QNL Celebrates International Literacy Day


Faten Azzam reading to a group of children at the International Literacy Day celebrations at Qatar National Library. Photo by Fareehan Moustafa.

Faten Azzam, the senior information service librarian at Qatar National Library, held open a green book and asked the group of children sitting in front of her, “How many chickens can you see?” The children enthusiastically counted aloud the chickens on the page, “1, 2, 3, 4.” They then drew the number four in the air. “Good job!” Azzam said.

Every year on September 8, countries around the world celebrate International Literacy Day. This year’s theme was “Literacy and Skills Development.” As part of the celebrations, Azzam also delivered a lecture on children’s relationships with books and how parents can help their children develop better literacy skills in their day-to-day lives. “We held this lecture in Qatar National Library, since it’s one of the main places for development and learning,” she said.

In her lecture, Azzam explained that babies have hundreds of millions of neurons that connect when a child’s skills and experiences begin to develop. If these connections are not reinforced with practice, the neuron circuit created will eventually weaken, deteriorating the child’s ability to pick up on language or other skills. International Literacy Day was introduced by UNESCO in 1967 in order to develop and reinforce these neuron connections in children, raise awareness about the importance of literacy, and to improve reading skills among adults as well.

Qatar has a high literacy rate at an average of 97.8 percent for adults aged 15 and over. In terms of English proficiency, Qatar ranks 59 out of 80 countries surveyed, according to EF English Proficiency Index. Many blue-collar migrant workers in the country have weak literacy in English. As a result, different institutions have launched initiatives to help teach migrant workers to speak the language, such as Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar’s student-run Language Bridge Program, which teaches janitorial and security staff beginner to advanced-level English. “We do a graduation for them at the end of it, and you see them [workers] more confident and so happy and grateful,” said Karen Youseff, a recent graduate of CMU-Q and a former volunteer for the program.

Reach Out to Asia, a local non-governmental organization, also offers the ROTA Adult English Literacy Program, which started in 2009. The program trains volunteers (mainly students) how to teach and develop the literacy skills of migrant workers in Qatar.

QNL also offers a variety of literacy resources that children and young adults can access for free online, such as stories and videos available on its website.

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