Siyavula revolutionises SA education through tech

Innovative social enterprise Siyavula has taken the struggling education sector in South Africa into its own hands, using technology and open licences to ensure much-needed quality educational materials are widely available.

With much coverage of the lack of sufficient government-provided materials in schools across South Africa recently, Siyavula has revolutionised the conceptual basis to traditional forms of education.

The brainchild of Mark Horner, Siyavula was conceived drawing on the Free High School Science Texts (FHSST) project – in which authors collaborated to produce curriculum-aligned science text books which were then distributed under an open copyright licence.

In a similar vein, Horner then launched Siyavula, which expanded the co-authored curriculum-compliant concept to other subjects and grade levels – making all the completed content available online via open copyright licences – enabling the downloading and printing of necessary education materials by learners and teachers across the country.

Horner describes the multiple-sided innovations of the Siyavula project, saying that the project focuses on openness supported by technology, and adding that Siyavula uniquely relies on “open and transparent social structures for development of content”.

The other focal point to Siyavula’s work involves the development of appropriate technical infrastructure to make dissemination widely possible. Horner lists the key innovations in this context – as compared to the usual copyright practices of written material producers – as “open copyright licensing for effective sharing; open standards and formats for content storage and manipulation; and open-source software for the tools to build on”.

While Siyavula is widely publicised for its provision of education materials via computing and mobile technologies, Horner makes it clear that this is just one way to achieve full penetration of good-quality materials across the whole population.

He explains: “Despite the extremely high penetration of mobile phones in South Africa… We work closely with the Department of Basic Education (DBE) to ensure that our resources are at the level where they can be endorsed and even printed.”

The printability of Siyavula developed materials is proving popular, Horner reveals. “In 2012, DBE distributed printed books produced by Siyavula for some subjects (approximately 2.5 million books in total) which the open licence encourages. The open nature of our work and the fact that there is no business or financial relationship between Siyavula and DBE enables a different set of dynamics.”

This social innovation has both positive and negative implications, however. While it is a positive sign that the government choses to capitalise on the important work done by Siyavula, it is also somewhat worrying that a community-conscious group of people, working on a self-initiated and selfless basis is what it takes to get South Africa started on the path to universal quality education materials for all.

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