How reading champs inspire millions of kids in UAE


reading champ, arab reading contests, uae, kids

Dubai - Competing through a newly launched reality TV show presents "an opportunity to be a role model for millions of other children.


A Staff Reporter

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Published: Sun 20 Oct 2019, 10:27 PM

Last updated: Mon 21 Oct 2019, 8:30 AM

Being part of the largest Arab reading contest comes with its own pressure, but having to demonstrate communication, analytical and critical thinking skills before millions of viewers takes the word "challenge" to a new level.
For 10-year-old Mezna Najeeb, who represents the UAE in the Arab Reading Challenge 2019, confidence and preparation are key to facing challenges in life.
Najeeb is one of the 16 reading champions from across the Arab world who made it to the televised semi-finals of the challenge.
Competing through a newly launched reality TV show - which airs every Friday leading up to the winner announcement in November - presents "an opportunity to be a role model for millions of other children and help promote the benefits of reading".
A role model
Fifth-grader Najeeb said: "I love making friends and inspiring other children to take
up challenges in all aspects of life. Challenges can only make us better and stronger if we turn them into opportunities to improve."
In fact, her favourite moment on the show was coming face to face with the judging panel for the first time as a testament to show other young viewers that fear should not impede achievement.
"The experience is teaching me to manage my time and accept criticism," she said. Reading has been a lifestyle for Najeeb since she was four, which helped her outperform 455,000 students from the UAE to reach the semi-finals.
Her confidence and outgoing personality, paired with communication abilities, articulation, comprehension and analytical skills, have saved her from the first stage of elimination that saw four contenders leave the competition.
Now, Najeeb is among 12 contestants who continue their journey as they compete to become the Arab Reading Champion 2019.
"We are all friends on the set, and we help each other out, which is also a reason we don't feel the pressure."
Over a hundred books read
So far, she has read over 100 books in different fields and joined the challenge with 50 books. Najeeb, who aspires to become the minister of youth and "serve the country in every way possible", is taking on the challenge in full force, regardless
of results.
"Reading makes you live more than once, travel in time, see what others cannot see, and learn from mistakes people have committed in the past. It is a privilege to have the chance to share this passion with other children."

Judges teach life skills too
For the members of the judging panel, their role goes beyond evaluation to equipping students with life skills and guiding them into becoming avid readers and thinkers.

On the judging panel, Dr Laila Labidi, assistant professor in the Arabic Language Department at the University of Sharjah, said the focus has been in helping contestants develop a deeper exploration of reading, honing their critical eye, and inspiring them to accept constructive criticism.

With more than 20 years in teaching, Labidi has mastered ways of constructive criticism, especially with contestants who have gone a long way to reach the semi-finals.

"We first acknowledge the contestants' presentation efforts before advising them with ways to improve their character analysis, critical eye, and articulation. We balance between considering the pressure they are facing and avoiding the possibility of giving them a wrong image about themselves."

Filtering down the 16 contestants into five finalists seems a daunting task, and the judges are looking at certain skills that will set the semi-finalists apart from the 13.5 million students across the Arab world.

"We are looking at a champion who has to earn the title among millions of others through their personality, confidence, expression and knowledge," Labidi said.

The challenges that semi-finalists have to partake in are designed to test different skills. The evaluation, Labidi said, depends on each challenge.

"When we ask contestants to change the ending of a short story, it puts to test their awareness of story techniques, revealing their depth, diversity and consistency of reading.

"An avid reader develops awareness of character growth and dimensions and flow of events and strengthens their linguistic skills."

Through her experience in the show, Labidi noted the need to diversify reading choices among youth.

She pointed the need to be open to modern and global literature.

"Children must be open to read history, geography, science and fiction to broaden their intellect," she added, noting the excellent skills and progress contestants have shown so far.

"They read more books, challenged themselves and faced their weaknesses. Viewers across the Arab world see this and see hope in the coming generation."

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