Posted on February 24, 2011 · Posted in Siyavula

Dear Helen

With reference to your State of the Province speech in the Western Cape Provincial Legislature in Cape Town on 18 Feb 2011:

“Our goal, in the coming years, is to ensure that every learner has a text book for every subject in every grade. And we are watching technological innovations with great interest. We look forward to the day when learners will be able to download all the necessary textbooks and study material onto affordable mobile devices.”
(Helen Zille, SA Today – Special Edition 21/02/2011)

We’d like to let you know that we’re already on it.

We have a huge amount of free content for Grade R – 9 learners, covering all subjects and learning areas in both English and Afrikaans (see, as well as our Free High School Science Texts (FHSST – see which covers Grades 10 – 12 Mathematics and Physical Science. We are adding rich-media to these books to present them with a selection of locally relevant and curriculum-aligned resources, but also position these resources – video clips, presentations, simulations – within the appropriate grade and section. See Electric Circuits – Grade 10 for an example of a single chapter enriched with Khan Academy videos, PhET Simulations, links to FullMarks (our opensource, openly licensed, community driven assessment bank) and embedded powerpoint presentations which have been made available by educators.

Connexions is an open source platform ( that houses educational content under an open copyright licence, enabling anyone to make new versions of our (or anyone else’s) modules, and edit and adapt them on-line to better suit their needs. You can make your own versions of our content, copy, edit, adapt, change, download and share it, as well as form workgroups to collaborate on new content.

But, we realise that the internet is not the only way to get educational material to the public, especially in South Africa where not everyone has access to a computer. Which is why we have launched the mobile front-end for the Connexions website – see! Any content on Connexions (including the rich-media) can be accessed for via a WAP enabled mobile phone, thus increasing the number of people that can benefit from and use it. The better your phone, the richer the experience but now, at least, most people in our country will be able to access the text, images and equations with their current phone.

However, the greatest need in South Africa is still for a printed book on a desk – we also have this covered! In response to this need and the expressions of interest from educators currently using the FHSST books, we will partner with OpenPress to make the books available in print format. By aggregating print orders from schools and individuals and negotiating a collective bulk printing price, the cost of the books can drop to below R80 per unit for orders of a few thousand or more (this is because of open copyright license and the absence of editors’, authors’ and publishers’ royalties – you only pay for the cost of printing). This means we can offer them at the lowest possible price per unit to interested learners and educators. And in keeping with the technology trend, links to these on-line resources will in turn be recorded in the print or PDF versions of the books which will make them into a tour-guide to the world of on-line rich media available.

We’re excited to be at the forefront of a global movement towards open educational resources (OERs). The spirit of this movement is captured in the Cape Town Open Education Declaration.

If you’d like to talk further, give us a call, drop us an email – we’d love to chat!

The Siyavula Team

About the Author

Mark Horner is the CEO of Siyavula Education, a social enterprise working in the school sector in South Africa. While working as the Shuttleworth Foundation Fellow for Open and Collaborative Resources, Mark was able to transform the Free High School Science Texts (FHSST) project, which he co-founded, into Siyavula Education. In this process, openly-licensed, collaboratively authored textbooks have been printed and distributed nationally in South Africa. Working at the intersection of community, openness and technology; Mark intends to leverage this success to make Siyavula an innovative, technology provider in education that works effectively as part of the education community to ensure better learning opportunities for all. A recent notable event being the delivery of Siyavula's textbooks over Mxit, the most popular mobile chat solution in South Africa. Mark has a PhD in physics from the University of Cape Town and conducted his research at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California on the results from the STAR experiment at Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York. His work is carried out in the belief that the liberation of information and support of education in South Africa will lead to a peaceful and prosperous future for all South Africans.