This is the second of a four-part series of blog posts co-authored by Beck Pitt (OER Research Hub researcher) and Megan Beckett (Siyavula). You can read our posts on the Siyavula educator sample and background to the study here, more on educators’ attitudes and behaviours toward OER on Thursday and more on the impact of Siyavula on Friday. This post provides more information on different educational contexts in South Africa and concludes the overview of our sample.

As a recap, the following research findings relate to 89 educators who have used or currently use Siyavula open textbooks. You can read more about the sample group and background to the study here.

Educational Contexts 

South Africa’s basic education system consists of public and private schools. The public schools are government funded and it is these schools that received the printed Siyavula textbooks. Each province is responsible for its schools and as a result, standards vary immensely, depending on the wealth and efficiency of the province, as mentioned earlier. Overall, many schools lack the financing and accountability and as a result, are severely under resourced with under qualified teachers, or sometimes no teachers. In the bigger cities, public schools are mostly of a higher standard. The best government schools are those, formerly known as Model-C schools during the Apartheid era, which are partially funded by parents and a governing, and offer high quality education.

Many middle and high-income families that can afford private education, send their children to private schools, which are independently run from the government. These schools are very well equipped and have an internationally recognised reputation. For more on why poor parents increasingly send their children to private schools, see this interesting article in the Economist.

As a result, the educational contexts and challenges in South Africa are extremely diverse. Therefore, in this research, it was important to determine which types of schools the teachers came from and the facilities that they have at each school. Siyavula’s textbooks are trying to address the issue of the lack of resources that most learners face in the country, however, these are not generally the schools that we have direct communication with, which is relevant to this research in terms of the bias of our sample. Therefore, it was important to determine which types of schools the teachers came from and the facilities that they have at each school.

The huge diversity in school contexts in South Africa. Photo credits: at end of post

The huge diversity in school contexts in South Africa. Photo credits: at end of post

58.1% of respondents teach at least part-time in a Private School (n=50) and 36.0% of respondents teach at least part-time in a Public School (n=31). 27.9% of respondents told us that they conducted personal (one-to-one) tutoring (n=24). Less than 10% of respondents told us that they teach at least part-time in the further education and training context. Less than 5% of respondents teach in Higher Education/University sector (9.3%, n=8 and 4.7%, n=4, respectively).

That most respondents teach in the school context is perhaps unsurprising, given that Siyavula textbooks are primarily aimed at Grades 4-12. Important to note in the context of this research is that private schools make up only 6% of the schools in South Africa. Yet, it is these schools that Siyavula mostly interacts with personally and directly due to our premium services that we offer, and the fact that these schools have better infrastructure and internet access. This accounts for the high percentage of teachers from private schools that participated in the study, and therefore introduces a bias into the sample as these schools are much more resourced and teachers are well qualified. This is seen in the earlier graph displaying the qualifications of educators that participated in the study.

Specific to the Siyavula questionnaire, we asked respondents about the availability of resources in their school. This question was attempting to capture the variance of resources available in schools to determine where in the diverse range our survey participants come from. 100% of respondents (n=85) reported having both electricity and running water in their school. Just under 85% of respondents reported having textbooks for all learners (84.2%, n=70) whilst 64.7% told us that they had a librarian or someone to assist learners in the library (n=55). Just over 50% of respondents told us their school has an interactive whiteboard/SMART board (51.8%, n=44) whilst 91.8% of respondents reported having a blackboard and/or whiteboard in all classrooms (n=78).

Nearly 85% reported having internet at their school (84.7%, n=72) with 74.1% of respondents having internet available in their own classroom (n=63). Two respondents also told us in that tablets were being used at their school. As one educator commented: “In the South African schools I work in on an ad hoc basis what is available varies from school to school” before listing a number of institutions they teach at and providing a detailed breakdown of facilities available in each.

These results highlight that we are interacting with very well resourced schools, most of which have internet access, which is not the standard in South African schools. As our survey was delivered online and distributed via the Siyavula mailing lists and social media, it is not surprising that this bias has been introduced. Interestingly, the private schools would not have received the Siyavula printed textbooks for free from the government, as is the case with the public schools. Therefore, those teachers using the Siyavula textbooks have elected to do so themselves. We will return to look at educator use and opinion on Siyavula textbooks in a forthcoming post.

When we asked what phase(s)/grade(s) educators taught in, over 80% of respondents told us they teach Further Education and Training (Grades 10-12) (82.6%, n=71) and almost 60% teach Senior Phase (Grades 7-9) (59.3%, n=51). 23.3% of educators also reported teaching Intermediate Phase (Grades 4-6) students (n=20). These results are reflected by the types of Siyavula textbook that respondents have or currently use with their students. For example, 40.7% of respondents have used the Grades 10-12 Everything Science online open textbook (n=33) with their students, whilst 29.6% of respondents told us that they currently use this textbook (n=24).


This result is not surprising to Siyavula as the strongest community and usage that we have is around our Physical sciences textbooks for Gr 10-12. The current versions of these textbooks originated in the Free High School Science Texts projects, initiated in 2012 by Mark Horner and a group of postgraduates at the University of Cape Town. These textbooks were collaboratively authored by volunteers across South Africa, and the world, and therefore have built up a strong following over the years. In 2011, these textbooks were edited to align strictly to the curriculum set by the government before national printing and distribution.

In contrast, whilst 6 million hardcopy versions of The Thunderbolt Kids: Natural Sciences and Technology have been distributed across South Africa, only 17.3% of educators that responded to this survey told us that they have used this Grades 4-6 hardcopy textbook with their students (n=14) and 7.4% told us that they currently use this textbook with their students (n=6). Although the Gr 4-6 Siyavula textbooks are some of the most widely used in the country, this is not reflected in these results due to the fact that our community of teachers that Siyavula mostly interacts with is in high school, and also in private schools were many teachers do not yet use or know about the availability of these resources. However, the Siyavula primary school community is growing as more and more schools and educators come to know about these textbooks.

In researching the impact of open textbooks in South Africa, it will be beneficial to get access to more public schools, which received these textbooks for free, to see how this has impacted their situation. Unfortunately, Siyavula does not have direct communication with these schools and this would either require setting up individual interviews with schools or the involvement of provincial education departments to distribute the survey more widely. These current results however provide insight into the online use of the textbooks and educators perceptions, which will be discussed in the next posts.


Photo credits for collage of South African schools

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