Siyavula to bring open collaborative resources to education

Siyavula is an ambitious project that aims to transform education in South Africa by providing free, open and curriculum-aligned educational resources. Siyavula means ‘we are opening’ in Nguni and is an apt description of the initiative that will provide content via an online portal where educators can collaborate and create resources, leveraging Creative Commons licenses.

The conventional publishing model for textbooks presents significant problems for education in the developing world. It has resulted in an environment in which textbooks are prohibitively expensive and where great effort is required in order to localise, refresh or translate content. The market is controlled by a handful of corporate players who utilise restrictive copyrights and are primarily focused on driving profits and less concerned with enhancing education.

Open and collaborative online content, however, offers a viable alternative to conventional publishing and holds great promise for education. Siyavula will combine technology with Creative Commons licenses to make open content resources available to educators and learners in South Africa.

The project is being incubated by the Shuttleworth Foundation and is led by Mark Horner, who is also one of the co-founders of the foundation’s Free High School Science Texts (FHSST) project that develops and disseminates free and open textbooks and supporting materials for use in the teaching of Science and Mathematics.

“Siyavula is a highly ambitious project,” admits Horner. “But the Foundation is committed to making it work and we have already shown with FHSST that open educational resources are doable, offering an effective solution to the challenges facing education from a resources perspective – both in Africa and globally.”

By using Creative Commons’ Attribution, Share-Alike licenses it is possible for Siyavula to produce educational resources that can be distributed, adapted, refreshed, translated and otherwise modified freely and legally. Resources can also be made available at little to no cost to educators and learners.

Horner says that Siyavula embraces technology as an answer to the problems that face the collaboration of educators and its portal will provide an online space where open resources are cataloged, stored and can be searched contextually. It will also offer tools for educators to collaborate with each other in developing resources online.

“The website will be used to drive this initiative and enable educators to both vet and rate the available resources. The aim is to provide free textbooks both online and in print that cover the entire South African curriculum,” he adds.

The South African government’s Department of Education has expressed its support for Siyavula and is in regular contact with the Shuttleworth Foundation, ensuring that the project is aligned with departmental initiatives.

“We are working closely with the DOE in possibly integrating Siyavula with the national education portal Thutong,” says Mark. “The government site has just been revamped and we will definitely share resources with it. We want to ensure that resources the project produces can be distributed through channels such as Thutong, with the vetting and approval of the relevant parties.”

Work is also being done to integrate Siyavula with international projects. One of these is an initiative called Connexions that carries a similar focus to that of Siyavula.

“The Shuttleworth Foundation remains committed to making this ambitious dream a reality and effectively providing South African educators and learners with open and collaboratively developed educational resources,” says Horner.

And while the project is yet to be publicly launched it has already managed to line up support from all the relevant parties, taking one step closer to the dream of evolving education in the developing world.

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