Tuesday, December 06, 2016

PISA 2015 Results are Now Available

Prepare yourself for tons of news articles discussing your country's educational system and how well it's doing, or alarmist headlines about how poorly your country is doing, the results from the PISA 2015 test are out!

The PISA test is a test given out to a wide sample of 15-year-old students in countries from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (the OECD). Non-OECD countries can also be included in the program if they wish and Qatar has since 2006. The test is pretty comprehensive and looks at how well the students understand reading, mathematics and science. It's not a rote memorization test, to do well you have to be able to understand the material and apply it.

The results were released today and I guarantee you major newspapers around the world are pouring over the numbers and writing articles about how good/bad students did and thus how their educational system compares to other countries. UK papers absolutely love trashing on the UK because of this test, even though UK students tend to do pretty good, just not as good as some other countries. Singapore was #1 in all three categories.

For all of its wealth Qatar has never done well with the PISA test. In the early years it was scoring around the same level as much poorer countries such as Peru or Kyrgyzstan. Over time the scores have steadily improved, but there’s a long way to go before the scores or even comparable to OCED nations. So let’s see how Qatar did (I included the OECD average as well for comparison):



OECD average
2006 492
2009 493
2012 496
2015 490

2006 312
2009 372
2012 388
2015 402


OECD average
2006 499
2009 496
2012 494
2015 490

2006 318
2009 368
2012 376
2015 402


OECD average
2006 500
2009 501
2012 501
2015 493

2006 349
2009 379
2012 384
2015 418

Okay, so the scores are up yet again, which is great. Also the average OECD score declined slightly across all three categories, maybe the test was a little bit tougher in which case the increase Qatar has shown is even better. Reading is up +14, Math +26 and Science an impressive +34 from the previous test. Slowly but surely Qatar is climbing up the rankings and its scores are now similar to countries that 6-10 years ago were well ahead. Qatar is now scoring roughly the same as countries such as Thailand, Columbia and Mexico.

It means there is still a long way to go though. Large swaths of the student population are just not able to understand and apply the material. PISA separates a students level of understanding into six categories (with 6 being the highest and 1 the lowest). The main table not only had the scores but also the percentage of students who scored level 5 or 6 in at least one subject, and the percentage of students who scored below level 2 in all three subjects. Qatar did not perform well when compared to Western countries. Below are some select countries for comparison:

Share of top performers in at least one subject (Level 5 or 6):

39.1% Singapore
25.8% Japan
21.4% Finland
22.7% Canada
18.4% Australia
16.9% UK
19.2% Germany
13.3% USA
18.4% France
3.4% Qatar

Share of low achievers in all three subjects (below Level 2)

4.8% Singapore
5.6% Japan
6.3% Finland
5.9% Canada
11.1% Australia
10.1% UK
9.8% Germany
13.6% USA
14.8% France
42.0% Qatar

Yep, 42% of the students scored poorly in all three categories. That's three times higher than the USA. Improvements in education in Qatar do not seem to really be reaching the students who need the most help, or perhaps the system still focuses on rote memorization.

Anyway there is tons more data and analysis available, the main report itself is 494 pages, and many countries have separate country-specific reports on top of that. Some countries even have statistics by region within a country so you can compare the different regions (Canada has some scores by each province, the Canadian news will be jumping on which provinces did better than others). There’s even analysis by gender, socio-economic background, whether the student was an immigrant, and so forth. Take some time to look over the detailed results.

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Doha News Website Blocked in Qatar

Unfortunately a few days ago both telecom providers here in Qatar blocked the Doha News website, dohanews.co . Readers of this blog will be familiar with Doha News as I frequently link to their stories, and they sometimes cite a blog post of mine, or a couple of times asked me to do opinion articles for them. If you are reading this from outside Qatar then you'll still be able to see their website but for people in Qatar it's blocked. No reason was given before the weekend began, so there was little chance of a statement from the Government until tomorrow when it's a workday again.

Hopefully this will be sorted out soon. According to the Doha News team they had no prior warning nor any kind of message from the Government or a Ministry that something was wrong. There's rampant speculation of course, was it that article about WXYZ? or maybe that one about ABCD? I'd prefer to wait until there is a response from the Government instead of speculating. I think this is the first time something like this has happened to them.

For people in Qatar you can still keep up with them via their facebook and twitter feeds. As far as I can tell Doha News is continuing to post articles.

Whoever wanted to block the site was not aware of the Streisand Effect. By blocking Doha News it's become a big story in Qatar on social media. Some world media have also picked up the story, such as the BBC, Reuters, and Amnesty International, so I think it would be in the best interest of the Government to look into what happened and stop blocking the website.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Rain -- with a Vengance!

Well it rained again yesterday but this time it was a good soaking, a thunderstorm that lasted around 20-30 minutes with heavy rain. Naturally the city was flooded, with low-lying areas collecting the water in large pools. Drainage in Doha is not great, and the land is mostly hard rock with a bit of muddy sand on top so the water doesn't have anywhere to go. So there were plenty of massive puddles:

I'm used to it now, this happens every major rainstorm. Social media was lit with plenty of people sharing photos and videos of harder hit areas, where it was essentially flooded. Even saw some cars floating in the water in one of the videos. There was also flooding at some of the malls as water leaked from the ceiling, something that also seems to happen every year.

Well then things got crazy. Today there was another huge thunderstorm. I was driving when it happened and the rain was so heavy I had to pull into a parking lot and wait out the storm in my car. Even with the wipers at their fastest speed I was struggling to see through the torrential rain. The streets were turning into rivers.

It stopped after 20 minutes but given the flooding from yesterday it just compounded the problem. This time there was some shocking videos going around social media of water pouring from the ceiling of a hospital or clinic, like a small waterfall. I hope they didn't have any expensive medical equipment ruined. Low-lying areas were flooded even more so I'm sure some homes have water in them now.

Not a lot that can be done, it would cost billions of dollars and major construction headaches to upgrade the drainage across the city. Not worth it for the occasional storm.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Rainy Season has Begun

Tonight it rained a little! First time in 6 months or so. A 6-month gap between rain is actually pretty good for Qatar. Having rain in late November is pretty standard, just this year the rains lasted longer than I remember, I think in May it rained, usually it stops around March-April.

Now whether it rained a little or a lot seemed dependent on which neighbourhood you were in so the rain was somewhat isolated. I was out in Soudan when it started and it rained pretty good for maybe 10 minutes then stopped. After an hour or so it was mostly evaporated. But then I went to another neighbourhood on an errand and the place had minor flooding, with huge puddles in low-lying areas of the street. Weird. Where I live the rain must have been heavier as well, lots of big puddles.

At least it means the biting heat will end and winter is upon us. The daytime temperature will probably drop to the mid-20s over the next couple of weeks. I just hope the rain is spread out so we don't have the flooding problems that always occur when Qatar receives a lot of rain in a short time.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Soccer in Qatar

Yes, soccer. I'm Canadian dang it and that’s what we call it.

One criticism some had about Qatar winning the right to host the 2022 World Cup was that it was not a “soccer nation” with a long history of success in the sport. It's definitely true that the country has not had a history of soccer success but bear in mind two things:

1) Qatar is a small country. Right now there are probably less than 300,000 citizens.

2) Wealth was a fairly recent phenomenon to the country. The first schools and hospitals were built in the 1950s, oil wealth didn't begin to really impact the country until the 1980s. There were little in the way of modern soccer facilities until then.

Nowadays many of the soccer players on the national team were originally from other countries, something the country wouldn't have been able to afford until the last couple of decades.

As for the people living here soccer is a popular pastime and one of the most popular sports. While the local league struggles with attendance (click on my “Qatar Football League” link on the right bar to get an idea) Qataris love following big European clubs, especially in the English Premier League. Big matches such as Champions League are widely followed. It's not something that I really follow myself but I do know many Qataris who love to follow soccer.

As for casual playing it's probably more popular than you'd realize given the imposing climate for most of the year, and what should be a lack of green space since the country is entirely desert. If you go to many of the stadiums there are usually other fields nearby that people can play on (such as the Al-Sadd Stadium, Qatar Sports Club or Lekhwiya). There are also areas with fields for “small soccer”. I know Al Sadd Stadium has some and I think there’s some in Markhiya as well.

Which brings me to why the heck I'm posting about soccer now. Last weekend some of my friends invited me out to practice some soccer, kicking the ball around and so forth. Now I know it sounds stereotypical but, as a Canadian, I didn't even really know how to play -- not the rules but how to actually run with the ball, kick the ball, defend etc. No skills. I think the last time I had kicked a soccer ball was in middle school and as I was never the athletic type it was something I didn't play outside of gym class. Soccer was more of a casual sport in Canada, something to do in the summer if you weren’t into street hockey. The sport is becoming more popular in Canada now but it still doesn't have anywhere near the same popularity as hockey or football.

So we went out onto a field, did a bit of jogging to warm up, and the guys started giving me tips as to how to kick the ball properly. We started passing the ball around back and forth, I wound up for a big kick to pass it to a friend farther down the field . . .

… and felt a sharp shocking pain in my upper leg. I had pulled a quad muscle kicking the ball.

Why hadn't anyone told me that could happen? We didn't even warm up our quads before playing. I hadn’t played for five minutes.

So I hobbled over to the bench and sat there with my leg aching. Spent the next couple of days resting and icing it and walking with a limp. It was a struggle to put socks and shoes on. Thankfully I think it was just a Level 1 sprain (there's levels for this, who knew?) because after 3 days I’d say it’s at around 80% now. Still a bit of pain if I move the leg up too much.

I think that was a hint that while soccer might be for Qataris it’s probably not for me. I might stick to squash and tennis.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Busy, busy, busy

Sorry everyone for not posting for a while. With the weather finally cooling down the evenings have been busy as everybody is out doing things. This week was soccer, dinners out, squash, and hanging out at majlises (except outside). The months of repressive heat is over, and the rains haven't started yet, so now it's time to enjoy the evenings while you can.

I'll try to post an update in a few days.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Fun with Bitmoji

A while ago I loaded an app called Bitmoji that I've been using on some of my social media. You create an avatar and then the app will incorporate the avatar into their pre-set images, which you can then send. How's my avatar look?

There's hundreds of images you can send, some get unusual.

Of course with Halloween approaching they offer costumes . . .

Well, that's the things I get up to on a lazy Friday morning.