Raising a battle cry against this is the Sharjah Women's College (SWC) of the Higher Colleges of Technology with a 'Reading Initiative Programme', conceptualised to help the international charity Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF).
"When our students graduate from school and come into college, we have problems motivating them to pick up a book and read for the sheer joy of it. Used as they were to reading books only to memorise and reproduce in an examination, interest levels were rather low. That was the time when MSF gave a presentation about their seamless work worldwide and this prompted the idea of combining reading with the altruistic motive of collecting funds for the MSF," explains Tony Revill, supervisor, English—Higher Diploma.
So, until December 22, students are expected to read between 5-8 books for the cause. "All we did was to raise awareness of the worldwide projects of MSF and soon the empathy and sympathy of the students motivated them to participate in this sponsored reading. MSF is an organization with no political or religious or any other leanings except the altruistic. We told the students how even a one-dirham contribution can feed a starving child with one nutritious meal or get a child vaccinated against infectious diseases. This appealed to the students who are cheerfully chipping in their bit to help the less fortunate," says Geraldine Gallagher, public relations, MSF.
Through the month, authors of books are expected to come and address the students. There will be a treasure hunt based on critical thinking and comprehension. The library will play host to a mini book fair and the final ceremony will be the handing over the cheque to the charity. The programme has about 230 students participating in the event.
The sustained interest in reading is ensured by fairly structured reading patterns and exercises embedded in the curriculum. Besides, class discussions and debates on the reading done would offer scope for improvement. To top it all, the MSF partnership makes it all the more meaningful for everyone.
Ayesha Obaid Al Qussab, a first year business student, says, "We were touched by the MSF presentation and wanted to help. Now that we know the benefits of reading, we will never stop. Hopefully, it would become a lifelong habit for us."
"Reading helps us improve our language skills and a good reader can turn out to be a good orator or writer. By working closely with MSF we are helping ourselves as well as promoting a noble cause," explains Dalal Saeed, first year engineering student.
Says Ala Mohammed Al Hamedi doing her electronic engineering, "With this reading initiative we go often to the library to read books, listen to cassettes and improve our diction. When in doubt we check with friends or approach our faculty members freely for they are like an extended family to us."
"By combining our reading programme with that of the MSF, we help our students understand global issues, world events, at the same time honing in on the good effects of reading. The idea behind this programme is thus to challenge students to explore the enjoyment of reading, while at the same time assist in the development of communication skills demanded from today's workforce," sums up Tony Revill.
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