Saturday, January 10, 2009

Park and fly takes on a new meaning in the UAE

The story was initially thought of as another urban legend thing. Or rumours for joking around. However, some Malaysians already did similar act to escape loans and detention. One left his car infront of the bank and flew home for 'safety'.

It was so easy to buy cars in the UAE. No guarantor required. No down payment. Pay minimum up to 5 years. The car prices are all tax free. Very very cheap. Fuel is also cheap. Some Malaysians, immediately bought luxury cars with their high salaries here. Sport cars are top on the list.

Until the credit crunch and financial turmoil hit almost everyone. A friend told me that a Malaysian was hired by an islamic bank few months ago. He immediately bought a brand new BMW X5, then last week a Porsche Targa...suddenly he received a termination letter few days later. Not sure whether he has already fled or is still trying to sell off his cars. But I am interested in the Targa if he would like to sell with huge discount like 75% off!

I have been blessed with company cars. Our family car was Kia Carnival until last year, a good car for cost-effectiveness. My wife's Honda Accord was bought without any loan and less problematic...can be sold off without much hassle if I decide to leave the country or forced to leave due to unforeseen circumtances.

National today reports that more than 3,000 cars have been abandoned by owners to escape loan payments, just over double the figure in 2007, as revealed by a senior police official.

Banks are now being forced to try and claw back some of their money by selling them at auctions or through car dealerships. One bank official said it was becoming a concern to banks, many of whom have tightened up criteria for issuing loans. Customers with credit cards have also seen their limits reduced.
Police recently removed 22 cars dumped at Dubai International Airport after owners fled the country leaving a trail of debt behind. Cars have also been abandoned at Abu Dhabi and Sharjah International Airports as well.

Under the current financial situation, people who do not have the means may decide this is their only way out according to Col Saif Muhair Al Mazrouei, deputy director of traffic department at Dubai Police.

In Dubai last year 3,241 cars were claimed by the banks, he said. Of these 466 had been impounded by police.

The percentage of such incidences rose last year. In 2007, 1,450 cars were claimed by banks. In 2008, the number increased by 123 per cent!
Police issue warrants against owners of abandoned vehicles and banks said they actively pursued anyone defaulting on payments whereby the person could be arrested on his way in or out of the country.

Of course, they will not be able to return to the country before paying off any impending debts.

A UAE bank official, who requested anonymity, said people who dumped their cars and fled the country were known as “skips”.
This isn’t unusual here as a lot of times people just leave. You get a credit card and loans and then you lose your job. What to do? Go home. It’s something that all banks are facing.

There are certain terms and conditions agreed to. Of course, the bank would go all out to get the guy, like using collection agents. It is a fact that collection agents at all banks are really busy right now.
Around 65 cars were seized at the end of last year from Dubai International Airport. But Brig Ahmed Bin Thani, director of airport security at Dubai Police, said not all were claimed by banks. Some travel under emergency circumstances, some decide to rent a car, others may just be careless. There are some individuals who come a year or two later to inquire about their vehicles.

A spokesman for Abu Dhabi Airport said it occasionally saw abandoned cars, but security checks were carried out in the car parks three times a day.
Vehicles are only released to banks after they pay all traffic fines incurred.

The banks have to pay all the traffic fines on the car before it is released to them to sell. They issued the car loan and it is their responsibility.

Once released to the bank, the seized cars will end up as lots in an auction or on the floor of car showrooms. Golden Belt, an auction house based in Al Aweer, Dubai, holds car auctions every week where many cars taken back by banks are sold off. Among them are expensive sports cars such as Porsches and BMWs.

Most of the cars auctioned off by the banks are hi-tech cars priced over Dh150,000.

Ibrahim al Sukhi, the general manager of Credit Rating and Collection, a subsidiary of Al Qudra Holdings, a collection agency employed to recover debts, said his services were much in demand with the number of clients on the increase.
He said the rising numbers of cars being abandoned at airports was “symptomatic” of the number of people “living beyond their means” and getting heavily into debt.
“We are doing a lot of marketing on this now, trying to educate people on managing their finances. Many people are leaving the country and, in turn, leaving their debts and cars behind. Unless we have the power to be involved, this will just get worse.”

Islam's Age Of Brilliance

While we are still on the teaching of Maths and Science in English back home in Malaysia and the continuing slaughters of Palestinians by Israelis in Gaza, let's take a break.

The age of brilliance

Popular accounts of the history of science typically show a chronology in which no major scientific advances take place between the ancient Greeks and the European Renaissance. In between, so we are told, western Europe and, by extrapolation, the rest of the world, languished in the Dark Ages for 1,000 years. In fact, for a period stretching over 700 years, the international language of science was Arabic. For this was the language of the Quran, the holy book of Islam, and the official language of the vast Islamic empire that, by the early eighth century, stretched from India to Spain.

I have long been possessed with the strong desire to bring this story to a wider audience. That I do so now lies with my belief that it has never been more timely, nor more resonant, to explore the extent to which western cultural and scientific thought is indebted to the work, 1,000 years ago, of Arabic and Muslim thinkers and scientists.

When I first decided to tell of the scientific achievements in the Golden Age of Islam I had no idea how much interest it would generate. After all, as a British professor of theoretical physics, what did I know about the history of medieval Arabic science?
Perhaps I am being a little disingenuous here. Although an academic, I do devote half my time to broadcasting and popular science writing. In addition, as my surname may betray, I have Arab roots. I was born in Baghdad to an English mother and Iraqi father. I grew up there but left as a teenager when Saddam came to power. We were lucky. We quickly settled in Britain and I haven’t looked back – until recently, when the cultural urge to revisit my heritage beckoned.
Two years down the line, I find myself fronting a major BBC television series, half the way through a book on the subject and invited to give talks around the world.But before I lay out my stall, allow me a few words to counter the inevitable accusations from some quarters that my account will be in some sense “pro-Islamic”; that having grown up in Iraq I see the Muslim world through the rose-tinted glasses of the biased partisan on a mission to show what a wonderful and enlightened religion Islam is. The truth is that I am not religious, yet if Islam emerges from my account in a positive light, as a belief system unencumbered by many of the misconceptions and misinterpretations of today, then so be it.
Sadly, there is no doubt that the term “Islam”, to the ear of many non-Muslims around the world today, too comfortably equates with the modern negative image it has. The implied contrast is of the West as a rational, tolerant and enlightened secular society. This is, of course, not only a lazy view, but also one that makes it difficult to acknowledge that 1,000 years ago the situation was reversed. Think of the Crusades. Who were the “good guys” then?
The Golden Age of the vast Islamic empire took place during the rule of the Abbasids from their capital, Baghdad, which I take to be between the mid-eighth and mid-11th centuries. For most people, this period is known only through the romanticised, exotic tales that run through the Arabian Nights, many of which are based on the time of Harun al Rashid (763–809), the larger-than-life caliph who ruled over this vast empire at the end of the eighth and beginning of the ninth centuries.
But these stories also hint at a period when art, culture and science flourished in Baghdad, a city that would remain the greatest in the world for half a millennium. It was al Rashid’s son, Mamun (786–833), who was to launch the golden age of Arabic science and thus become the greatest of all the Abbasid caliphs.
He is said to have had a vivid and life-changing dream that became the inspiration for his lifelong obsession with science and philosophy. It inspired him to create in Baghdad one of the greatest centres of learning the world has ever seen, known throughout history simply as the House of Wisdom.
Crucially, the story of this astonishing era remains largely untold outside academic circles. This is despite the fact that Arabic scientific knowledge first built upon, and then far surpassed, that of the ancient Greeks, which is far better known.This is also, refreshingly, a story of the positive face of Islam: of a period of tolerance and rationality when the spread of a new religion, and the desire of its scholars to understand and interpret the world around them, drove them to make wonderful advances in the fields of philosophy, astronomy, medicine, mathematics, physics and chemistry; indeed, in almost every branch of science that one cares to mention.

Even those in the West who do have a vague awareness of the contribution of the Muslim world to science tend to think of it as no more than a reheating of Greek and Indian science and philosophy, with the odd bit of originality subtly hidden away, like Eastern spice added for flavour. A grateful Europe then eagerly reclaimed its heritage as soon as it awoke in the 14th and 15th centuries.
Growing up in Iraq, I learnt at school about such great thinkers as Ibn Sina (Avicenna), al Kindi and Ibn al Haytham (Alhazen), not as remote figures in history but, I suppose, as direct intellectual ancestors. Many in the West will have heard, for instance, of the Persian scholar Ibn Sina as the greatest philosopher of Islam and its most famous physician.
But there are many other names that have been largely forgotten. If I think about it, I encountered just a few of these characters at school, not in science classes but in history lessons. For the teaching of science today, even in the Muslim world, follows the western narrative. While no one can doubt the genius of the Renaissance astronomer Copernicus who, in showing that the Earth was not at the centre of the universe, heralded the age of modern astronomy, it is not commonly known that he relied on work carried out by astronomers many centuries earlier.

Indeed, many of his diagrams and calculations were taken directly from manuscripts of a 14th century Syrian astronomer by the name of Ibn al Shatir and the 13th century Persian al Tusi.
Moreover, pupils around the world are reliably informed at school that Isaac Newton, the English scientist who died in 1727, is the undisputed father of modern optics. School science books abound with his famous experiments with lenses and prisms, his study of the nature of light and its reflection, and the refraction and decomposition of light into the colours of the rainbow.

But Newton stood on the shoulders of a giant who lived 700 years earlier. Without doubt one of the greatest of the Abbasid scholars was the Iraqi physicist Ibn al Haytham, born in 965AD, who is regarded as the father of the modern scientific method, long before it was put forward by Renaissance scholars such as Francis Bacon and RenĂ© Descartes. He is credited with establishing that light travels in straight lines and that it takes time to travel over distances. In one experiment, using what in effect was the world’s first pinhole camera, he projected an inverted image of a partially eclipsed Sun onto a screen in a darkened room.
I use the term “Arabic” science in its broadest sense. I do not mean it to denote only the science practised by people of Arab blood. I therefore refrain from referring to it as “Arab” science. What I mean by Arabic science is that which was written down in the Arabic language.

Some have asked why I do not define this as Islamic, rather than Arabic, science, and there are a number of reasons. Firstly, many but not all the important advances were carried out by Muslims, though they could be said to have been made possible by the tolerance of the emerging religion. Baghdad’s ninth-century House of Wisdom was home to such geniuses as the Christian physician Hunayn ibn Ishaq and the pagan mathematician Thabit ibn Qurra. But Arabs, Persians, Christians and Jews alike all wrote their scholarly texts in Arabic.
More importantly, however, and in the spirit of Islam’s fundamental enlightenment, there can be no such thing as Islamic science or, worse still, “Muslim science”. For science cannot be characterised by the religion of those who engage in it, as the Nazis in 1930s Germany tried to do when disparaging Einstein’s great achievements as “Jewish science”. The term “Islamic science” may likewise be used by those wishing to downplay its importance for similar reasons. Just as there is no “Jewish science”, or “Christian science”, there cannot be “Islamic science”. There is just science.
It remains to be seen whether I have bitten off more than I can chew by tackling this subject. My three-part television series for the BBC is currently being shown in Britain and already my mailbox is overflowing, with praise and criticism in equal measure – the latter from both sides of the fence: either I am an Islamic apologist or an infidel.For me, however, this is nothing more or less than a fantastic, largely untold story. Let us hope that is how it is seen – and that those in the Arab and Muslim world can feel a stronger sense of pride in their heritage.

Jim al Khalili OBE is Professor of Physics and Professor of Public Engagement in Science at the University of Surrey in the UK. His series Science and Islam is being shown on BBC4 in Britain and his book The House of Wisdom will be published next year by Penguin.

Standard of education in Dubai

My kids love their current school in Dubai and will oppose any motion to transfer them to new school. One of the reasons, beside the teachers and friendly learning atmosphere, is shorter schooldays, i.e. 6 months in a year...

In the below article, the standard is compared to certain countries, one of them is SINGAPORE, a KIASU country....but of course MALAYSIA is not in the list of global leaders in education.

How does Dubai measure up in standard of education?

The 2007-2008 school year marked Dubai's first participation in the international Trends in International Mathematics and Science Studies (TIMSS), a global comparative test assessing student achievement in mathematics and science. It is hosted by the Lynch School of Education at Boston College every four years. The test assesses pupils at the fourth and eighth grade levels, two educational milestones considered to signify the end of primary schooling and the end of lower-secondary school.

To better inform education policy, TIMSS also poses an array of background questions to pupils. By participating in the test and interpreting results in light of the included contextual information, Dubai now has internationally comparable data about the progress of local education that will inform future educational policy decisions and allow policymakers to improve the quality of education.

The results of the 2007 TIMMS, released on December 9, 2008, show Dubai to have a strong standing amongst GCC countries and nations within the Middle East in general. In fact, public and private pupils in Dubai achieved the highest marks in mathematics and science of any included Arab country.

However, room for improvement exists when compared to the rest of the world. Neither grade 4 nor grade 8 pupils met the international average in science or mathematics, and both fell nearly 100 points below world leaders Singapore and Hong Kong. In the fourth grade, only 2 per cent of pupils managed to achieve the advanced international benchmark, compared to 41 per cent of Singaporean pupils, 10 per cent of pupils in the US and an international average of 5 per cent.

A slightly brighter picture emerges from grade 8, where 3 per cent of all pupils surpassed the advanced international benchmark compared to 40 per cent of Singaporean students, 6 per cent of American ones and a global mean of 2 per cent.
In the context of these findings, it is clear that education reforms are necessary in order to increase the percentage of pupils achieving higher international benchmarks. If Dubai aspires to become an educational hub leading today's knowledge economy, where should policymakers start?
A closer look at the TIMSS data finds schools in Dubai to be particularly hindered by a short school year. The Ministry of Education estimates that public schools in Dubai have an academic year of 175 days. At least 20 of these days are dedicated to testing, leaving approximately 155 school days for teaching and learning.

Countries such as Japan and Singapore maintain academic years of around 220 days, while the United States and Australia teach for around 190 days a year. Furthermore, the school day in Dubai consists of just 4.5 hours of instructional time (22.5 hours per week). This is a grave gauge, as it falls well below the 27 hours per week averaged internationally.

If Dubai were to maintain its average of 22.5 hours per week of real learning, the emirate would effectively fall one full day behind international counterparts every week. Extending the length of time spent by pupils in Dubai schools would unravel time constraints faced by teachers, allowing for broadened learning that encompasses critical thinking and real world problem solving skills.

Teachers' qualification
TIMSS questionnaires also reveal a low rate of teachers with education qualifications in Dubai schools. Most teachers in Dubai enter the profession with only a nominal understanding of the intricacies of effective pedagogy. This ultimately results in pupil disengagement and lower achievement. Requiring teachers to have a background that specifically includes teaching credentials would see classes being taught by teachers who assist pupils in exploring, discovering and creating knowledge.

At the same time, the professional development of existing teachers in Dubai was found to rank highly when compared to the rest of the world. However, much of this training focuses on content. Mathematics teachers, in particular, spend a disproportionate amount of their time on content training.

A more productive way of structuring professional development would be to take advantage of the strength in content that these teachers already have and invest it in pedagogy training. Teachers in Dubai should also be assisted in learning how to use ICT for educational purposes, an area that remains weak in Dubai.

Dubai schools were found to have the lowest rates of parent participation in children's education worldwide. There are no policies stipulated by education councils or ministries mandating the existence of parent committees in Dubai. This contrasts with other countries which use such committees as a vehicle for quality control. Opening the channels of communication with parents will ultimately assist in raising standards at any institution.

Finally, it is imperative that every school is equipped with the resources it needs for teaching and learning. The background questions identify the most needed resources in Dubai's school as science laboratories, sufficient reading resources and Information and Communication

Technology facilities.
By drawing schools into the policy circle and giving individual schools an active role in policy formation, policymakers would be better able to identify such needs.
Dubai is lauded around the world for its prolific growth, and the time has come for it to lead the world in knowledge development. The state of education around Dubai should be lifted through data-driven reform to meet and transcend international thresholds.
International standardised tests such as TIMSS can assist policymakers at the Ministry of Education and Dubai's Knowledge and Human Development Authority to juxtapose local procedures with international best practice. This is especially vital in light of the UAE's impending employment needs, with the forecasted entry of 250,000 more jobseekers into the workforce by 2020.
With the world embracing knowledge as a coveted commodity, the issue of adequately educating this imminently large workforce becomes paramount.

Mike Helal is a visiting researcher at the Dubai School of Government.