Students in South Africa face a lot of challenges when it comes to their education – whether it’s an absent teacher or undelivered textbooks. However, innovative efforts to both empower and engage students by providing them with technology-inspired learning tools are starting to get the recognition they deserve. Siyavula is part of this movement.
Siyavula is an organisation that facilitates the creation of openly licensed resources under a Creative Commons copyright license by supporting the collaboration between teachers and postgraduate students; who volunteer to develop these resources.
In 2011, the organization was approached by the Department of Basic Education to write openly licensed textbooks that would be printed and distributed by the department. With their eye-catching covers, these textbooks have received a resounding response from students and teachers alike, encouraging them to continue publishing their Grade 10, 11 and 12 Mathematics and Physical Science textbooks on a number of platforms and in compatible formats namely; mobile phones, tablets, Mxit and online.
On the 28th of June, Siyavula invited four Grade 11 students from the LEAP Maths and Science School to test and evaluate the online versions of these textbooks on various platforms. Versions of the textbooks can also be accessed and viewed on a WAP enabled mobile phone through Mxit. Additionally, the textbooks can be viewed using smart phones, tablets and on computers with clear and easy to navigate interfaces.
The online versions of the textbooks are interactive, allowing students to access worked solutions, supporting video material and other media resources including exercises to test their knowledge. The online textbooks also allow students to track their progress and identify problem areas.
Carine Grobbelaar, the Marketing Co-ordinator for Siyavula believes that this initiative will make key resources available to a lot of students, especially on mobile phones, because many students have access to phones that also access the internet – making it the easiest and most effective way to make these resources available to a large student population.
Being able to access the textbooks in this way “is convenient because [you] have the textbook everywhere [you] go on [your] phone and self-study becomes easier“, remarked Elethu Nkala, one of the students present.
The students all agreed how helpful this will be when studying and completing homework. Now, if they get stumped by a question or section, they can access videos or intricately worked out solutions, “where in the past we had to wait for our teacher to explain further to us, the following day”, noted fellow student, Ciza Syvlane.
The consensus by the end of the day was that they were ready to learn using technology platforms which are more familiar to them; and through an integrated and interactive approach to learning like Siyavula’s online version of the textbooks.
Perhaps, this is a start towards circumventing notions of the teacher being the gatekeeper to a student’s access to information, as well as problems associated with textbook distribution. If students are empowered with learning tools that they are accustomed to and that they find intuitive to use, it becomes possible to increase their accessibility to essential resources and ultimately allows them to take charge of their education.
Image: Students, Elethu Nkala and Ciza Sylvane during the workshop