Correction on Lebanon’s Rankings in The Global Information Technology Report

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I posted almost a week ago on how Lebanon was ranked in the top 5 countries of the World for Maths and Science education and in the top 10 for Quality of the Educational System according to the World Economic Forum’s 2013 Global Information Technology Report.

For some reason, this piece of news got everyone’s attention and spread online like crazy. I have to admit I didn’t think it was that appealing as we ranked relatively bad in almost every other category so I didn’t bother go through the 300+ pages report and the methodology behind it to understand how those rankings were drawn out (even though one of the comments on the original post suggested something was wrong with the rankings).

Mouhammed Soueidane says:
I’m sorry to break it down to you, but make sure to check this link:

http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_GITR_Report_2013.pdf

Go to page 325(349 in the PDF file). The above graph was made based on a question that was asked to the Lebanese people. The question is:
How would you assess the quality of math and science education in your country’s schools?

The above results are merely what the Lebanese people think about concerning the “Quality of math and science education” in their schools.

Fortunately though, The Beirut Spring shared today a post by Mohammad Alloush, a guest economist, who examined the report thoroughly and provided a proper explanation to the rankings proposed as well as the Real Position of Lebanon’s Education System. Check it out [Here].

The Real Position of Lebanon’s Education System

When it comes to secondary enrollment rates and primary completion we come at a whopping 87th place. Over 10% of children drop out of primary school, and this number is much higher in poor public schools. In adult literacy, we rank 88th. In tertiary enrollment rates, we rank 40th without saying much about the quality. In a UNESCO education index that takes many different aspects of the system into account, in 2010, our ranking was 70. We were 97th in 2007.

In an international quality of education test (TIMSS 2011), students in Lebanon got an average score of 449 on math which is 51 points below average. In terms of ranking, we came in 25th place out of 43 participating countries. Better still, in terms of achieving certain benchmarks, only 1% of Lebanese students achieved the advanced benchmark (3% is the world median), 9%, 38%, & 73% achieved the high, intermediate, and low benchmarks respectively. The world medians are 17%, 46%, and 75%. In terms of quality, we are clearly below average.

I don’t mean to berate nameless people on this. But if we don’t realize that something is wrong, then we have no incentive to fix it. [BeirutSpring]

2013 Volvo V40 T5 Review

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I know I promised to post the review a couple of weeks ago but things have been hectic lately and I couldn’t finalize it until tonight. It’s my first car review and it’s not as easy as I thought it would be specially when you only have one weekend to test drive.

I’ve never driven a Volvo before and the last Volvo I remember being in was a 1983 model that my friend had during my AUB years. I knew that Volvos were traditionally reputed for putting safety above style, but this perception started to change around 10 years ago with the introduction of the C,V and S series (My favorite was the S40).

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Style
Having said that, the new Volvo V40 is all about style and is one of the sexiest cars I’ve seen this year in its category that includes the Audi A3, the BMW 1 Series and the newest Mercedes A-Class. It’s been almost 20 years that Volvo hasn’t designed a five-door hatchback and I must say they’ve outdone themselves, specially with the V40 R-Design model which I looked up online but unfortunately wasn’t available at the dealership.

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The car looks great from the inside, the leather seats are very comfortable with plenty of adjustability in the driving position. Don’t expect the same comfort though if you go for the sports seats that usually come with the T5 R-Design. The steering wheel looks nice with buttons to control the radio stations and the volume on the right and the menu items on the left. What I didn’t appreciate though was the small scroll button on the right side in the middle used to change the radio frequency as I would hit it accidentally while flipping through radio stations.

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There’s a cool display screen in front of the driver that can be set to three different modes (Eco, Elegance and Performance). I loved how the speeds light up as you go faster. The LEDs light up the cabin at night but can reflect on the front windshield if the brightness is set to the highest level. The panoramic glass roof adds a good feel to driving the V40.

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On the Road
If you thought the V40 is a family car, think again as the T5 is equipped with a five-cylinder 2.5 litre engine producing over 250 hp. With this much power, the V40 is a beast on the road and I had a lot of fun driving it. It’s fast and responsive, with a quick acceleration and has a good grip to the road. I wasn’t really comfortable sometimes with the handling when speeding on turns as I felt a slight loss of balance but otherwise it was satisfying enough.

The T5 goes from 0 to 100 in around 6 seconds. It is mated to a six-speed Geartronic automatic with sports mode.

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The reverse mode is very practical as you get two cameras showing you on a seven-inch LCD display in the dash the proximity from the obstacles around you and behind you. The two right and left front mirrors are directed towards the floor to prevent you from hitting your car from the front while reversing. You could disable this option if you wish so.

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I tried backing the car into the sea and the sensors did not beep at all. I think it is the case for most cars but it would nice if they work on improving those sensors since we now have cameras and all.

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Screenshot from the video I took that I will not upload as it will take forever

Safety
The V40 “received a five-star rating in the Euro NCAP tests, with 98 per cent for adult occupant and 100 per cent for safety assist making it officially the safest car Euro NCAP has ever tested. Every V40 comes fitted with the firm’s City Safety system – which uses a laser to detect an imminent collision and automatically brake the car to prevent a low-speed accident – and a U-shaped pedestrian airbag that triggered by sensors in the bumper and pops out from under the bonnet to soften the impact. Volvo finished a solid 10th in the 2012 Driver Power reliability survey, proving that buyers still have faith in the ownership experience and reliability of the brand despite a few problems in recent years.” [Link]

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I think this excerpt from one of the V40 reviews I read says it all. Safety is a priority for Volvo and they make sure to let the driver know about that. There are plenty alerts and warnings that you can activate and de-activate to make your drive the safest possible. There’s also the impressive pedestrian airbag that pops out to minimize injury. Check out a demonstration [Here].

There’s one alert that surprised me the first time, which is the distance alert. It is triggered every time you are closing in on another car quickly in order to avoid collision, and makes a loud sound while lighting up the front windshield with a red alert. I turned it off eventually.

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Verdict
The V40 is a great hatchback that offers you quality, comfort, safety and performance. It’s a very nice-looking car with a price that starts at $39,900. That’s quite pricey but reasonable when compared to the Mercedes and Audi in its category. Having said that, it is hard for me to say that it’s my favorite hatchback as I haven’t tried any others but it’s definitely a cool car to have and most of the reviews seem to agree with me.

You can check out more details about the V40 [Here].

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3G Plans to be increased by 50% on May 7th

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I just got a confirmation from Minister Sehnaoui that the upgrade will take place on May 7th.

What I am unsure of though is what will happen if a user had already exceeded his limit before the upgrade takes place. For example if you have 500 MB and you already consumed 600MB, will the extra MBs be accounted for or will the limits be refreshed automatically?

MTV vs. Charbel Khalil

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I thought the controversy that followed Basmet Watan’s episode on Patriarch Sfeir had died out but it seems Comedian Charbel Khalil has gone as far as attacking a religious official and calling him names as well as going after MTV.

Few things I want to say here:
- I support everyone’s freedom of opinion and I believe we should be allowed to criticize or caricaturize or mock anyone we want regardless of their social/religious/political rank. Having said that, the few respectable Lebanese TVs we have should promote such freedoms out of principle regardless if they agree with the comedian or not.

- Charbel Khalil is a known comedian in Lebanon but I honestly rarely found his shows funny. Added to that, he lost all credibility in my regards when he apologized after the famous Hassan Nasrallah episode. This being said, MTV should have focused on that part only without defending Patriarch Sfeir and interviewing people that are only interested in cursing Khalil. After all, Patriarch Sfeir doesn’t need anyone to defend him.

- The best way to deal with Khalil’s foul language and accusations against MTV and the priest is by filing a lawsuit. Just to be clear, this does not contradict with my first statement as spreading false allegations is not part of the freedom of opinion I preach or believe in.

On a last note, I think this is yet another proof that we need better comedy shows and comedians in Lebanon.

VICE on Sunni Child Soldiers in Tripoli

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AP Photo/Bilal Hussein

I follow VICE religiously. They have some of the most intense documentaries like the one on The Cannibal Warlords of Liberia. I hope one day they’ll make a video report on Tripoli or Ain el Helwe or maybe on the armed groups and gangs in the Beqaa.

Read the rest of the article [Here].

Child soldiers have long been a problem in Lebanon. During the civil war that ravaged the country for nearly 15 years, many kids were practically born with machine guns in their hands. Since the war died down, most Lebanese thought those days were over, but the conflict in Syria has caused the security situation in the country to deteriorate, especially in northern cities like Tripoli, and has prompted a new generation of kids to pick up guns. Poor and mostly Sunni, many of them are drawn to the growing Salafist militias that have spread throughout Lebanon over the past few years.

Jamal grabs a cell phone off the desk and opens it to play two videos. The first one is of him holding a PKS machine gun that looks to be at least three times his size. His dad watches him carry it to the corner of the block, where he helps him shoot off a few rounds at the Alawite houses across the street.

The other video shows Jamal scampering around after his dad and the other militiamen, all carrying weapons. Jamal is wearing a Palestinian kiffeyeh. The sound of gunfire echoes from close by.

Jamal returns the cell phone to his father. Asked if he likes school, he nods emphatically. His dad beams when asked if his son gets good grades.

“He’s second in his class,” he says with some pride. “Just like his dad. I liked going to class, too.”

via Gino

Few words on the SMAs

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Picture taken by Nath Halawani

As you all know by now, the first edition of the Beirut Social Media Awards took place yesterday and I posted the list of winners earlier this morning. Needless to say, I am very happy that BlogBaladi won the Blog of the Year Award but that doesn’t mean the event was flawless.

In fact, there are few things that I felt I should comment on but not to the extent of trashing the event and labeling it a total failure. On the contrary, I thought it was relatively well organized and fun for a first time. I personally had a great time meeting face to face new and old members of the Lebanese online community, chatting with Minister Alistair Burt and British Ambassador Tom Fletcher, engaging in talks with fellow bloggers and tweeps and of course enjoying a fine glass of Ixsir white wine in the beautiful Phoenicia hotel. Mustapha from the Beirut Spring also came all the way from Ghana to attend the event. Too bad Gino was behind bars in Alcatraz and couldn’t make it.

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Picture taken by Nath Halawani

When the names of the winners were being announced, there were a lot of people disappointed with some results including myself in some categories, but you can’t possibly please everyone after all and even if the judges, who had a 50% say in the final vote, made the “wrong” call, you have to respect their decision and agree to disagree. After all, they are all highly respected individuals and some of them are more than qualified when it comes to social media. In fact, I believe the smartest decision taken by the SMA organizing committee was making the judges’ vote account for 50% of the final result.

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Moving on to Haifa Wehbe‘s arrival, I honestly thought it was cool enough for her to attend the event (even though I dislike her). What I did not appreciate though was her unprofessional and disrespectful behavior towards the organizers, the crowd and the other SMA candidates. She arrived 3 hours late, while the name of a winner was being announced, interrupted them and felt free to make a TV interview in the middle of the ceremony, and then made a meaningless comment (“Twitter is my Bodyguard”) when she was handed her award. But then again, this is Haifa, a celebrity in the Arab world and what happened was almost inevitable in any event or talent show or TV show or whatsoever. Like I said at first, she made an effort just like Ziad Baroud (Not to be compared though in terms of behavior) to show up while other less important media figures didn’t bother come and I don’t care if they had other plans because I am sure Haifa has a busier agenda.

The funny part is that I saw more people upset about Haifa’s appearance than myself even though half the crowd was lined up around her while the four final awards were being handed out, including the Blog of the Year award which BlogBaladi won. To be honest, I was more annoyed by Neeshan’s video than Haifa’s act.

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Picture taken by Nath Halawani

Moving on to food and organization, events like the SMAs cost a substantial amount of money and it’s normal for sponsors to offer location or food and request bigger exposure but that doesn’t mean they will win and we’ve seen how Roadster beat Crepaway, Almaza won two awards (With 961 being one of the sponsors) and Alfa ended up with 0 awards. Let us not forget that there’s nothing in it financially for the organizers, so it wouldn’t hurt to appreciate what they’ve done and point out constructively the mistakes and ways to avoid them in next year’s edition.

For example, I think the judges and celebrities should be seated in an isolated area next year so that we avoid what happened with Haifa’s arrival. Added to that, the most popular categories that don’t include celebrities should be announced in the middle of the ceremony as some people got bored after 2 hours and left. A third and more important point is to re-assess the categories and modify/remove/add some based on the online community’s feedback.

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Picture Courtesy of BeirutNightLife

As for the After Party, I have nothing to say except it was awesome! Rodge In The Mix is a great DJ and it was one heck of a party! To make things even better, we got the AfterParty CD in the RagMag goodies bag and I am playing it as we speak.

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On a last note, I attended the SMAs to have fun and hopefully win something and I ended up having a great time and winning a tremendous award. I could go on and on pointing out minor details that could have ruined it for me but I believe everyone agrees that we were all there to have fun and create a buzz online.

Thank you all for the support, and see you next year!

Photo Essay by Natalie Naccache: Lebanon’s ‘uncomfortable’ maid culture

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Picture taken from CNN Photos

Check out the rest of these photos that got featured on the CNN Website [Here].

Photojournalist Natalie Naccache grew up with Lebanese parents in London and visited the small country on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea every year since she was born. On her visits, Naccache, who is now based in the capital city, Beirut, noticed most families had a maid who assumed many household roles: cook, housekeeper, mother, nurse.

“These maids were basically living their lives for their employers. They were dedicated to their employers, and I found that very uncomfortable,” Naccache says.

She says the maid culture is embedded in the Lebanese way of life, which is why she chose to capture it in her photo essay “No Madam.”

Naccache asserts while many maids are treated well, others aren’t as lucky – subjected to verbal and physical abuse, racism, even rape, by recruitment agencies and employers. According to recent statistics, there are more than 200,000 migrant domestic workers in the country of roughly 4 million. [Full Story]

Beirut’s First Social Media Awards Full Results

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Haifa Wehbe showed up to pick up her award for Most Engaging Celebrity on Twitter

This list is not official so please feel free to correct me if I got any name wrong.

Blog of the year : BlogBaladi
Best News Blog : Beirut Spring
Best Business Blog : Wamda
Best Lifestyle Blog : Mich Café
Best Food Blog : No Garlic No Onions
Best Fashion Blog : PlushBeirut
Best Technology Blog : Microsoftoholic
Best Personal Blog : Gino’s Blog
Best Media Personality on Social Media : Zaven
Best Non-Arabic Vocal Artist on Social Media : Anthony Touma
Best Band on Social Media : Mashrou3 Leila
Most Creative Instagram Account : LiveLoveBeirut
Best Facebook Campaign/Page : Lebanese Memes
Best Integrated Campaign : Cheyef 7alak
Most Engaging Youtube Channel : Cheyef 7alak
Most Engaging Youtube Video : Beirut Duty Free Flash Mob
Most Engaging Person on Twitter : Anis Tabet
Most Engaging Celebrity on Twitter : Haifa Wehbe
Most Engaging Media Personality on Twitter : Neshan
Most Engaging Politician/Diplomat on Twitter : Ziad Baroud
Best Business on Twitter : Roadster Diner
Best NGO/Organization on Twitter : Donner Sang Compter
Best Pub/Bar on Social Media : Feb30
Best Restaurant : Roadster Diner
Best Hotel on Social Media : Phoenicia
Best Fashion Brand on Social Media : Vero Moda ME
Best Food & Beverage Brand on Social Media : Almaza
Best Commercial District on Social Media : ABC
Best NGO/Community on Social Media : Lebanese Memes
Best Start-up on Social Media : Tickle My Brain
Best Design for a Social Media Campaign : Almaza
Best Facebook Application : Novo

L’Armoire De Lana was also awarded the best “SMA Social Campaigning Magnet” Award.