Latakia: Primary school students begin school year with damaged and used textbooks
Latakia – Linda Ali
The 32-year-old Noha was moved by the tears of her seven-year-old daughter, who is in the third grade of primary school in the countryside of coastal Latakia city, after handing her used books, some of which were damaged and worn out.
The main problem is that according to the new curricula, the student must do his homework on the book, and using used books will not help him, as they also include the question and its solution.
The mother, who hails from al-Bahlouliyeh area in Latakia countryside, promised her daughter, who said she did not want to go to school with these books, that she would buy her new books, as the price of a copy is approximately 40,000 pounds from bookstores, if the person is able to obtain it, and it rises to 60,000 pounds in private libraries, which places a heavy financial burden on the mother.
The woman told Enab Baladi, “They laugh at us and tell us that education is free. Until this moment, I have not been able to understand how the new books are available to anyone who wants to pay for them and are not available to students in their schools for free.”
The price of books in private libraries is 60,000 pounds (about $4), equivalent to 30% of a government employee’s salary in Syria, as the minimum government salary became approximately 185,000 pounds ($13) after increasing it by 100% in mid-August.
The trading rate of the Syrian pound against $1 reached 13,450 on September 27, according to the S-P Today currency website.
According to Syrian laws, books are free for basic education students from the first to the ninth grade of middle school, while they are sold to students in the secondary stage.
At the beginning of each academic year, the issue of publishing price lists for selling books is raised with complaints from families about the poor quality of the books delivered and is met with denials from official authorities, as at the beginning of the academic year in 2022, when the director of the General Printing Corporation in the Education Ministry, Ali Abboud, denied the publication of new price list for textbooks.
Abboud said that it is sold only to private schools and that education is free from the first grade of primary school until the ninth grade of middle school in public schools.
Parents try to fix the situation
Samia, 29, an employee at Tishreen University, was unable to buy a new copy of books for her child in the first grade. When he returned from school, he asked her to take him back to kindergarten because it was more beautiful, and they gave him new books there, unlike the torn books he got at his school.
Samia tried to encourage him, so she bought some supplies, bound the books, decorated them with adorable toy stickers, and removed all the solutions written on the used books. She stayed for more than two days trying to get a satisfactory result.
Samia said, “What they are doing to the children is irresponsible. Torn books and bad treatment. How will I convince my child to study with old books instead of new ones with bright colors to encourage him to study?”
It is not easy to purchase textbooks from the warehouses of the Directorate of Education, and those wishing to purchase are often told that they are not available, as happened with Walid, 46, an employee in the Directorate of Technical Services, who went to buy a new copy of books for his nephew in the fifth grade.
An employee at the book warehouse told him that they were not available, except for music and art books, which he did not need.
Walid said that he has gained great experience in dealing with book warehouses, as he has been buying them for his son since he was in the first grade, and he is now in the fifth grade.
He told Enab Baladi that “at the beginning of the school year, books are not available, except in some bookstores that sell them at a price more than double their real price, and the employee in the warehouse is often the one who indicates the name of the bookstores.”
He added, “Since I realized this plan several years ago, I began to be proactive. I bought a new copy for my child a month and a half ago and paid approximately 40,000 pounds. At that time, I advised my brother to get a copy for his son as well, but he preferred to wait for the school in the hope that it would provide new books.”
Meanwhile, Naila, 40, a lawyer from the city of Jableh, found only English and mathematics books in the book warehouse, where she went to buy a copy for her child after receiving a copy of old, damaged textbooks.
She said, “These are not textbooks suitable for reading and teaching. They can only be burned in the fireplace in the winter so that we feel as if we have benefited from them.”
No new curriculum books
A source in the book warehouses in the city of Jableh (who refused to reveal his name) said that they received an order from the Education Ministry to redistribute used books to students in schools without any explanation.
However, he heard from his administration that the Publications Corporation was unable to print new books this year due to their high cost, which nothing will compensate for since they are distributed for free.
The source did not hide the presence of some new books previously printed, adding that some warehouse workers are working to sell them to bookstores at a higher price to make a profit since their salaries are weak, and they consider the beginning of the school year a good season to achieve some financial benefit.
The problem of recycling books for students has been going on for years, and parents often go to warehouses to buy books for their children.
But this year, even buying books is not easy, as a result of there being a large shortage and trading in them on the black market by some employees.
The school year began on September 3, amid the difficult economic conditions that Syrians are experiencing.
The cost of equipping a primary student for school amounted to more than 300,000 pounds in popular markets in Latakia, of relatively low-quality goods compared to the rest of the city’s markets, where the cost of equipment exceeds half a million pounds, according to a previous report by Enab Baladi.
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