Queen Rania Foundation


Advancing Arabic Language Teaching and Learning explored the development, selection, and use of teaching and learning resources to support children learning to read in Arabic. Consideration was given to issues such as curriculum, time allocation, children’s reading matter, teacher guides and support materials, and publishing constraints.

This note summarizes the key points and recommendations on these topics from the World Bank’s report on Advancing Arabic Language Teaching Learning: A Path to Reducing Learning Poverty in MENA with additional points distilled from the first webinar on Arabic and the Science of Reading.

Key points

  1. There tends to be a lack of careful, evidence-based sequencing and planning in Arabic language instruction as portrayed in curricula and in teaching and learning resources. For example, the links between a child’s home dialect and Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) are often not capitalized on through explicit, systematic instruction to help children build bridges from the words they are familiar with at home to the ones they learn at school.
  2. Given what is already known about learning to read Arabic and effective pedagogical methods, more can be done across the MENA region to improve curriculum design, instructional materials, teaching methods, and assessment to help children learn MSA more efficiently and effectively.
  3. Getting the right balance of playfulness, inquiry, and rigor in the Arabic language arts classroom will lead to children having greater attention, engagement, and learning in school. Informed curriculum design in addition to the development and selection of enriching teaching and learning resources are a crucial element in achieving this balance.
  4. The total instructional time that schools devote to Arabic language arts varies across MENA countries; however, most are implementing fewer hours than average according to the Progress in International Reading Literacy Strategy (PIRLS) 2016. For example, from PIRLS 2016, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia devoted less than one-half of the time for language arts instruction than did the Netherlands and Trinidad and Tobago (the two highest), and under three-fourths of the average time of all participating countries.
  5. Parents in Arabic-speaking countries are less likely to have children’s books in their homes and are less likely to read to their children (as indicated in PIRLS 2016). For example, in Morocco and Saudi Arabia, most children (over 60 percent) are in homes with very few children’s books (less than 10). By comparison, the average across PIRLS 2016 participating countries was 19 percent.
  6. Schools are not well resourced with children’s literature books. For example, PIRLS 2016 found that only 9 percent of children in Morocco and 18 percent of children in Saudi Arabia were in a school with a well-stocked library (having more than 500 books), compared to 73 percent of children on average across all PIRLS 2016 participating countries.
  7. As children develop into readers, it is important that they find “reading for pleasure” material that is engaging to them and that motivates them to read more, such as a book series, comics, magazines, and digital texts. Not only does this reinforce and improve their reading skills, building up their higher-order fluency and comprehension skills, but reading for pleasure has other benefits such as being one of the most important indicators of a child’s future success. Teachers can foster children’s love of books in class with spillover effects to their home lives.
  8. In MENA classrooms, on average, children are rarely asked to read longer fiction books with chapters, unlike in most other countries. For example, on average across PIRLS 2016 participating countries, 18 percent of fourth-grade students are never or almost never asked to read fictions books with chapters during class, while the average was higher in every Arabic-speaking MENA country in PIRLS 2016 and as high as 64 percent for Moroccan students and 55 percent for Saudi Arabian students.


  1. Specific, quantifiable goals for children’s Arabic language learning outcomes should be linked to a well-defined curriculum framework that recognizes the variation in children’s prior experiences and language and developmental readiness while holding high expectations that each child will succeed in learning to read.
  2. Every school should have a robust early grade Arabic language arts instructional program with sufficient time allocated for Arabic reading instruction and practice. The time should be optimized and spent on activities that lead to learning and promote higher order thinking skills. A target of at least 90 minutes per day of Arabic language arts would likely be a minimum for instructional time to be sufficient, with more being preferable. As a comparison, on average, the countries participating in PIRLS 2016 allocated 27 percent of their total instruction time for language instruction, including reading, writing, speaking, literature, and other language skills in fourth grade.
  3. The content of the program should be phonics based, teaching word patterns, and enhancing fluency and comprehension skills (especially higher-order thinking skills) through direct and explicit instructional strategies. Strategies should include (a) daily reading aloud of children’s literature in class to help build vocabulary and model fluency; (b) more freedom to use “less formal” MSA words to facilitate the bridging between dialects and MSA in lower grades; and (3) explicit teaching, checking of understanding, and reteaching as needed (possibly in small groups) through a systematic progression of building letter and word recognition skills and comprehension abilities.
  4. Engaging texts and materials should be available for every child, including levelled readers for different reading ability levels that start with familiar MSA words, repeated sentence patterns, and rhymes. Levelled readers should be taken home for nightly reading with parents and caregivers so that children in the early grades can continue to practice.
  5. Aligned supportive guides should be available for every teacher, with the option for teachers’ creative use of supplementary materials such as open-source digital reading resources. Guidance materials for teachers (teacher guides and/or sample lesson plans) should include ideas for ways to regularly and informally “check for understanding” throughout lessons.
  6. A wide range of interesting and popular reading material should be made readily available to children (for example, through classroom or school libraries) as they become able to read independently. The varying interests of all children—girls, boys, fiction, nonfiction, etc.—should be considered in selecting a range of books for children to choose from. Strategies to encourage reading, such as daily time in school for independent reading (with teacher modeling), should be considered.
  7. Exposure to useful day-to-day life and academic vocabulary, in MSA, in the early years should be increased; for example, through reading to young children and children’s television programs in MSA.
  8. In rolling out a new reading program, consideration should be given to the best way to communicate with parents, teachers, school leaders, and supervisors so that all stakeholders understand the goals and their roles in achieving those goals.

The Conversation