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Siyavula - A Cape Town-based organization breaks down barriers to education for South African students

February 10, 2013
tags:#book, #booktype, #Cape Town, #digital age, #Free High School Science Texts, #mark horner, #open source technology, #open textbook, #Siyavula, #South Africa
located:South Africa
by:Sara Jabril
A 21st century approach to education

Our world is changing - and with it are approaches to education. The digital age has transformed the way we communicate with one another significantly. In a world where most developing countries have expertly functioning mobile networks, but still fail to provide basic school materials to students, it is time that we also reevaluate the way we teach.

This is what the Cape Town-based organization Siyavula - named after a Nguni word that translates to "we are opening" - is doing. It all started over a decade ago, when Siyavula founder Mark Horner was a post-graduate Physics student at the University of Cape Town. After explaining the physics of wave motion to a couple of students at South Africa's National Science Festival, they returned the following day, equipped with pen and paper, to write down what he had told them, so they could revise it for their final exams. The students told Mark Horner that their school did not have any Physics textbooks, and that their teacher was unable to explain the topic aptly to them.

Out of this encounter, an idea was born. The Free High School Science Texts (FHSST) project set out to sketch, write and make available a set of Mathematics and Science textbooks - online and free of charge. With many South African students lacking important learning materials necessary for their studies, yet having unhindered access to digital resources, such as mobile phones, one can say that the FHSST project was a true breakthrough. Poorer students in particular, were able to benefit from the free online textbooks.

Today, Siyavula and its landmark textbook project are still expanding. An innovative open source technology, called Booktype, is used to create and to share the textbooks, which enables both students and teachers to access a constantly increasing number and range of materials for free at any time. Additionally, an ever growing online community helps in keeping the materials accurate and up to date by proofreading, translating and editing them. Siyavula and the Free High School Science Texts project truly signify a 21st century approach to education.

The future of the book

In our day and age, it seems as if online search engines have dampened the importance of libraries. E-book readers allow us to store a vast amount of novels on a single device. One might well say that the future of the book as we know it looks rather bleak. Will we be singing Internet killed the paperback star in a couple of years time?

One thing is for certain, the book is in a state of reinvention. New technological innovations such as Booktype aid this reinvention process. Additionally, writing and publishing digital books by means of online book production platforms such as Booktype, adds numerous advantages to the practice. Writing and publishing a book becomes a collaborative effort, which speeds up the publication process, improves the quality, and extends the reach of the book (i.e. through translation) as a result.

Siyavula's textbook project is one example of how modern open source technology can benefit people in this digital age. With many new and exciting projects on the rise, only time will tell where these developments will lead us - and the fate of our good old "paperback star" for that matter. At the moment, the book is at a crucial stage of metamorphosis. It will be interesting to see what this process of transformation will bring and what the different stages will look like. Until then: Siyavula. We are opening!

photos: © Siyavula 

Article written by:
sara jabril
Sara Jabril
South Africa
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