The current general shortage of textbooks in South African schools could possibly in the near future be taken care of as a result of the ongoing work on a web-based learning resource that provides textbooks along with other learning tools under a Creative Commons licence.
Basic Education minister Angie Mothskga announced in April 2011 that her department would set up an agency to centralise the procurement of teaching materials. Siyavula arrived on the scene as a advocate of her cause by providing free access to online textbooks and learning resources.
Siyavula, a venture initiated by the Shuttleworth Foundation in 2008, is promoting the effective use of technology and its open-source ideological background to accomplish a higher standard of education. The project’s name is an Nguni word, meaning “we are opening”.
Siyavula has already submitted its openly licensed mathematics and physical science textbooks to the Department of Basic Education as part of the review process for the new national catalogue.
Siyavula the speedier resolution
Over the past 10 years public schools in South Africa have battled to provide an education as a result of late or non-delivery of textbooks.
To deal with the specific situation, the department has designated R4.4-billion (US$638-million) for the continuing development of textbooks, and has drafted risk management plans that will ensure that the process is seen through.
Mothskga in fact intends to supply textbooks to any and all learners and educators by next year.
However , as outlined by Siyavula’s director Mark Horner, who is also the Shuttleworth Foundation’s Fellow for Open and Collaborative Research, the organisation should be able to accomplish Mothskga’s target earlier than 2012.
Horner, one of several young entrepreneurs of South Africa’s Free High School Science Texts project, said Siyavula could “implement this tomorrow if necessary”, given that the textbooks are published online and can be utilized right away by pupils using their mobile phones.
He explained the open copyright laws make it possible for teachers to easily download the books from the Siyavula website and be able to copy, edit, print and distribute them without any legal implications.
The Shuttleworth Foundation partnered with Connexions, an American-based business that develops the technology, to produce the Siyavula website for South African learners. Up to now it offers educational material for pupils from grades 0 right through to 12, in all subjects.
Teachers can edit to suit pupils’ needs
Horner said that Siyavula’s initiative adheres to the adage that one size does not fit all with regards to education.
Immediately after teachers create their very own free account, they have the ability to duplicate material from the website as well as edit the information in accordance with their pupils’ needs. Modifications made by teachers will not impact the original online information.
“Teachers are now able to figure out pupils’ individual passions and refine the information to their needs and resources,” said Horner.
Teachers are also able to produce a so-called lens, which is actually a list of books they already have approved. They can then simply direct their pupils to this lens for further reading.
Given that the software supports the popular PDF format as well as being suitable for ebook readers, Horner said teachers will not be restricted to the application and consequently are in a position to bring their own personal resources to the classroom.
Striving for an educated society
Siyavula looks to sustainably to remedy issues facing South Africa’s education system.
“Our long-term strategy is to have an educated society that is able to make well informed choices. Being a developing country, in the event that we do not make improvements to education aggressively, we will be left behind,” said Horner.
He pointed out that the ever-present inertia in the textbook publishing industry suggests that schools should be thinking about shifting away from the conventional printed versions and the associated delays.
Printed textbooks are frequently an actual physical burden for pupils who have to carry them around. “Books tend to be heavy for a number of the children, specifically those from rural areas who currently have to walk long distances to go to school.”
The website will accommodate pupils from all grades. “For now, educational institutions which have IT labs and IT literate teachers are making use of the software,” said Horner.
He pointed out that teachers are generally open to the idea, and are generally enthusiastic to receive training and share resources in spite of their common aversion to mobile phone usage in the classroom.
Horner accepted the fact that teachers would be required to discover methods of instilling disciplined mobile practices.
Even though mobiles and ereaders may be a distraction to pupils, there is an indication that the tool may very well be beneficial. Siyavula currently has on record a number of pupils whose work has improved with the use of their online textbooks.
As outlined by Horner, this is not just a short-term solution.
“We will undoubtedly be in this for the long run. It’s going to be available to all students. We have developed a tool that could get information in the market to everybody,” he said.
Source: mediaclubsouthafrica.com, emergingmedia.co.za