Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Pesta Buku Dunia Sharjah

Pesta Buku Dunia Sharjah kali ke 27 sedang berlangsung selama 10 hari dari 29 Oktober hingga 7 November. Dianggarkan lebih dari 100,000 tajuk buku dipamirkan dengan penyertaan 491 penerbit Arab dari 18 negara dan 272 penerbit lain dari 23 negara.

Sebanyak 28,698 tajuk dalam bahasa Arab dan sebanyak 57,927 tajuk baru diperkenalkan.

Pesta itu dibuka secara rasmi oleh Emir Sharjah, Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qassimi.

Saya masih belum berkesempatan tahun ini, mungkin dihari terakhir untuk lelongan. Untuk memandu ke Sharjah yang terkenal dengan kesesakan jalanraya setiap masa memang cukup malas.

Tidak pasti sama ada penerbit buku dari Malaysia. Selalu mengikuti perkembangan industri buku di Universiti Terbuka PTS.

Begitupun penerbit Saba Media kini sedang mempromosi International Islamic Fair 2008 di Dubai.

Berita terbaru yang saya terima, DBP akan menerbitkan antologi kumpulan cerpen yang saya tulis dari 1987, 'Dotkomania' pada tahun depan. Terimakasih DBP.

Literacy and a reading culture are not the same thing

For 27 years in a row, the Sharjah World Book Fair has successfully presented itself not only as a forum for pan-Arab and global intellectual dialogue, but also as a bastion of a reading culture that has been steadily losing ground to the expanding digital communications revolution.
The region’s ailing book publishing and print media industries certainly seem to be casualties of this trend, but when viewed in a broader cultural context, it is society at large that turns out to be the prime loser. Although reading is embossed as a virtuous practice in Arab-Islamic traditions, a convergence of culturally-entrenched oral traditions, colonial underdevelopment, and 21st century digital advances seem to have coalesced to mitigate against the promotion of reading in the region.
Yet reading is both a central ingredient of lifelong learning and a key means of creating a knowledge society. Arab countries need not only to reduce number of people unable to read – 60 million – in the region, but to entrench the written word as an enduring facet of our cultural development.

From a historical perspective, reading is engrained in the central document of Islamic religion, the Holy Quran (which in Arabic means “Book to be Read or Recited”). Sura 96 of the Quran states: “Read! In the name of thy Lord and Cherisher, Who created man out of a (mere) clot of congealed blood.” This command was inspiring for ancient Arab scholars as they sought to integrate Greek and Latin knowledge into their scientific heritage in the golden age of Arabic civilisation. Schools and universities with extensive libraries were established in urban centres in Damascus, Baghdad, Cairo, Tunisia, and Andalus.

But during the era of decline, written text took a hard beating, giving rise to a resurgence of oral culture. It was only in 1798 that the region had its first encounter with the printing press during Napoleon’s expedition to Egypt. Yet the colonial subjugation of the Arab world dealt another blow to Arabic literature, especially in French-dominated regions, something that began to change only after independence.
Faced with the immense challenges of integration and development, many Arab states could not afford to combat the massive illiteracy rates.The essential need to promote reading in the Arab world has received considerable publicity; but the effects on the ground have been limited. Egypt, in cooperation with the Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organisation (Alecso) and the UN’s cultural body, Unesco, has launched its national “Reading for All” programme to sustain solid reading habits.

Last year, an international conference organised by the Qatar Foundation and Unesco to discuss literacy in the Arab World noted the importance of reinforcing the habit of reading among the younger generations to ensure the development of all forms of knowledge in the region. Here in the UAE, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice-President and ruler of Dubai, this week helped launch the Million Book Challenge, which calls on local children to read a million books in two weeks. And the 2009 Abu Dhabi International Book Fair will feature activities to promote reading, while at the opening of this year’s Sharjah World Book Fair, Dr Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, the Ruler of Sharjah, announced the establishment of home libraries in another step to turn reading into a daily ritual.
The rest of the Arab world could do more to promote reading as a fundamental component of literacy and continuous learning. Unesco and the International Reading Association have offered numerous initiatives to foster a reading culture around the world. The problem, according to a recent study, is that many education systems in the Arab region take too narrow a view of literacy as a mechanical, text-centred process of translating print into speech. The goals of literacy instruction have become too focused on basic decoding skills, limited to and achieved during the first few grades of primary education.
I think that reading skills in knowledge societies require more than decoding simple printed text; they depend on critical cognitive interactions. This feature is highly significant for the young who constitute more than 60 per cent of the region’s population and increasingly demonstrate more attachment to web-based, multimedia sources of knowledge. If they can be taught to love books at an early age, then the rest of their education will become that much easier.
The alarming decline of reading as a knowledge acquisition tool in the Arab world has been perceived as a literacy issue. But once we realise the critical nature of reading as key to knowledge development, we should reconsider our current attitudes and give it the attention it deserves in our educational and cultural agendas.
Muhammad Ayish is professor of communications studies at the University of Sharjah

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