By Dr Khalid Al-Saleh
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) published statistics about reading in the world, including that Americans read around 11 books a year. But for us Arabs, every 20 of us read one book a year, that means that every American reads what 220 Arabs read. This information and much more has been coming to us since decades, and was dealt with by many educated Arabs since the start of the last century, until it became part of the information Arab citizens of all cultural degrees keep and use for self-ridicule and masochism.
Reading is love and training, and those who were not trained on reading at a younger age rarely succeed in training themselves when they become older, so reading is a skill children gain to benefit from when they become adults. Fifty years ago, Arab children were suffering from a high illiteracy rate and difficulty in accessing books. Despite this, the reading rate among them was much higher that the reading rate among the children of today, despite the reduction of the illiteracy rate, especially in Gulf countries, and the ease of getting a book.
The educated failed during 100 years to convince decision makers to adopt a plan that encourages reading by Arab children. Actually, when did the educated succeed in convincing decision makers in our Arab world about any issue?! It became common among decision makers to say the educated consult them and disagree with them.
Free reading classes in 90 percent of schools have stopped, and 95 percent of libraries in Arab schools are abandoned. In foreign schools, the situation is worse, because they encourage reading, but in foreign languages and Western culture, so our children will learn a different culture. This Arab child grows up and lives among us, but actually is a foreign body from whom we do not benefit to support our culture.
The situation is much worse today, as we are not satisfied and do not encourage our children to read in their language and make them like our culture. Rather, we are encouraging them to disable their thinking by encouraging them, with ignorance many times, to sit in front of social media and television for long hours, and this is the new calamity.
In a scientific study by Michigan University in the US and Montreal University in Canada that included 1,300 children to gauge academic gains and its relation to sitting in front of TV screens and similar devices, researchers found a link between the number of hours of watching screens among children and their poor academics and learning harmful social rules.
In a study in a child health magazine about the impact of social media on the health of children and young people, researchers showed major negative effects of social media on mental health, particularly in the area of confidence. People of the West complain their children sit for two hours daily in front of the television and social media sites, so they present studies to not exceed this period and encourage its reduction.
Yet, with us, a field study by social consultant Taher Al-Nujaidi at the GCC level showed 90 percent of our children aged 3 to 7 years sit in front of the TV and other similar media for 5 to 6 hours daily. What does this mean? It simply means the falling-behind formula, which is: Not reading + sitting for hours in front of social media and television = backward generation.
For you fathers and mothers, there was not a nation that paid attention to reading like hours, and the first word that was revealed in the Holy Quran was “Read”. Who does not believe studies and researchers that warn us about a worrisome future if we do not care for training our children to read? Who does not believe and respects what his religion calls for and urges reading?
Encourage your children to read, reduce the time they spend in front of social media, rely on yourselves and do not wait for a solution from our governments, as we waited for a long time to change education curricula in order to instill the love of reading, but to no avail.