Lebanon 4th in the World in Maths and Science Education? Not Really

Beirut Spring’s guest economist disputes a wildly shared statistic

— Hold the flag waving –

Guest post by Mohamad Alloush

When I first read the report about Lebanon’s education system being ranked 4th in quality of math and science education and 10th in overall education, my immediate thought was “where on earth was that statistic pulled out from?” I’ve had some firsthand exposure to the poorer public schools in this system and there are primary schools where more than a quarter of the students are still illiterate by the time they reach the fourth grade. I called bullshit and moved on.

But then everybody started sharing these numbers and voicing their pride about them. The Mountains! The Sea! AND now a world class education system? It was irritating to say the least, but even more so because it came from the most educated in our society.

Let me rewind a little to explain. I’m in the process of getting a PhD in economics and I’m mainly interested in education, skills, labor market, and development. I also worked for an international organization writing reports on education and labor in the region. So when I saw those numbers, I knew something just wasn’t right. So I took some time and skimmed through the report.

The Infamous Ranking

The report is a legitimate and thoughtful work on technology, labor, and work in the world. Our two tables of interest were put together using numbers from the 2012 Executive’s Opinion Survey. In a nutshell, this survey asks a number of executives in target countries around the world what their opinion was on certain issues in their country.

I looked the number up for Lebanon, and it turns out 48 executives in Lebanese companies of different sizes responded to this survey. The best part though is what comes next. Continue…

Our Incredibly Distorting Bubble

– Myriam Klink… A Storm in an English-speaking teapot –

This morning I was browsing Lebanese blogs and I saw a link to Executive Magazine’s article on what the Lebanese googled in 2012. It was an interesting read filled with the kind of stuff I usually like: Interactive graphs, charts and photos of blond models..

But when I saw the chart on Lebanese divas, I knew that something was completely off:

Could it be? a talentless woman spiking ahead of our superstars in Lebanon twice in 2012? Something is wrong and I decided to investigate. So I redid the same google trends study but with one small but crucial change: I used the artists’ name in Arabic instead of latin. As I suspected, a completely different picture emerges:

The Arabic searches have a much higher activity volume and are therefore more representative of the population, and you see that depressed purple line in the bottom? That’s all the searches whats-her-face got in Arabic. A woman who caused a stir in the blogosphere and on my facebook newsfeed barely registers in the Arabic-speaking Lebanon.


As a Lebanese who blogs in English, I often wondered how much my voice and that of people like me (people who post stuff in English and French on facebook and read blogs like this) are influential in Lebanon. Time and time again, I’ve noticed that we live in a bubble that is not truly representative of the man on the street. I attacked Arabic language purists and made the point that even if you don’t speak Arabic you can be as Lebanese as anybody else, but that doesn’t mean that we should be under the illusion that Lebanon looks like us. Consider how Executive Magazine describes the english-only Myriam Klink chart: (emphasis mine)

There can only be one winner for this: Myriam Klink. The “3ANTER” singer’s hit about her pet pussy cat provoked one of the biggest temporary spikes of the year in Lebanese Google searches.

The first chart, without Klink, shows Haifa Wehbe, Nancy Ajram and Elissa as the top three Googled female artists overall, with the legendary Fairuz trailing a long way behind.

The man who wrote this seems to really believe that this google search is representative of Lebanon, despite the huge red flag that shows Fairuz as failing in a country that all but worships her. His attitude mirrors that of many of us who are deluded and who really believe that the majority of the Lebanese are like us.

The lesson from Egypt

Last year, ahead of the parliamentary elections in Egypt, I was following about 500 Egyptian people on twitter, most of which are “Arab Spring” type activists. The picture their tweets painted was that the elections will produce a parliament that will guide Egypt to the path of freedom and Liberty. There too reality got in the way: 75% of Egyptian voters chose Islamists to represent them in parliament. Needless to say, that was completely different from the image I had in my head from reading the twitter feed.

We (and by we I mean people like me and the people I follow on twitter and facebook) ought to really reflect on this and what it means. To make this even more obvious I will end with yet another google trends chart, this time comparing the searches for Myriam Klink (english) and مريام كلينك in Arabic:

Each Lebanese Law Costs 1 Million Dollars to Make

Some back-of-the-envelope maths about how much it cost to produce each Lebanese law in 2011.

The graphic above has been making the rounds on the Lebanese social media. It’s an interesting scorecard of what Lebanese MPs have achieved in 2011. The bottom line is revealing: 128 MPs wrote 19 laws in the entire year, resulting in the horrible efficiency of 0.15 law/MP/year .

I figured I’ll take this another step and decided to dig up how much each law costs the Lebanese tax payers in 2011. First, a word of warning: This is a very imprecise exercise, so please economics and statistics experts don’t expect super exact figures to come out of it. We’re just aiming for the ball-park. Continue…

1000 RSS Subscribers to Beirut Spring. Thank You

I was positively surprised this morning when I peeked at my RSS counter (bottom of right sidebar) and found that 1019 of you are now subscribed to Beirut Spring’s RSS feed. I don’t usually celebrate statistical milestones — and I’ve had many since I started blogging in 2005 — but this one is close to my heart.

The reason I still prefer RSS over subscription devices like Facebook and Twitter is that RSS is still the best way not to miss what someone writes. Twitter and Facebook are great tools, but they’re more about what’s happening right now. A great blog post that was written 10 hours ago can easily get lost in a torrent of cool links and photos.

For those who are still not subscribed, perhaps you’d like to subscribe by email?

One more time, thank you.

Speaking of Lebanese Statistics: Our Eating Preferences

Some interesting findings on the eating habits of the Lebanese:

Lebanon residents are eating out a whopping 11 times a week according to a new report by LivingSocial and YouGov. The social trends survey also suggests American food is the take-away favourite and that friends are beating family to the table as the preferred dining companion outside the home

Many more interesting tidbits (favorite cuisines, difference between men and women..etc) at Ragmag. I’m not sure about their methodology, and I’m almost sure that by “Lebanese” they mean “Beirutis” , but that was fun reading nonetheless..

Related: The Donut Did Not Kill the Man2ouché

A Lebanese Consumer Confidence Index

AME Info:

The Byblos Bank/OSB Consumer Confidence Index is a measure of the sentiment and expectations of Lebanese consumers towards the economy and their own financial situation, in line with leading consumer confidence indices worldwide.

One of the most important indicators in any economy. In Lebanon it could even double as a an unofficial War-O-Meter (measuring the population’s weariness)..

Lebanon, a Beacon of Tolerance?

The Daily Star has published very interesting poll results on Lebanese attitudes to religion and immigration. Many of the findings run counter to what is commonly accepted wisdom (Apparently Muslims are more likely to want to emigrate from Lebanon than Christians).

But here’s the paragraph that I found most interesting:

The research found that 76 percent of Lebanese said they strongly agreed that they “would not object to a person of a different religious faith moving [in] next door,” compared with 65 percent of Belgians, 57 percent of Britons and Germans, 53 percent of Italians and 23 percent of Israelis interviewed.

Very interesting food for thought..

Naturally, in what has become an infuriating habit, the Daily Star did not bother put a link to the original source of the polls.

Poll: Assad's Popularity Dries Up in Arab World

The Arab American Institute, summarizing their “Arab Attitudes Toward Syria: 2011″ survey:

Just three years ago, we polled in 11 Arab countries asking respondents to name a leader they most respected. In five of these countries, Bashar Al Assad ranked among the top three mentioned – the only Arab leader to be mentioned in more than two states. As the results presented below make clear today, support for Al Assad has virtually dried up. [...]

Most telling is the scant support the Syrian leader receives in Lebanon. [...] In questions dealing with the Syrian leader, it is clear that whatever support he might have commanded in the past is now gone.

The most shocking to me is that he had popularity to begin with.. Read the rest here, and make sure to check the poll results in PDF.