Imposing university books: Educational process control or emptying stacked warehouses
Enab Baladi – Hussam al-Mahmoud
The academic year of the Syrian public universities began on 18 September, by a decision of the Council of Higher Education, but the real start for students is associated with the issuance of printed lectures for university courses.
The actual attendance almost started last October through theoretical lectures in the university halls, while the distribution of lecture texts in the university libraries was delayed, to be distributed “in batches.”
Amer, 31, student at arts faculty, told Enab Baladi that the written lectures for most of the subjects have not yet been published by the Damascus University library, indicating at the same time that he is not waiting for the library, given his financial conditions, and his inability to purchase courses’ publications.
Amer does not find a solution other than to borrow printed course materials from old students, which is common in recent years, to avoid the costs of written lectures and summaries by passing them among students after the student succeeds in the course.
Some university professors also issue courses that are closer to the books volume, and it may be a full book that has been reprinted in the form of a summary, which causes a huge financial cost to the student, in addition to the burdens of transportation, food and other needs on the academic and personal levels.
Amer also referred to the difficult living situation for university students, which drives them to look for alternatives in order to save some expenses, explaining that the prices of the printed lectures are not low, but in any case, they are less expensive than university textbooks.
Imad al-Omar, member of the executive office of the National Union of Syrian Students (NUSS), said on 4 October that there is a tendency to link the student to the university textbook as a step towards dispensing with written lectures and abstracts.
Al-Omar’s statement came after an announcement published in the Faculty of Arts of the University of Damascus, stipulating that the student be required to purchase three university books to validate his/her university registration.
The student union official explained that the university intervened and withdrew the advertisement from the college and that there is no decision obligating the student to buy books for his/her current registration.
The administrative approach against summaries and printed lectures, linked by a member of the executive office in an interview with the local Melody FM radio, to its high prices, while students see it as a less expensive way than buying a university book, especially when a university professor obliges his/her students to buy a specific book, which may be authored by him/herself, for the sake of financial profit.
Dr. Hala al-Mallah, former assistant professor at Media faculty at the University of Damascus, told Enab Baladi that university textbooks have a greater presence among students of open and virtual education, at least at the level of Damascus University, while “summaries” and printed lectures dominate the curriculum for public education students.
This also sheds light on the absence of fully integrated curricula in books for some university courses, according to al-Mallah.
Al-Mallah considered that a step of this kind has its advantages related to controlling the educational process, the accuracy of the curriculum, and its standardization among students, given that the book is subject to scrutiny and review before publication, unlike the written lecture, noting that these data apply to a “normal” country, which does not apply to the conditions of Syrian students.
In addition to the positive side, there are also negatives regarding the economic conditions that the Syrian family passes through, and the student is a part of it.
The student is necessarily affected by such conditions, which may impede the educational process as the student does not study to learn as much as he/she desires to pass the university towards migration or to escape the country.
The pro-regime and local al-Watan newspaper reported on 23 June that thousands of books with an approximate value of 1.2 billion Syrian pounds is a frozen amount for years, which have not received any demand for them from university students, whether in formal or open learning universities.
Such number is relatively close to what was published by the Syrian Economic News website last May, which talked about 900 million Syrian pounds, as an approximate value of the books in warehouses belonging to Damascus University, considering the continuation of this situation a great financial loss for public money and to the books and publications directorate at the university.
The site also indicated that this stagnation and the tendency towards printed lectures and abstracts will reflect on work requirements and securing the paper needed to print new books.
On 3 October, al-Watan newspaper revealed that the presidency of Damascus University required students in its faculties to purchase three textbooks for the full year, or novels (French and English), from the college’s warehouse, regardless of their price and content in order to receive a receipt to complete students’ registration.
University book is better
A former professor at Damascus University who asked Enab Baladi to withhold his name for security reasons said all kinds of Syrian universities, public and private, depend almost entirely on printed lectures and summaries of their various courses.
Universities with scientific weight outside Syria focus on comprehensive books for the subject, which may be extended to several parts or chapters during the educational process, which is a positive matter that helps the student to view more information within a single subject, especially if passing the subject exam does not require more than reading the approved summary by the course instructor as an alternative to the book.
The professor added that a trend of this kind in Syria requires the provision of books in electronic (digital) format to keep pace with technological development and to save money that can be spent on printing and paying for lectures.
He stressed that although the “digital” infrastructure in Syria is not helpful, the student can use at least a smart mobile phone to review the course.
This mechanism helps motivate faculty members to write more and serves researchers from outside the university to use the books they write.
“Providing a student a 200-page book during the semester is different from submitting a 50-page abstract,” the professor said, adding that “the first case stimulates reading and enrichment of information, and the second is a gateway to memorizing and presenting information regardless of comprehension and deepening knowledge, and this does not develop the student’s research and analysis skills.”
Although there are some university professors who ask their students to read a book, present a summary of it, or review it within the lecture, the process is still limited to the framework of individual initiatives, while the use of university books is considered a more appropriate phenomenon at the educational level, unless the issue is exploited to trade in printed books and does not fit the spirit of the current stage scientifically.
Al-Watan quoted an official source as saying that Damascus University is in the process of forming an e-book committee to secure books in an electronic format that can be printed to be accessible to students, thus saving large costs that the university was incurring in printing work.
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