Is Siyavula the answer to South Africa’s textbook crisis?

What would the tech solution to the textbook crisis in South Africa be? One solution would be to use the open-source model to write the content and distribute it through all channels including mobile. Then, engage via social-media.

That is exactly what Mark Horner and his team of 14 at Siyavula have done. Siyavula facilitated writing sessions with volunteers to produce South African curriculum aligned textbooks under an Open Copyright license. This content was then handed over to the South African Department of Basic Education for free. With huge economies of scale, Government printers were able to print 2.5 million textbooks and teacher guides for Maths and Science grade 10, 11 and 12 — all available in English and Afrikaans, for around R35 per copy.

These textbooks are available online in mobile friendly and PDF formats. Siyavula have also created a service called Intelligent Practice which allows students to practise the types of questions they may find in their tests and exams.

Siyavula made its content available on instant messaging service Mxit, where it saw significant traction, recording 150 000 subscribers within 48 hours.

So how has such a small team managed to effect a change? Siyavula’s vision is to disrupt the old model of education with “kickass technology and smart people”. For example, Ewald Zietsman, an Astrophysicist does page layout using LaTeX and is able to typeset over 3000 pages in less than three weeks. Meanwhile, Leendert Remmelzwaal, with a Masters in Engineering, programs a Maths and Science problem generator in Python to allow for endless practice questions.

With a successful model of how to collaboratively write and distribute content, Siyavula is expanding their 2013 range of textbooks to include Life Sciences Grade 10, and Natural Sciences and Technology workbooks for Grades 4-6 both in English and Afrikaans. “And, we have fun doing it!” says Horner.



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