Posted on December 5, 2011 · Posted in SF Fellow

Wow, it has been way too long. I hope those of you worried about whether or not any progress has been made have been following me (marknewlyn) and/or Siyavula on Twitter.


We’ve been very busy and achieved what many, even I, thought impossible!

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.

The last file was delivered minutes before this post went live.

This has happened at a time when a new curriculum has been developed, commonly referred to as the Curriculum and Policy Statements (CAPS). CAPS replaces the National Curriculum Statements (NCS) curriculum that is currently in schools.
In 2012 Grade 10 learners will be taught according to CAPS while the higher grades remain with NCS. NCS will be phased out as the Grade 10 cohort of 2012 move up through the grades. As with the advent of NCS, CAPS is a significant departure from the curriculum that went before and requires that new textbooks be developed. One feature of CAPS is that a strict teaching schedule is imposed by the curriculum statement and textbooks must adhere to this in their design and implementation.

DBE has recently had success in internally authoring and distributing numeracy and literacy workbooks for all Grade 1 – 6 learners in South Africa. It was the same team that approached Siyavula requesting the strict alignment of the Grade 10 books to CAPS so that the books can be printed for all learners in the country. In addition, the existing NCS books for Grade 11 and 12 will also be distributed to all learners. DBE has committed to distribute the following titles to relevant learners in 2012:

  • Mathematics Grade 10 (aligned with CAPS)
  • Wiskunde Graad 10 (aligned with CAPS)
  • Physical Science Grade 10 (aligned with CAPS)
  • Fisiese Wetenskappe Graad 10 (aligned with CAPS)
  • Mathematics Grade 11 (aligned with NCS)
  • Physical Science Grade 11 (aligned with NCS)
  • Mathematics Grade 12 (aligned with NCS)
  • Physical Science Grade 12 (aligned with NCS)

This will require a total of 1.8M textbooks are printed and distributed.

This is a significant milestone for the OER movement in South Africa and will raise significant exposure of the issues around access to materials, awareness of open licensing and hopefully ensure that publishers and DBE review their current processes regarding learner and teacher support materials (LTSM) procurement and provisioning.

Ensuring that this was possible was the exclusive focus of the last 4 months and became an all-consuming exercise. We had to expand our team and work incredibly hard with each member of the book team clocking almost 2 man months per calendar month since mid-September. We had to revamp our pipeline, develop new layouts for the books, undergo multiple review iterations with DBE reviewers, edit, edit, edit and then turn everyone into a translator in some capacity. The details are available on request and over alcoholic beverages!

At the end of it all we’ve produced books that:

  • are freely available online and via mobile (final versions will be live in a few days);
  • feature tight integration of technology leveraging the huge pool of OERs that are available (video, simulations, presentations);
  • are linked to support services;
  • that allow educator to annotate the online versions with:
    • errata,
    • suggestions, and
    • teaching notes.
    You can see a short video demonstration of the annotation prototype in action here:

    This will be a key part of ensuring that we engage the broader community openly in improving the books and manage all feedback effectively using a ticketing system.

These books have been branded the Everything series and will be available, along with all services and enrichment, at:

The content is available but we’re still putting the actual sites together and will have this ready for the start of the school year on the 9th January 2012.

However, the printing of the books by DBE precludes significant revenue for Siyavula being generated through the sale of the books as was our initial plan for this year. We do have another plan though, more about that later.

OER and Textbook Distribution

The distribution of our books is likely to be controversial. The original Grade 10 books that we submitted for approval to be on the national catalogue were rejected. This will certainly have the publishers up in arms but I’m not too fussed. The books that are being distributed by DBE and that were submitted are radically different.

The books on the national catalogue typically have the table of contents checked to ensure the curriculum is covered and then a random, small set of chapters reviewed in detail (usually by two reviewers).

In the case of the books that are being distributed we held a two-day workshop at the DBE office in which the curriculum specialists and reviewers went through the books page-by-page. After this process we edited the Grade 10 books extensively and they were reviewed again in their entirety. Further edits were made and then additional reviewers were brought in to read the books and comment.

To be honest, such extensive review is painful and stressful but in everyone’s best interests. We are happy to say that the books have the go ahead from a diverse set of reviewers who were able to review the entire book. With our annotation system in place, we will be able to very effectively handle feedback and make sure that there is complete transparency regarding issues, comments and suggestions raised during 2012 so that educators have access to the complete picture and that we can produce even better books for 2013. We believe that the value that this transparency adds will be immeasurable once the community of educators becomes familiar with it.

Life Sciences Grade 10

In all of our workshops, the most common request we get from educators is for a Life Sciences textbook. We’ve always said that as soon as we felt the demand from the community was large enough we’d have a go. The demand had been rising all year and just before we landed the DBE deal we put the wheels in motion to write a Life Sciences Grade 10 book. We decided to pursue it anyway and not cancel or postpone the process.

We ran three information evening events, modeled on our earlier ones this year, to provide educators an opportunity to come and learn about why we’re excited about the possibilities and also discuss any concerns they might have. We were also lucky to get some interest from other provinces. The plan was to bring a group together for a weekend and get the ball rolling.

The weekend alone would have been the highlight of my year if not for the printing of the books as we produced over 300 pages of content in a weekend. The content is very rough but we created a community that really threw themselves into the work over the weekend and has already been through a couple of editing and review cycles.

We need to spend a little time really assessing how much work is required and when the next weekend will be but I am more than confident that we’ll have a good book out by the middle of next year.

Hard Drives

We’ve been distributing PDF files of our books which contain links to rich-media. Many schools have asked if they could get offline copies of the material. We decided to try a lightweight exercise to strengthen the links between schools and solve the problem of making the rich-media available.

We bought 12 500GB hard drives, populated them with a lot of OER content (Khan Academy, PhET Simulations, CK12 books, etc.) and sent them to people all over South Africa which, at first glance, seems like a really dumb idea. However, we approached the strongest national community of practice that we’ve interacted with, the IEB physical science teachers and we asked them to nominate recipients via their mailing list. Nominees had to be seconded and prepared to help distribute the content.

The IEB schools aren’t those in need of the resources the most BUT they are the ones that are more likely to have the technical expertise and resources to help get the content to other schools and they often already partner with under-resourced schools. By asking for nominees we hoped to get people who bought into the sharing idea and by making a commitment on the mailing list we left the accountability to their own community.

The project has taken on a life of its own and we have no idea how many times the drives have actually been copied but we have some confirmed details of copies made:

  • Eastern Cape – 8
  • Western Cape – 18 (30 pending requests)
  • Gauteng – 15
  • KZN – 5
  • Mpumalanga – 7

Anyone is welcome to come by our office and copy it but we’ll work our way through the list anyway. We didn’t want a heavily regulated process and I’m very happy with the results.

It would be nice to put up a google map with all the schools that have copied it and make that publicly available. We will definitely revisit this simple, yet effective exercise in the next year again as more resources become available.

St John’s College

We’ve been lucky enough to work with St John’s Physical Science department over the last few months. They’re keen to make content available and have hosted a couple of content uploading sprints at which we’ve learnt a lot. In collaboration with Kathi Fletcher and Colleen Henning (HOD Physical Science) we’ve hatched a plan that will make it relatively easy for St John’s to make their own textbook available during the course of 2012. The plan is that they’ll make the content available as they teach it so that by the end of the year everything is available. Kathi and the OERPub team will make a dedicated St John’s importing client available and Siyavula will support St John’s.

St John’s have also hosted a FullMarks uploading sprint at which they also supported people copying the hard drive with all the OER content on it. We also ran a Monassis test with the educators which was very informative and everyone jumped right into developing their own templates even though XML, SVG and Python knowledge needed to be acquired.

Inzalo Foundation

We have been working with the Inzalo Foundation over the last few weeks to plan the development of a set of openly licensed workbooks that cover Natural Science and Technology Grade 4-6 which will be CAPS-aligned and available for the start of the 2013 school year when those grades switch to CAPS.

Two very interesting planning workshops have been held with a lot of brainstorming about the perfect workbook. We’ve agreed to write one that can stand alone in print, has an accompanying DVD of material and has further enrichment online.

The authoring process will be a collaborative one and will build on everything we learnt during the Life Sciences Grade 10 process. We’re very excited about this opportunity to partner with Inzalo and make more content available for educators and learners.

Workshops / Conferences

Open Education: The Open Education Conference in Utah was the week before the deadline for the first set of books for DBE to review and I was responsible for the editing of the physics half of Physical Science so I, unfortunately, cancelled my trip. My feeling was that the impact of widespread distribution of the books outweighed the benefits of presenting at the conference. I was, however, able to convince Carl Scheffler to give a talk in my slot. Carl generously stuck with my abstract. A video of Carl’s talk is on Youtube:

Dinaledi Schools: I was also invited to present to the Dinaledi schools’ principals at their first meeting in preparation for 2012. The Dinaledi schools are schools that are charged with focusing on Mathematics and Physical Science. They have specific targets to meet and receive some additional support. There are 46 (soon to be 48) Dinaledi schools in the Western Cape and, as a group, are an ideal candidate for community building and technology integration.

Business Plans

Siyavula is now a registered Pty Ltd. in South Africa. Siyavula is Nguni for “we are opening” and effectively describes the influence that Siyavula’s products and role have in the education sector with respect to learning, technology, resources and teaching. Siyavula is driven by a team that is intrinsically passionate about education and believe that the most effective way to sustainably and positively lead innovation in the education space is to become a market force.


Learners the world over are given the opportunity to identify their passions, achieve their potential and pursue their dreams.


Siyavula is to be a social enterprise intent on sustainably driving an innovative education agenda to address the myriad challenges faced by educators around the world and restore a love for learning and teaching.

A key requirement to fulfilling this mission is to enable the provision of localised, relevant, up to date learning experiences when, where and how they are required. In this spirit the activities that Siyavula will conduct will be built on three pillars: community, technology and openness, with a view to improving education at all levels and in all areas.

Revenue Model

The large scale distribution of our books by DBE precludes Siyavula generating any significant revenue from the books themselves. In our original discussions we thought that the support services would be a good enough value-add to get DBE interested in a services contract of some sort but this was hampered by two things: it requires massive coherence between different DBE departments as it ties community, technology and ICT together; and it pushes the costs into tender range. This meant that this proposal was shelved (for now at least).

A quick video we made to try to articulate the idea to them was included with sample books:

We still think that the support services is the way to go with our business model and are busy developing a business plan based on this idea. The plan will be finished this week.


My 2011 Fellowship ends on the 29th February 2012 and I have not applied for another one. Siyavula has reached the point where we feel that it is pressing to stand on its own. It has been incredibly beneficial to be able to experiment through the Fellowship and have more flexibility than any other funding arrangement would have allowed.

The Shuttleworth name has also been very useful to help start conversations but we have been working hard to build a brand for Siyavula as well. The time has come to go for broke and we believe that Siyavula has developed enough value to add to the sector that it can and will be sustainable.

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.