Monthly Archives: December 2011

Be aware of digital schools

Today, I watched an Arabic morning show. The host of the show had an ‘Education Consultant’ as a guest. He talked about five ‘digital schools’ in Lebanon. In these schools every student has a computer. He bragged how these computers replaced textbooks. He added that using computers instead of textbooks is the future of education. He claimed that schools in the west went digital (that is using computers instead of textbooks) ten years ago. He insisted to repeat using the phrase ‘fall behind’ to describe schools and countries in the region that are not digital.

This ‘education consultant’ couldn’t be more wrong. The status of schools in China and India might be worse than many Arab countries yet they achieve the best scores in the yearly international school math contest. The United State calls its education system a ‘disaster’. There are tens of American documentaries about how bad their schools are. I have been teaching college students in the US for the past eight years and I found no difference in intelligent level among students from all the different backgrounds; Arabs, Asians, Europeans, etc. Regardless of their background there are always students who are very good and others who are very lazy. Arab students, who studied using textbooks only, pursuing their higher degree in the US or Western Europe are known to be very successful. They found no difficulty competing with American or European students.

Now, I am not against using computers in schools. I actually teach computer programming to college students. I am in business of computers. But the idea of using computers to replace textbooks is absolutely not just insane but rather very dangerous. I am saying it is dangerous because the issue here is not the difference between reading a novel on papers versus kindle. It is much bigger than that.

Learning to write using a pencil develops some motor skills. I learned about the ‘motor skill’ thing couple of months ago when there was a huge debate after a school in the US decided to assign an iPad to its first grade students. Using technology is very helpful but it shouldn’t replace writing on papers. Typing on keyboards should never replace writing as a process of learning.

Unfortunately, because in the Middle East we are just user of technology, not inventor, we tend to think that using the latest technology is always good. Using computers as the only way of learning process is like never buying a child cubes to stack. Video games are good but we should buy our children books and Lego-like toys as well.

I am sure child behavior experts can add a lot to this issue. I hope parents in the Arab countries are not fooled by this digital school thing. Unfortunately, parents hear the word ‘computers’ in schools and they think ‘Yes, I need to send my child to that school.’

If you are a parent please let us hear what you have to say about using computers in schools and at homes. Do you think schools that use computers will make children smarter than schools that don’t use computers? Do you buy your kids educational toys? Like what?

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The ideology of suicide bombing I

In the past ten years the number of suicide attacks, executed by Muslims, skyrocketed. The most recent is on Christmas Day 2011 in Nigeria. “The Nigerian Islamist group, Boko Haram, claimed responsibility for the wave of attacks on Sunday, which included bomb explosions at two churches and a suicide attack in the northeast.” [Aljazeera]

Some Muslims deny that these series of Al-Qaeda like suicide bombings, worldwide, could be solely executed by Muslims. Their claim comes from their belief that Islam does not teach Muslims to kill civilians regardless of their belief. Hence, they believe that there is a conspiracy theory revolves around these suicide bombings. The magnitude of these suicide attacks made the majority of Muslims disbelief that such a horrible thing could be masterminded by Muslims. This denial came from the fact that civilians should not be harmed let alone killing children and women. And to their despair and astonishment even places of worship like mosques in Iraq and Pakistan are not been saved from these kind of barbaric attacks.

At the other pole of denial there are the Islamophobic advocates who claim that these attacks have one interpretation only, Islam is evil and teaches its followers to be violent and kill non-Muslims. According to them the statement they keep hearing from Muslims “Islam is a religion of peace” is just a way for Muslims to buy for themselves time while they infiltrate the American society and destroy it from within before they deny Americans  their freedom and execute the Sharia Law.

Both these groups think vertically (it is not a bad thing in science). That is, they are only concerned on finding a solution (i.e., stopping these attacks) without studying the reason behind suicide bombing. Both these two groups are wrong and each live in their own denial box. The first group denies that there could be bad Muslims and the second denies anything good coming from Islam. Such mentality will never solve anything and will never meet at any point.

I am someone who thinks horizontally. I don’t just want to find a solution for such madness but I also want to know how and why this suicide bombing ideology started. Finding a solution is of course a priority but it does not guarantee that such ideology will not appear in the future.

Islamophobia is on the rise in the US. You can watch this video (If you watch the video please read the comments as well. Most Americans are against such mentality) which is one of many about how some people know absolutely nothing of a religion that is been followed by over a billion and is the fastest growing religion, yet they claim they know everything about it. Their misunderstanding of Islam makes it impossible for them to accept anything Islam.

The question is, at least from my point of view, why the most multicultural and one of the most developed countries in the world have many of its citizens misinformed about other cultures, especially about Muslims and Islam? Why Sharia Law is the most talk about subject in America when it comes to Islam and why this subject causes nightmares to some Americans? Islamophobic advocates claim there is no such thing as “moderate Muslims”, are they right or wrong? What makes one a moderate Muslim according to westerners? Why some Americans don’t believe what many Muslims have been saying for years that Islam is a religion of peace? Is Islam truly a religion of peace or is it what Islamophobic people claim it is, “tuqyah”?

On the other hand, why some Muslims, especially who live in non-Muslim countries, are not very honest when it comes to answering controversial questions? What does Islam say about homosexuality, polygamy, and most important about non-Muslims and ‘Kuffar‘ (disbelievers)?

Hospitals Lobby

Some hospitals I visited here in the US have someone playing piano in the lobby. The pictures below I took at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. “It is the adult teaching hospital for Washington University School of Medicine, and is located in St. Louis, Missouri. It is consistently rated one of the top hospitals in the United States by U.S. News & World Report. In 2010-11, it was ranked 8th-best medical center overall.” [wikipedia]

Did man create God?

I never read anything for Christopher Hitchens. I first heard of his name in an interview on The Daily Show or maybe on Colbert Report when he wrote his book “God is not great.” I knew from that interview that he is a very proud atheist. The second thing I know about him is that he died recently.

For some reason the “man created God” phrase that atheists are promoting suddenly popped up in my mind. I started to wonder if man created God, why he does not die but man die? If God does not exist and he is in man’s mind only, why God does not disappear after all these generations?

Both Muslims and Christians when they want to convince someone that God exist they start talking about the magnificent universe. They talk about the creation of humans and everything that breath. They explain how everything in the world works in sync. Although, these are all valid points my biggest miracle is “time”. We have no control over time what so ever. We just can’t stop it.

For those who say man created God it seems God is outliving all of us. He continues to exist in our mind and the minds of many, many generations to come.

Surat Al-'A`rāf (The Heights) - سورة الأعراف

Money can buy you a higher rank but not a reputation

Universities worldwide compete among themselves to be listed among the top ranked and elite universities. The competition is of course so fierce from paying, for example, American football coaches millions of dollars to train the university’s team to aggressively competing in publishing high quality scientific research.

Academics know how vicious it is to excel at top universities. Symptoms of such war ranges from  suicide attempts, depression, sexual advancement, to lots and lots of butt kissing. And in some extreme situations the pain and humiliation resembles dropping one’s pant and bending.

On the other hand, there are some academics or universities who buy or cheat their way to the top. Lately, an article published in Science Magazine titled “Saudi Universities Offer Cash in Exchange for Academic Prestige” made the news.

Two Saudi institutions are aggressively acquiring the affiliations of overseas scientists with an eye to gaining visibility in research journals.

At first glance, Robert Kirshner took the e-mail message for a scam. An astronomer at King Abdulaziz University (KAU) in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, was offering him a contract for an adjunct professorship that would pay $72,000 a year. Kirshner, an astrophysicist at Harvard University, would be expected to supervise a research group at KAU and spend a week or two a year on KAU’s campus, but that requirement was flexible, the person making the offer wrote in the e-mail. What Kirshner would be required to do, however, was add King Abdulaziz University as a second affiliation to his name on the Institute for Scientific Information’s (ISI’s) list of highly cited researchers.

Kirshner’s colleague is not alone. Science has learned of more than 60 top-ranked researchers from different scientific disciplines—all on ISI’s highly cited list—who have recently signed a part-time employment arrangement with the university that is structured along the lines of what Kirshner was offered. Meanwhile, a bigger, more prominent Saudi institution—King Saud University in Riyadh—has climbed several hundred places in international rankings in the past 4 years largely through initiatives specifically targeted toward attaching KSU’s name to research publications, regardless of whether the work involved any meaningful collaboration with KSU researchers.