National uptake of Siyavula textbooks in South Africa

Type: Evidence | Hypothesis: OER policy change | Polarity: | Sector: | Country:

A notable shift in the mainstreaming of OER has been a decision in late 2011by the Department of Basic Education (which is responsible for schools) to adopt open science and maths books for countrywide distribution to all schools. This means the distribution of millions of print books and the availability an online version of the text plus additional resources under open licences. Mark Horner, Shuttleworth Foundation Fellow and the brain behind Siyavula and Free High School Science Textbooks blogged in late 2011 in a state of justified excitement:

‘Openly-licensed, Siyavula textbooks are being printed and distributed by the Department of Basic Education (DBE) for all learners taking Physical Science and/or Mathematics in Grades 10-12 in the whole country for 2012! I don’t know of any country doing anything like this before.’

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Improved quality of teaching materials, University of Cape Town

Type: Evidence | Hypothesis: Reflective practice | Polarity: | Sector: | Country:

A case study at The University of Cape Town found that greater sharing of teaching materials under open licence led to higher quality materials as a result of greater focus on quality.

There is awareness among faculty that teaching materials shared under an open licence will be subject to far greater scrutiny than those created only for use within the relative privacy of the classroom. This realization has encouraged faculty to focus more on the overall quality of the finished OER.

A number of other benefits are identified, including:

  • Increased visibility for the authors and their institutions
  • Greater collegiate collaboration
  • Greater awareness of OER from elsewhere
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Siyavula: A Case Study of Open Textbook Adoption By Three South African Teachers

Type: Evidence | Hypothesis: Openness | Polarity: | Sector: | Country:

A case study conducted by ISKME in 2011 interviewed three teachers who had adopted Siyavula‘s open textbooks, and specifically how they used the open textbooks in the classroom. The three teachers were from Andersburg School, in Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa. Although this is a limited, single study, it provides insight into how these teachers have drawn on the benefits of the open license of these maths and science textbooks.

All three teachers saw the benefits in the open license of the content. Firstly, the teachers recognised that a free textbook would be attractive to their students and families, of which many battled to pay the tuition fees alone. Although the teachers knew there would be some cost in printing the books, they decided to do this to get a material into every learner’s hands, which would otherwise “have been impossible due to the school’s limited number of computers and spotty internet access.” This highlights the benefit of an open license to allow for printing to overcome physical barriers to resources, such as limitations in computer and internet facilities. The school also organised a deal with the local printer to print the books as cheaply as possible.

As one teachers noted “With [a commercial textbook] you cannot make printed copies of it….But with this, I’m at liberty to make copies and give it to my learners…so I [like] the fact that it’s so easy to reproduce and that there are no restrictions.”

The fact that learners could easily afford their textbooks, also now meant that they could “afford not to resell them”, meaning they could make their own notes in the books. This aids learning, allowing learners to come back to their notes when studying for examinations. when learners  adding to their learning and studying. One teacher also commented how the cost saving allowed students to hold onto their books over the years, which is important as “Andersburg teaches a three-year course of study in the sciences, meaning that students in grades 11 and 12 often have to return to material they began studying in grade 10.

The teachers noted that Siyavula’s open license meant that they and their students “could modify the textbooks to suit their purposes.” One teacher even commented that he could send editorial suggestions directly to the Siyavula team, and while he considered the quality to be of a very high standard, he enjoyed the interaction with the authors, and the fact that he could make a contribution by pointing out small errors to be fixed in future revisions.

As a whole, the Andersburg teachers found the various printing options available due to Siyavula’s open license to be a significant factor in their adoption of open textbooks, specifically as it allowed them to use free, online (digital) materials, even though they had technological limitations.

As the ISKME researchers point out, this study highlights the benefit of open licenses, but also that resources need to be localized by adaptations to local constraints to overcome technological barriers to OER.





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