Website to Bring Expertise Into South Africa’s Classes

Digital Content

The Shuttleworth Foundation and Connexions from Rice University, in the US, yesterday announced plans to jointly develop what they say will be one of the world's largest, most comprehensive sets of free online teaching materials for primary and secondary schoolchildren.

These will, however, benefit only a few because 67.93% of SA's public schools did not have computers for teaching and learning purposes at the time of the last national assessment of school resources, published by the education department in September last year.

Using their open-education projects, Connexions and the Shuttleworth's Siyavula project would work to help education in South African schools with an initiative based on open-source software, online teacher communities and open copyright licenc es, said Siyavula project manager Mark Horner.

The offering was a comprehensive repository of educational resources, everything from online textbooks to classroom activities, experiments and training materials.

"Connexions and Siyavula will work together to create the repository, and Siyavula will create an online community of educators in SA that will expand, update and use the lessons," said the foundation's Karien Bezuidenhout.

"The newly created content will reside in the Connexions repository, one of the largest open-education resources repositories," she said.

Horner said that while it was "sad" that so many South African schools did not have computers for teaching and learning, there were stories, worldwide, of schools that had been provided with excellent resources but did not use them properly.

The new project had the advantage of being aimed at the teacher instead of the pupil, Horner said. The website could act as a tool for sharing teaching resources, and was not just a place to download them.

Teachers can opt to make the resources they share available to various groups, or completely open. The site could track each teacher's edits, saving multiple versions of a resource, so teachers would be able to adapt each available resource to their own particular needs, Horner said.

The website was also designed to set each version up properly for printing, automatically providing a table of contents, pagination and other similar features, he said.

Because the resources available would be royalty-free, it was possible for a teacher to print 10,000 copies of a black-and-white textbook, with a colour cover and thread-binding, for about R20 a copy, significantly reducing the cost of textbooks, Horner said. "You can also adapt it next year and print a new copy, ... so textbooks can be more dynamic."

Because of all this, the technology that the foundation and university were offering SA's pupils was "a better starting point than filling a school with the latest and greatest technology ... If you are just becoming computer literate, how can you produce an effective, multi media learning resource?" Horner asked.

Ultimately, the group hoped to offer a complete suite of teaching materials from grade R to 12, online and free of charge.

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