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Education Reform and Social Cohesion in Lebanon

It is no secret that the MENA region has had a sweeping education reform as the result of the Arab Spring, although the result of this reform, up till now, has not had the desired effect ( Read here).  Lebanon is no strange to education reform. In the post-war torn country, Lebanon sought to reform its education sector to create social cohesion amongst its divided sectarian and religious groups (based on the premise that the cause of the 15 year civil war was religious and sectarian, although  many historians argue that social injustice, masked in religious and sectarian factions, was what spiraled Lebanon into a destructive civil war). Two education reforms were thus conceived and implemented, the Educational Recovery Plan in post war Lebanon in 1994, and the National Action Plan for Education for All in 2005. However, two questions arise as we ponder on education reform in Lebanon, a conflict-prone country: 1- Who takes decisions on the need, nature, and implementation of the educat…
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Hattie’s Effect Size: A pseudoscience or critics just being critics?

Hattie’s meta-mata analysis that culminated in the publication of his most influential work of Visible Learning (2009), and later updated to include more studies, has been hailed as the “holy grail” for educators and education leaders around the world. In particular, his effect size of instructional practice interventions has had the lion’s share of his work. Hattie considered that if schools set the effect size at 0 then “virtually everything works, and so we need to shift the question from “ what works in education” to “what works best in education”. Hattie’s meta-meta analysis of more than 800  meta-analyses studies comprising 50,000 studies (later included more 1500 meta-analyses) revealed that the baseline of the effect size that schools should start from is not 0 but 0.4, termed as the “hinge point”. In other words, for medium to large effect sizes on student achievement, the effect size of an instructional practice should be o.4 and above. This does not mean that we need to dis…

Global cooperation depends on the strength of local connections

The story of humanity is one of extraordinary cooperation but also terrible conflict. We come together to build cities, civilisations and cultures, but we also destroy these through violence against each other and degradation of our environment. Given that human nature is capable of both extremes, how can we design societies and institutions that help to bring out our better, more cooperative, instincts?
This question is not limited to humans. Life’s domains are replete with many forms of cooperation, from microbes sharing helpful molecules to dolphins providing aid to the injured. This kind of ‘altruistic’ behaviour – helping others at one’s own expense – presents an evolutionary puzzle. As Charles Darwin put it in The Descent of Man (1871): ‘He who was ready to sacrifice his life … rather than betray his comrades, would often leave no offspring to inherit his noble nature.’ The question then becomes, what kinds of conditions lead to the evolution of cooperative behaviour, when we w…

Teaching ‘grit’ is bad for children, and bad for democracy

According to the grit narrative, children in the United States are lazy, entitled and unprepared to compete in the global economy. Schools have contributed to the problem by neglecting socio-emotional skills. The solution, then, is for schools to impart the dispositions that enable American children to succeed in college and careers. According to this story, politicians, policymakers, corporate executives and parents agree that kids need more grit.
The person who has arguably done more than anyone else to elevate the concept of grit in academic and popular conversations is Angela Duckworth, professor at the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania. In her new book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, she explains the concept of grit and how people can cultivate it in themselves and others.
According to Duckworth, grit is the ability to overcome any obstacle in pursuit of a long-term project: ‘To be gritty is to hold fast to an interesting and purposeful g…

Arabic translators did far more than just preserve Greek philosophy

In European antiquity, philosophers largely wrote in Greek. Even after the Roman conquest of the Mediterranean and the demise of paganism, philosophy was strongly associated with Hellenic culture. The leading thinkers of the Roman world, such as Cicero and Seneca, were steeped in Greek literature; Cicero even went to Athens to pay homage to the home of his philosophical heroes. Tellingly, the emperor Marcus Aurelius went so far as to write his Meditations in Greek. Cicero, and later Boethius, did attempt to initiate a philosophical tradition in Latin. But during the early Middle Ages, most of Greek thought was accessible in Latin only partially and indirectly.
Elsewhere, the situation was better. In the eastern part of the Roman Empire, the Greek-speaking Byzantines could continue to read Plato and Aristotle in the original. And philosophers in the Islamic world enjoyed an extraordinary degree of access to the Hellenic intellectual heritage. In 10th-century Baghdad, readers of Arabic…

Arab Cities As Learning Cities: Towards membership in the Global Network of Learning Cities

Modern cities in the 21st century are defined by “individual empowerment”, “social inclusion”, “economic development”. “cultural prosperity”, and “sustainable development”. The rapid urbanization around the world (see here), makes it imperative for cities, as they grow in population, to meet the societal, economic, and cultural needs of its citizens who are growing increasingly diverse. But  you do not have to scrutinize the Arab cities’ ecologies to know that they are conceptually and pragmatically nothing near a modern city as illustrated above. A typical Arab city, let’s say my city Tripoli in northern Lebanon, is underdeveloped, lacks social mobility, individuals are undervalued, has marginalized groups, and the city development is temporal. The marginalization or assimilation of groups in the city is only growing by the day. I have seen this in every Arab city I have visited, with the exception of a few in the GCC. A key ingredient for continuous development is life-long learning…

How One Non-profit Foundation Is Trying to Re-shape Education in Northern Lebanon

Lebanon’s long term and concentric sectarian, bureaucratic practices have left the Lebanese people dwelling away from the capital  Beirut and Mount Lebanon with less social, political, economic, and education rights. You can palpate the gradual social inequality as you move from Lebanon’s center towards the inlands. It becomes a clear social schism on the outskirts of Lebanon . This social inequality has only exacerbated as a result of the Syrian crisis with more than 1.2 million Syrian refugees officially living in Lebanon (a country of only 6 million people and an area of only 10,452 km2). Among all sectors, education has suffered the most, in particular North of Lebanon, which although incorporates Tripoli, the second largest city in Lebanon, has had enormous problems with education equity and access to quality education for decades.

The private education market in Lebanon outweighs the public education market by leaps and bounds  (see my earlier post) with 1.5 billion and 0.3 bill…