The United Arab Emirates (UAE) will grow to become “the source and lighthouse of education in the Arab World”, His Excellency Hussain Ibrahim Al Hammadi, Minister of Education UAE, told delegates when he gave the keynote address at the Publishers Conference ahead of the Sharjah International Book Fair.

“We want to work with local publishers to empower the next generation of readers.  We are investing hugely in education to enable us to compete at a global level.  We want the UAE to be the source and lighthouse of education in the Arab World.  Our role is to realise the vision of our Ruler, Dr Sheikh Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council, to build a knowledge-based economy.  We express our gratitude to His Highness for his generous support.”

The National Media Council also delivered a message on the importance of books to the growth of the UAE, in accordance with the vision of its founder, the late Sheikh Zayed.

The Minister announced the government’s intention to work more closely with local publishers and said that contracts with 43 publishers to produce 2,000 new titles to support a new curriculum had already been signed.

Introducing the panel on the challenges facing the education market, José Borghino, General Secretary of the International Publishers Association (IPA), said the best education systems were those “where publishers work with governments as stakeholders.  A healthy education system is vital to the growth of a knowledge economy”.  But he warned that in some parts of the world – notably Hungary where they have recently nationalised the education system – too much state control was taking choice away from teachers.  “Education systems work best when teachers have more than one book from which to choose,” he said.

Rashid Al Kous, executive director of the Emirates Publishers Association, said that discussions were underway to adopt ISBNs and that there was an opportunity for Emirati publishers to reduce the reliance of imported educational titles.  “We have more than 130 publishers in the EPA now, and we are here to work.”

Wilmar Diepgrond, Chair of the IPA’s Education Publishing Forum (EPF), said that three issues were important.  “Firstly, choice – the teacher must be able to choose from a large range.  Secondly, localisation – education publishing should be local and I’m glad to hear the Minister voice his support for local publishers.  And finally, cooperation – you need governments and educational publishers to work together.”

Catalonian publisher Jaume Vicens, vice-chair of the EPF, said that working with the Ministry of Education in his country had been a positive experience and “we established open, learning management systems together.

Finally, Borghino noted that open, competitive education markets were ones which allowed “ideas to flourish – and he reiterated how encouraged he was encouraged by the Minister’s backing of local publishers in the UAE.