By Nadeem Hanif for the National
People in the UAE read for around 51 hours a year, well above the average of 35 hours for the rest of the Arab world.
According to a survey by the Arab Reading Index, people in the emirates read 24 books a year compared with the regional average of 16.
Overall Lebanon topped the index with 59 hours of reading a year covering 29 books. The UAE came fourth. "Reading is an essential tool to build knowledge and culture within a society and this index will help us take social and economic development to the next level in the region," said Najoura Ghriss, the report’s main author and a professor at the Higher Institute of Education and Continuous Training in Tunisia.
She was speaking on the second day of the Knowledge Summit at the Grand Hyatt hotel in Dubai.
In all 148,000 people in 22 Arab countries took part in the survey.
For Jamal bin Huwaireb, managing director of Mohammed Bin Rashid Foundation, the findings have finally debunked a perception that Arabs rarely read.
"We had always heard these statistics claiming that Arabs only read six minutes on average every year and that, statistically, it takes 80 Arabs to read one book every year," he said.
"We were very sceptical and sought to determine the source of these statistics only to find that there was virtually no sound evidence to support them.
"This is why we launched the Arab Reading Index, and set out to find the accurate data ourselves – and from all Arab countries."
Respondents n the UAE said they had the easiest access to books at school or at home, at 89 and 88 per cent respectively, followed by 76 per cent in wider society.
The top five countries in terms of reading were Lebanon with a score of 90, Egypt with 89, Morocco with 87, the UAE with 82, and Jordan with 71. The rankings were based on scores given for extent of reading, access to reading material and personal attributes.
The summit was told it is essential that parents and families nurture a positive reading habit.
"Like a plant it needs to be watered and tended to and only them will it be able to flourish," said Noureddine Selmi, Deputy Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research for Tunisia.
Elias Bou Saab, Minister of Education and Higher Education in Lebanon, said he was proud that his country was ranked first in the Arab Reading list but more needed to be done to encourage the practice in the region.
"Learning itself depends on reading, whether you’re in school or university it requires reading as a first step," he said.
"And in that role the family and mother in particular can play a crucial role. If a child sees their mother reading then he or she is more likely to pick up the practice and make it a part of their own life."
For more details about the Arab Reading Index, visit www.knowledge4all.com