Bursting with Wonders – The Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival 2018

Bursting with Wonders – The Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival 2018

Just as our body strengthens and becomes sturdier as a result of flexing and exercising our muscles, our brain benefits in the similar fashion becoming stronger and enhanced from exercise in the form of intellectual and creative activities, of which reading is a primary impetus. It is astounding the way reading adds to our cognitive ability and development attaining higher levels of awareness and augmenting neural activity as well as improving the overall mental health. The acclaimed novelist, scholar, translator, essayist and editor, Alberto Manguel has even gone as far as to describe his experience of learning to read as “acquiring a new sense, so that now certain things no longer consists merely of what my eyes could see, my ears could hear, my tongue could taste, my nose could smell, my fingers could feel, but of what my whole body could decipher, translate, give voice to, read”.

This promised horizon of possibilities and exposure to diversity and cerebral growth, is exactly what the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival 2018 (SCRF 2018) is all about, opening at ExpoCentreSharjah on 18th April 2018 for 11 days of discovery, creativity and exploration. Held annually under the directives of His Highness Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, the UAE Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah, and the patronage of Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher Bint Muhammad Al Qasimi, the cultural festival is aimed at inspiring and promoting a culture of reading, learning and applying that knowledge especially amongst children, helping to raise a generation of scholars and leaders that the society can benefit from at all levels.   


A bright, eclectic constellation of authors, illustrators, speakers, thespians and publishing professionals will grace the SCRF, as Sharjah celebrates the 10th edition of the famous festival, alongside over 120 local and international publishers with a collection of their books on display for sale. Based on this year’s theme ‘Your Future… Just a Book Away’, Sharjah Book Authority (SBA) has revealed a packed itinerary of the most amazing and diverse range of workshops and activities for the children’s festival.


Celebrated authors, storytellers and illustrators will join to read their famous works and meet their fans at the festival such as Lebanese author and founder of Hunna Group for Female Emirati Writers and Creators, Sahar Mahfouz; Palestinian author and illustrator Fadwa Al Qasem Fadwa; and Egyptian author and scriptwriter Amr Samir Atef. Traveling down from other continents will be eminent writers, essayists and poets, talking about creativity, humorous literature, articulating information, as well as writing poems and illustrating like Ed Vere from Britain, Mirada Paul from USA, Natasha Sharma from India, Michael M. Coroza from Philippines, and regarded as one of the most innovative storytellers today, Mark Gonzalez, also from the USA.


Joining from the world of theater and creative arts, Egypt’s favorite actors Sabrin and Abdul Rahman Abu Zahra; Bahrain’s Haifa Hussein; Algeria’s Tareq Al Arabi Tarkan; Oman’s Mohammed Bin Khalfan Al Hanaee; Syria’s Dr. Mustafa Abdul Fattah, Founder and Chairman of the Children’s Literary Club and the much adored voice of animated movies such as ‘Mowgli’, ‘Captain Majid’ and the “Small Fisherman’, actress Amal Hawijeh.


This star-studded event will incorporate insight and discussion from Christine S. Bellen from the Philippines talking about the relationship between novelists and filmmakers and the journey ‘From Page to Screen’. Whereas Darya Yegorina from Ireland, the CEO of CleverBooks, will be sharing her knowledge about emerging and innovative technologies for education.

However, the 10th edition of the SCRF includes something huge in ed-tech that will be a part of the event for the first time. Led by Dr. Sana Farid from Bahrain, the pioneer ARVR & Ai Strategist and CEO of VRXOne, sessions will be held on Virtual Reality for education demonstrated by an Expert Google Expeditions trainer. In the spirits of delivering thorough understanding and connecting with the Emirati youth, these sessions will be delivered in Arabic language. This is an amazing opportunity for the youth to get familiar with the use of VR in education and experience Google Expeditions at the platform of VRXone – the biggest Virtual Reality program in the region, already taking a million VR sessions to schools in the Middle East. It is noteworthy here that Dr. Sana Farid has recently been awarded by UAE Ministry of Education earlier this month for her proficient participation in Gulf Teachers Training Forum, where she delivered workshops for Immersive learning platforms for teachers attending the session from all over UAE.


The festival will also host academics including Dr. Reem Al Fawwaz, Assistant Professor and Researcher in Children’s Literature and Literary Criticism at the Arabic Language Department of the King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah as well as Toqa Abdelrahim, a teacher and civil activist who founded the ‘Whites’ initiative on women’s and children’s issues, and Dr. Najla Bashour, Professor of Educational Science at the University of Saint Joseph, whose participation is noted for founding the Tala Establishment for Educational Aids and Instruments in 1984.


The Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival 2018 will be a jewel-speckled, happening event where children will be able to get in touch with their creative side and elevate intellectual tendencies – and to add to their inspiration and excitement– including the chance to win the “Innovation Award” for 9 to 15-year-olds, rewarding the creativity, originality and resourcefulness of those who exhibit the propensity lo lead with pioneering ideas and concepts in the fields of science and knowledge. The festival will further include four different competitions on innovation, news reporting, poetry, and cooking, in order to further shape and develop skilled based knowledge and competencies among the Emirati youth. So if you are anywhere in the Middle East during the month of April, this is where you need to be through these much-awaited 11 days of the SCRF 2018.

Google Expeditions, and the Fairly Ambitious Mars Mission

Google Expeditions, and the Fairly Ambitious Mars Mission

The trajectory of Virtual Reality technology has traveled far, and quite literally, over the boundaries.


While lessening the barriers and paving way for worthwhile developments, VR has found usage in a multitude of fields namely education, healthcare, aviation, real estate, travel, training, therapy, etc. Since the time of its inception to today, when it is on the cusp of a breakout, every development in the field has been termed as a major hit. Call it the obsession of tech evangelists or their overwhelming theistic belief, VR has given many hopes to innovation. It would not be wrong to quote that today, Virtual Reality has proven its power by gripping the minds and showing us its practical worth.


Allowing complete immersion & engagement, VR is touted as a development that is pro-innovation. As per many, it pumps up productivity and enables autonomous development. Interestingly, Google Expeditions VR’s mission is quite aligned with this belief – to transmute every child into a discoverer, capable of independent learning. The application that uses cardboard and stunning panoramic stills, captures the users’ minds and completely involves them.


Introduced in 2015, Google Expeditions have been recognized as a productive Edtech tool. Its app incorporates background information to help the students and teachers taking the tour. The tutor can guide the students throughout the field trips using an easy to use interface on a tablet. They can also manage multiple screens at a time and review the student login and screen.


By offering virtual tours to different places, Google brings ‘the world into the classroom’. Partnering with different VR companies across the world, the tech giant is determined to increase the reach of this application and benefit maximum students. Its Middle East partner Munfarid goes an extra mile with its ‘go to school program’, a VR awareness program aimed at conducting 1 million expeditions in the Middle East. The Expeditions are being demonstrated with the Virtual Reality kit VRXOne.


Amongst the various lessons available on expeditions, a particular field trip to Antarctica is very interesting. Here, the students get to understand fauna of the place better through a concise 3-D virtual trip. They learn about penguin colonies, leopard seals, Ernest Shackleton’s explorations, and much more. While the students are drenched in a virtual experience, they also move their heads, attempting to capture the full view of the place. They react and move their body in anticipation of what happens next. Deep immersion like this helps many children find their true passion and pursue their interests in the field. It is only a technology like VR that can engage every student, also those whose attention is hard to get, or the ones who struggle with information retention. It is a journey of discovery coupled with the righteous implementation of textbook learning.


Impressively, there are many places that students and teachers can now visit through Google Expeditions. The Ann Frank House, the Great Wall of China, Palace of Versailles and Romeo and Juliet’s Verona are some major hits.


Also one of the most amusing places, as per students, is the field trip to Mars. The pictures have real depth. Rocks and cliffs projected out towards the user. The immersion is enhanced by shadows that seem real enough across the surface of Mars. With so many organizations working for space research and exploration, this field trip enthuses the students and instills curiosity to learn more in the minds of budding space fans.


Also, talking about innovation & discovery, we cannot skip mentioning a major news coming straight from the land of seven emirates.


UAE seeks Red.

The country is gearing up to put its foot on Mars.


A huge investment by the government and its lookout for brilliant minds to make this mission a success talks volumes about the enthusiasm and passion for this space mission. This came off as a major highlight of the UAE Innovation month that was observed in February. The maiden Martian mission is named ‘Hope’. News reports suggest that an amount of 20 billion dirhams ($5.4 billion) has been invested in the UAE Mars Mission and the government is also building a Dh500-million Mars Science city. Tests will be conducted to examine the possibilities of food, energy, water, and agricultural on the planet.


If successful, the impact of this mission will be massive. A strong development will give a major push to the quest for life on another planet. That will probably be a ‘discovery of the century’.


At the same time, it intrigues me to think about the impact it will have on the existing Google Expeditions’ Mars field trip. Would it have stills of people walking around on Mars? Would we see man-made sources of energy there? Maybe too early to imagine, yet quite amusing.