to eradicate illiteracy in the Arab world, where 21 per cent of people cannot read or write, a senior official said on Wednesday in Dubai.

The first Literacy Challenge Forum, scheduled for February 24 in Dubai, will gather experts and officials from Arab countries on a single platform, said Jamal Bin Huwaireb, CEO of the Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Knowledge Foundation, the forum’s organiser.

His comments came during a press conference announcing details of the forum, held in partnership with UNDP and UNESCO.

2030 target

The foundation aims to eradicate illiteracy in the Arab world by 2030, following the vision of His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, Bin Huwaireb said.

The forum comes in line with the vision of Shaikh Mohammad and Shaikh Ahmad Bin Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Chairman of the Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Knowledge Foundation.

‘No magic cure’

At Wednesday’s press conference, Bin Huwaireb pointed out there is “no magic cure” for illiteracy.

“We are trying to spot the challenges and find the resolutions for them. They [entities and individuals] don’t have a magic cure to eradicate illiteracy, particularly given the fact that they are working separately,” he said.

New ideas

“This forum will bring them all together under one umbrella to exchange the know-how, experiences and expertise. So the forum will come up with white papers, proposals, suggestions and initiatives aiming to tackle illiteracy in the Arab world.”

Following the forum, which will be an annual event in Dubai, workshops will be held in Arab countries, starting with Egypt, Bin Huwaireb added.

Main focus

The forum and the foundation is focusing mainly on fighting illiteracy among the youth because “if you don’t tackle illiteracy at the level of the youth, it will carry on until it reaches the elderly”, the CEO said.

More than 14 per cent of males and around 25 per cent of females in the Arab world are illiterate, with the rate reaching as high as 60 and 80 per cent, respectively, in some countries in the region, Bin Huwaireb said, quoting research.

‘Saddening situation’

“Other countries are focusing on ICT [information and communication technology] literacy and we in the region are still talking about reading and writing; that’s a saddening situation.”

Exemplary progress

Bin Huwaireb said due to the vision and leadership of the UAE’s founding father, the late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, illiteracy has been virtually eradicated in the UAE. In 1967, before the UAE was formed in 1971, the illiteracy rate was around 50 per cent – it is less than 0.5 per cent today.

On the other hand, illiteracy in Iraq had risen from 21 per cent to 57 per cent after the 2003 conflict in the country.

Collective duty

When asked about the potential impact of instability in the region on illiteracy rates, Bin Huwaireb said fighting illiteracy “under any kind of security situation is a duty”. He added that despite any challenges, the foundation’s work and support in this regard will continue.

The forum will also honour governments, organisations and individuals who have made significant contributions in promoting literacy in the Arab world.

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