The Shuttleworth Foundation is a South African organisation that invests in social, technical and policy innovation in the fields of education and technology. The Foundation works through active partnerships with local and international organisations. The Shuttleworth Foundation was founded upon an open philosophy that includes the promotion of open source, open standards and open information access with the belief that sharing stimulates change and broadens horizons. It is the further belief of the Shuttleworth Foundation that, in an African context, this open philosophy is the key to progress and an enabler for education.
Heading up the project for the Shuttleworth Foundation is Mark Horner, who is also one of the co-founders of another Foundation-funded project in the form of the 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 maths for grades 10–12, based on the South African school curriculum.
Mark has a PhD in physics from the University of Cape Town and is passionate about the opportunities that are presented by open educational resources. He conducted his thesis research at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California on the results from the STAR experiment at Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York.
“Siyavula is a highly ambitious project,” admits Mark. “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.”
Mark says that by adopting open publishing licenses from the likes of Creative Commons, it is possible to produce educational resources that can be distributed, adapted, refreshed, translated and otherwise modified freely and legally. It is also possible to make resources available at little to no cost to educators and learners. Siyavula uses Creative Commons attribution, share-alike licences to regulate its resources to this end.
Siyavula embraces technology as an answer to the collaboration problems that face educators and it is currently creating a portal where open resources are catalogued, stored and can be searched contextually. This portal will also offer tools for educators to collaborate with each other in developing resources online.
“The aim is to provide free textbooks and resources both online and in print that cover the entire South African curriculum,” says Mark. “Other features of the website that drive this initiative will be the ability for educators to both vet and rate the available resources.”
The Siyavula project enjoys support from the South African government’s Department of Education and Mark says that he is regularly in contact with the department, which is committed to the project being aligned with its own initiatives.
“We are working closely with them on how this will work in conjunction with the national education portal, called Thutong,” says Mark. “The government site has just been revamped and we will definitely share resources with them from Siyavula.
Our objective at Siyavula is to ensure that resources the project produces can be distributed through channels such as Thutong, with the vetting and approval of the relevant parties,” he adds.
“Both parties are enthusiastic about the alignment and the potential it offers for the broad availability of educational resources in South Africa and beyond,” says Mark.
Work is also being done to integrate Siyavula with international projects. One of these is an initiative called “Connexions” that has 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 Mark.
He explains that the Foundation believes that teachers, learners and authors around the world are increasingly seeing the potential of open educational resources and is working closely with the innovators and activists who are bringing this movement to life, as described in the Cape Town Open Education Declaration (www.capetowndeclaration.org).
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Text and images by Shuttleworthfoundation