Abul Houl went on to say:
…they don’t have a strong foundation and are forced from an early age to learn English. We need to get back to basics; Arabic should be the first language children in the UAE learn. We also have to educate parents on how important the matter is.
I might not agree that children should wait until secondary school to learn a second language, as Aboul Houl advocates (children in the U.S. wait until secondary school to, well, not learn much of anything), but to reinforce the education of Arabic I say: hear, hear.
I have previously written about why experts think children should first learn to read in their mother tongue, and how this will help them learn a second language. W. H. Ryburn: “Any emphasis laid on the mother-tongue will have a good effect on the standard of English.”
Dareen Charafeddine, a publisher at Kalimat, notes another reason why greater emphasis needs to be laid on Arabic, because it’s also a “second language”:
Children are often surprised when they start school and learn [fos’ha] Arabic that sounds like a different language.
But perhaps more important is that teaching methods—at least here in Cairo—make Arabic deadly un-fun, un-engaging, and nearly irrelevant. English and French are the world of songs and stories and creative expression, while Arabic is the world of copying, copying, texts from the government, and about 60 hours of (boring!) homework every night. (Last night, my older son wanted to read هناك ما هو أسوأ together instead of doing his Arabic copying. We read it together, repeated it to the two-year-old, laughed and delighted ourselves, and…well, I can’t stand the copying, either.)
Dana Al Sarraj, Programme Manager at the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, believes the same thing is a problem in the UAE:
Children are very willing and able to do whatever we put them through. I don’t disagree with teaching [Arabic-speaking] children English at a young age, what I disagree on is the method of teaching Arabic.
What can we do to change this? I want to buy a small library of high-quality Arabic books for my son’s classroom—perhaps the teachers will spend some time reading them? But I’d suspect there needs to be a change from within: teachers themselves need to be involved in forming better methods.
In any case, I’m delighted that the UAE is having a national conversation about this issue, and hope we can follow.
Also, do skip past the gush about how being pro-West = happy, but does anyone know about this e-book children’s publishing house in Oman, run by…teenagers?