Make Arabic learning fun, interesting for kids

My young Egyptian friend Mahmood is a historian. I find his Facebook page an interesting place as it’s filled with historical facts, pictures of old monuments in Egypt and other parts of the world and most importantly witty situations that occurs to him when riding the mini bus in Cairo.
Lately Mahmood took another interest: sharing posts written by different people filled with spelling and grammar mistakes. His friends thought it was hilarious and started answering him back in the same badly written Arabic. Although it sounds funny and harmless on the surface, but modern illiteracy had become something common in the Arab world. High school and college graduates could barely write. They can’t distinguish different letters and think that tashkeel — supplementary diacritics — are additional letters to the word. The problem is so common that you can detect it sometimes in different Arabic publications. Young journalists are suffering the same problem.
But what caused all of this confusion? Is it the lack of reading? Or the excessive use of technology? How come the older generation that ends with people born at the beginning of the 90s are the ones who could still write properly? Part of the answer lies in the education system.
A decade back when my mother was still a primary teacher, she complained about the ever-changing education system. In her school in particular, the curriculum was changed every couple of years. It was easier to change the whole curriculum than to overcome the problems it had.
My mother was a mathematics teacher for third and fourth grades. It was the first day of the new semester when she came home aghast. She had asked her new pupils to write down numbers on the board, instead they wrote it as a word. When she asked them again to write it numerically they gave her confused looks. The children had never heard of numbers before. They were only taught to spell out and write down everything perfectly. This was the outcome of a new curriculum that focused on developing the pupil’s ability to read and write correctly.
Needless to say, it took my mom some time to teach them how to write numbers. In the past we used to learn Arabic letters, relate them to different objects (like A for Apple) and then move to learn the tashkeel: how each word sounded with it. This would help later when learning to spell words. It also made it easier to distinguish between a letter and a tashkeel.
But now with the modern curriculum, children are not taught letters anymore. For some reasons, modern educators thought it’s better to learn whole words instead. The majority of pupils struggle with it and develop an understandable hatred to their own mother tongue. So how do children overcome this problem? By switching to English language that is much easier to speak and write. This is one of the many reasons for the new generation’s illiteracy. Arabic language is one of the hardest and is very hard to grasp at an older age. It’s devastating to see how our beautiful mother tongue — the language of the Holy Quran and exquisite literature — is being treated with inferiority by its own speakers, becoming a second language to most. Modern educationists must find ways to make Arabic learning fun and interesting to students of different levels. Parents should collaborate too by enforcing what is learned in school at home. A final message to adults who communicate to children in English instead of Arabic: Please stop. Let’s try to reverse the damage.
Rasha al Raisi is a certified skills trainer and the author of:
The World According to Bahja. rashabooks@yahoo.com