While the main activity at the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair was, well, selling books, there was also a major emphasis upon education. One of my jobs was to help staff “The Education Chapter 3” of the fair. The “3” indicates that this was the third annual Education Chapter, which brought together exhibitors, teachers, librarians, publishers, institutional buyers, and presenters in an effort to provide professional training to Arab teachers and librarians.During the one-day Education Chapter 3 event, I worked with Program Manager Dana Al-Sarraj throughout six different professional training workshops. The topics covered included empowering children as illustrators in order to promote and develop literacy; adopting language creatively through poetry; and using big books in a shared reading experience in order to boost children’s confidence and skills in literacy.
The 55 local librarians and teachers who attended these sessions came to gain insights into current and contemporary ways of reaching young learners and to relate to them on a personal level. Dr. Jase Moussa Inaty, Assistant Professor of Educational Psychology at Zayed University based in Abu Dhabi, made the point that children connect “through an understanding of mathematical concepts and through experiences with real things rather than symbols.” With this in mind, Dr. Inaty’s session focused on hands-on activities aimed at providing students with the opportunity to “make a connection to real life.”
In between the morning and afternoon workshops, several publishers had an opportunity to speak directly to teachers and librarians about their books for students of various ages and learning levels. Each publisher and presenter had 15 to 20 minutes to “pitch” their offerings to the audience. One of the most interesting talks was by Judy Galbraith, President and Founder of Free Spirit Publishing, who discussed several different books focusing on how to teach children with autism, attention deficit disorder and other learning disabilities. She also told the audience about books designed to teach gifted children in the general classroom.
After the first three presentations, Dana asked me to supervise the final four. While I hadn’t expected this, I plunged right in, introducing each lecturer and even providing technical support for one speaker who had an elaborate, interactive whiteboard presentation. I gained an unexpected and inside perspective on the many aspects of event planning and media presentations.
In addition to the talks to teachers and librarians, there were several presentations planned for publishers on specific markets, as well as a matchmaking session between publishers and those who buy books for Arab schools and libraries. Of the five market presentations, only the ones on Abu Dhabi and Kuwait actually took place. The ones on Bahrain, Oman, and Saudi Arabia were canceled because of a combination of family emergencies and airport closings in Bahrain and Oman.
Despite the cancellations, The Education Chapter 3 was a success, and participants left with newly acquired knowledge and information about techniques, methods, materials, and books to further develop their skills as educators and content providers. Teachers and librarians who attended the presentations gained a certificate in professional development from KITAB. As for me, I had an opportunity to showcase my impromptu event-planning skills. All in all, it was a great day of learning and everyone looks forward to Education Chapter 4.
by Karlyn Hixson
As the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair winds down and we attempt to evaluate our experience, we are left with three final impressions. Our first is of the significant and deep-reaching differences that divide Arabic and Western cultures. Although much attention is often paid to the most obvious dissimilarities of religion and customs, we found the disparities affected even the most mundane business practices and served as a source of frustration for both cultures. For instance, business in the Arab world is conducted predominantly among friends and family members. Networking as an activity between strangers is an unfamiliar and not particularly popular practice, making Western inroads a difficult prospect.
Our second impression was of the incredible Arab hospitality. Without exception, we were treated kindly and generously. The people we met at the fair were happy to be attending and delighted to meet us—if a little incredulous to learn we had traveled all the way from New York to help out. And they were eager to talk to us about their different countries (we learned, for example, that only around 20% of the UAE population is Emirati), their culture, and their beliefs. One of the illustrators with whom we worked, Nasir Ahmed Nasrallah, spent over an hour clearing up our confusion about information regarding the UAE that we had heard on one of our tours and spoke eloquently about his Islamic beliefs and practices.
Our final thought was that Arabic publishing is in the beginning stages of organizing itself as an industry. It is both fascinating and overwhelming to consider the daunting task ahead. Having met so many wonderful people from the region who are passionate about books and about the future, we wish them nothing but success in growing their industry.
by Erin Cox