"Given the right opportunities and resources, Moroccans will and indeed do read books with enthusiasm." Ali Amhal presents evidence from Ibn Sina High School in Biougra, in the Souss region of Morocco.
by Ali Amal
The results of the Arab Reading Index, released during the Knowledge Summit in December 2016 in Dubai, revealed that, on average, a citizen of the Arabic-speaking world reads around 17 books and 35 hours per year. For Northeast Africa, Egypt led with 89% (64 hours and 27 books per individual per year), followed by Sudan with 43% (33 hours and 14 books), and Libya with 23% (18 hours and 10 books). Morocco had the highest score among Maghreb region countries with a score of 87% (57 hours and 27 books), followed by Tunisia with 70% (47 hours and 22 books), and Algeria with 51% (36 hours and 17 books).
Yet, despite these reassuring results, I can personally state that many Moroccan people, including students and teachers, do not read. Many will try to persuade us that it's useless to try to force Moroccans to take up the habit of reading. However, in this article, I would like to shatter this gloomy, black attitude and demonstrate that, given the right opportunities and resources, Moroccans will, and indeed do, read books with enthusiasm. To that end, I would like to share five indications from the 2018-19 academic year at my school that demonstrate the extent to which reading is thriving.
But before I do, and on behalf of all my students, I should thank from the bottom of my heart Ms. Barb Mackraz, the founder of Morocco Library Project, simply because without her tireless efforts, all this would not have taken place; students could not have developed their English speaking, reading and writing skills, or broadened their imagination and creativity. Thanks to MLP, a new wave of hope, love, and knowledge is crashing against the shore of despair and ignorance.
One. In the 2018-19 school year, more than 30 students who had never read a book in their lives managed to read at least two books in English. Twelve other students who had already read some books at some point in their lives successfully read more than ten novels, as well as books in various other genres. Most of these students wrote book reviews and gave presentations before their peers, sharing with them their reflections and thoughts. A few advanced students even read about one book per week during the school year.
Two. About 20 students actively participated in a “Literature Circles” project, a reading strategy in which students explore and discuss one literary work at a time, taking roles as analyzer, questioner, discussion leader, and illustrator. These circles require endurance and perseverance on the students’ part. Amazingly, the participants showed a great degree of interest in, love of, and eagerness to read books. They have even been meeting almost every week under my supervision to analyze, discuss, and reflect on the books’ themes, topics, and issues.
Three. Kaoutar Lakhr, a 14-year-old common core student, won first prize in the MedStoryWriting contest which was organized by the Rooted Everyday Foundation. Kaoutar is one of the students who started reading books in English this year for the first time, thanks to the generous support of Morocco Library Project.
Four. About 24 students participated in the MLP/OliveSeed Environmental Changemakers Project, which is aimed at promoting student knowledge about various environmental issues, including plastics pollution and climate change. The students read different books on environmental topics. Working in groups, they researched their topics and then gave outstanding, rich presentations on what they learned.
Five. Our school’s reading club invited Arabic and Amazigh poets and writers to be guest speakers. In the beginning, the organizing committee was worried that students would not attend their presentations. Surprisingly, a great number of them attended and enthusiastically interacted with our guests.
The hypothesis that Arabic-speaking people do not read by nature is totally fallacious. However, research should systematically examine what makes them read less in comparison with other nations across the world. Certainly, many variables and factors are behind that low readership. However, based on the experience of my school and the support of the Morocco Library Project, I can venture to claim that if you provide quality, appealing books and effective and ongoing guidance, Moroccan students will read as much or more than students anywhere else in the world!