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Reading Crisis among Yemeni Citizens
  Written By: Moneer Al-Omari (YEMEN POST STAFF)
  Article Date:
January 12, 2009



According to a latest report on education by the Adult Education and Illiteracy Eradication Authority at the Ministry of Education, there are over 5 million illiterates in Yemen of which males make up 33.3 percent and females represent 66.7 percent.

Several education experts stress that the book faces an unprecedented crisis and this is prompted by the lack of interest in reading, the financial crisis and the rivalry of internet. They stress that Arabs should develop the habit of reading and should instill this habit into the minds of children.  

In the Arab World, there are over 75 million who do not read and they shape about 40 percent of illiterate people worldwide. However, this number could markedly increase if we consider computer illiteracy.

Saleh Al-Ja'ashani, a street bookseller, reveals that his sales are dropping and noted this could have something to do the current financial crisis.

"We used to make some money out of selling books; however, this profession is no more profitable.

The rocketing prices of books and economic situation are important reasons that prevent people from buying.

Comparing to Europe where publishers could issue hundreds of thousands or even millions of copies, the Yemeni publisher will issue some three to five thousand copies because reading is not a priority for the majority of Yemenis.

Several interviewed university students noted that reading does not go beyond the curricula designed for their study.

"I read what our teachers tell us to read; the same applies to my friends. Our reading is limited to books that relate directly or indirectly to our specializations. In few cases, I tend to read different books or newspapers," noted Mohamed Ali Al-Hadi.

For his part, Al-Hadi's friend sees that the Internet and satellite channels have occupied already the place of books.

"We, as Arabs, seldom read. When we read, we never get benefit out of what we read. Arabs are mainly busy with watching satellite channels and internet. The problem is that we always follow the negative side," hinted Al-Hadi's friend. 

The recent Sana'a International Book Fair, considered by officials to be the second largest book fair in the Middle East, saw less turnout. The total revenues of the book fair reached about YR 1 billion (about $10 million).

According to experts, Yemen can restore and develop the habit of reading through enacting the different media outlets so that they play the intended role as for raising the awareness among the public. However, they stress that the country should make in-depth reading so that it can understand what is going on.

They also see that it is important to issue books at lower prices so that people can buy them; however, they emphasize the importance of reading for understanding and not just scanning.

UNESCO reported that over 70 million children do not join schools worldwide; among them are children from the Arab world especially in poor countries like Yemen, Sudan, Mauritania, etc. 

Statistics indicate a huge disparity in reading rates between Arab children and their foreign peers as Arabs read five minutes a year, while Americans read for five minutes a day.

What do Yemenis read?

The majority of Yemenis mostly read newspapers and magazines and are interested in politics, news and sports. There is also tendency to read some religious and cooking books. 

In this regard, Al-Ja'ashani notes that most of his customers buy religious and educational books. Later come books or magazines that deal with cooking, fashion or sex. 

Bookshops make good sales of books required in the curricula because students are compelled to buy them. Moreover, selecting books depends on information they receive from friends, family or internet.