By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson
‘We Are Here To Lay Down Concrete Steps’As the Sharjah International Book Fair’s ninth annual Publishers Conference goes into its second day today (October 28) at Sharjah’s sprawling Chamber of Commerce facility, the 10-year-old Emirates Publishers Association (EPA) is kicking off its own event at Sharjah Publishing City, which—as Publishing Perspectives readers know— is the free trade zone for publishing, soon to be anchored by an incoming Ingram Lightning Source print-on-demand installation.
The educational publishing event examines progress and plans for the United Arab Emirates’ educational publishers in aligning their efforts with goals of the country’s ministry of education to create what’s described as “a pioneering and global knowledge society.”
In fact, the seminar is a partnership between the Emirates publishers’ organization and the International Publishers Association (IPA), the vice-president of which, the Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi, is the founding patron of the EPA.
The IPA’s president, Hugo Setzer—himself an educational publisher based in Mexico—has opened the program today with a keynote address, following welcoming comments from EPA president Ali Bin Hatem.
As Setzer has pointed out in his remarks, “We have some amazing international experts with us from Japan, Korea, Singapore, Germany, and Ghana.”
And the key component of the program developed by the UAE’s education minister, Hussain Ibrahim Al Hammadi, is a five-year commitment designed to upgrade the national educational system and curricula.
Major emphasis is being placed on protecting Emirati heritage and cultural identity, making this an interesting case in which innovation is expected to be coordinated with traditional values as well as a broad embrace of contemporary context.
Setzer’s keynote is to be followed by an address from Al Hammadi, the minister. And he, in turn, then hands off to Rashid Al Nuaimi, the executive director of the UAE’s National Media Council.
As Setzer has told the assembly this morning, there’s a kind of parallel structure in the fact that while the UAE is looking to devise an innovative response to its educational ambitions, “The climate crisis, regional conflicts, poverty, and famine will require pioneering solutions to bring countries and communities together to make the necessary, urgent progress.
“Publishers,” he said, “have their role to play. Indeed, many are already doing so. The International Publishers Association brings them together in our Educational Publishers Forum, under the able leadership of Wilmar Diepgrond, who’s with us today.”
‘Three Essential Foundations’
And Setzer cites “three essential foundations” in what publishers need to fully be engaged in the educational initiative under discussion:
- Locally adapted solutions: “We support teachers in implementing local curricula.”
- Collaboration: “Collaboration between government, teachers, and publishers,” he says, “is vital in enabling education to be more effective. We pick up from where policy makers leave off.”
- Choice: “We believe in open markets, where publishers can compete to deliver innovative, reliable, high-quality, and culturally diverse content.”
In that last point, of course, Setzer has touched on a challenge seen in many markets of the world in which governments take over the production of textbooks, often the most lucrative element of a national publishing market.
Still, Setzer has assured the assembly in Sharjah that he doesn’t see such an unhealthy construct developing in the UAE’s planning, and that the conference has only to keep in mind the importance of the protection of intellectual property— copyright without, in other words, the kind of damaging educational “exceptions” that have rocked the Canadian market—and of the centricity of the freedom to publish, without fear of censorship, condemnation, or reprisals.
“The schedule for next two days stands out because we are not just here to talk and come back next year” Setzer has said. “We are here to lay down concrete next steps.”
And what he means is clear from the agenda, which is devised, as Setzer has put it, with today as a “warm-up” of discussions and commentary, and “the real work” on Tuesday, when the program divides into a complex array of breakout sessions that first consider how each element of the scenario—the EPA, teachers, and the ministry—can work together, and then focus on five-year-plans for each part of that collaboration.
‘We’re Here To Lay Down Concrete Steps’
All told, more than 20 speakers, group leaders, and facilitators are on-hand in today and tomorrow’s programming, including:
- Mahra Hilal Almutwei, director general of UNESCO’s regional center for educational planning
- Hamad Al Yahyaei, assistant undersecretary for the curriculum and evaluation sector at the ministry
- Richard Crabbe, an international textbook policy and educational publishing sector development specialist
- Hary Candra, co-founding CEO of Pesona Edukasi
- Wookun Hur, head of global business development and strategic alliances with Visang Education in Seoul
- Caitrin Mullan, director of outreach for the Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research
- Alhudhud founder Ali Alshaali
- Isobel Abulhoul OBE, CEO and trustee, Emirates Literature Foundation
- Najla Al Midfa, general manager of Sheraa
- Mariam Fozan, educational cluster manager
- Badria Al Ali, manager of the Lughati Initiative
- Hanadi Al Suwaidi, director of the Sharjah Centre for Learning Difficulties
- Rashid Al Kous, executive director of the Emirates Publishers Association
And a guiding set of goals and desired outcomes will become a kind of touchstone during the sessions, that list comprising both careful attention and evaluation of international best practices and “quick-wins with which the ministry of education and educational publishers can cooperate to build trust, demonstrate the educational publishing industry’s abilities, and replace imported solutions that lack local context.”