This is the first of four co-authored blog posts (written by Beck Pitt and Megan Beckett) examining the preliminary Siyavula educator survey results. If you attended the open textbook webinar on 28 May 2014 (watch it here!), you’ll be aware of how both Megan and Daniel’s perspectives and contextualising of the survey results for Siyavula and OpenStax College, respectively, really benefited the research findings overview. To capture and extend some of the discussions in the webinar, Megan kindly agreed to contribute to a couple of blog posts for this week’s open textbook research week.

This post focuses on the sample and background to the study with forthcoming posts on the different educational contexts in South Africa, OER behaviours, attitudes and open licensing and educator opinions on the impact of Siyavula open textbooks.

Background to the Study

The OER Research Hub (OERRH) and Siyavula began collaboration in Fall 2013, following an introduction via one of our linked fellows, CCCOER‘s Una Daly. Siyavula is a social enterprise, based in Cape Town, South Africa, working to make high quality, open educational resources available to every learner and teacher in the country. Siyavula’s textbooks are primarily focused on core Maths and Science, however, they will be expanding their catalogue of open titles over the next few years to incorporate a wider range of subjects in Gr 4-12. Textbooks are available in Afrikaans and English and in multiple formats, including print, web, mobile, ePUB and the Gr 10-12 content is available on Mxit, a very popular chatroom service in South Africa, especially among the youth, which works on low end feature phones. Siyavula has over 800 000 learners reading their content online every month and most of this is over mobile, highlighting the importance of mobile technology and development in Africa. You can find out more about the textbooks here.

Siyavula's OER content is Maths and Science focused for Gr 4-12 (Picture Credit: SIyavula, CC-BY)

Siyavula’s OER content is Maths and Science focused for Gr 4-12 (Picture Credit: Siyavula, CC-BY)

Siyavula works in partnership with the Department of Basic Education to review and endorse the textbooks.So far, about 10 million hardcopy versions of the textbooks have been printed and distributed by the government across South Africa to all government schools. This is significant as print is still a very popular and necessary form of delivering (educational) content in South Africa, and other developing countries, due to the lack of internet connectivity and high data charges. You can read more about distributing OER in the developing world here.

The South African government has printed and distributed 10 million copies of the Siyavula textbooks. Picture Credit: Siyavula CC-BY Siyavula

The South African government has printed and distributed 10 million copies of the Siyavula textbooks (Picture Credit: Siyavula CC-BY Siyavula)

The OER Research Hub worked closely with Megan on devising a questionnaire which, whilst based on the same hypotheses as our open textbook work with OpenStax College and would therefore enable comparisons to be made, would also enable us to capture information specific to the South African education context as well as that relating specifically to Siyavula textbooks. Work was carried out to ensure that any changes to core questions could also be mapped back onto our survey bank.

The main hypotheses addressed through the research:

  • OER improve student performance/satisfaction;
  • People use OER differently from other online materials;
  • OER use leads educators to reflect on their practice;
  • OER adoption brings financial benefits for students/institutions.

The survey began collecting responses in January 2014 and was open for around 6 weeks (until mid-March time). The survey was aimed at educators and was promoted via a variety of Siyavula’s email lists, Facebook page and their Twitter account (see examples below). In total we received 183 responses from around the world, with 90 respondents reporting that they had used, or currently use Siyavula textbooks. 1 response was invalid; the following preliminary results analyse the remaining 89 responses.




Of the 89 respondents who use or have used Siyavula textbooks, almost all live in South Africa (97.5%, n=79) with the remainder of respondents resident in the UK and Mozambique. Siyavula does know of many other cases where the content is being used around the world, such as Fiji, the United States, Finland, the Netherlands, but unfortunately, although we had survey responses from users residing in one of these countries, they are not included in the following analysis as they did not report having used or currently using Siyavula textbooks.

South Africa is comprised of 9 provinces each with their own provincial governments that fall under the national government. We asked participants to state which province they live in as there are large discrepancies between the provinces in terms of infrastructure, internet connectivity and the efficiency of the education system. 38.0% of respondents live in Gauteng (n=30), 27.8% in Western Cape (n=22), 10.1% Eastern Cape (n=8), 10.1% in KwaZulu-Natal (n=8), 7.6% in Limpopo (n=6), 3.8% in Free-State (n=3), 1.3% from Mpumalanga (n=1) and 1.3% from North-West (n=1). For reference, Johannesburg is in Gauteng and Cape Town is in the Western Cape, the two provinces with the highest percentage of respondents and also where internet access is the highest, according to this study.

Picture Credit: By Htonl (Own work) CC-BY-SA-3.0

Picture Credit: By Htonl (Own work) CC-BY-SA-3.0 URL below

The sample group is comprised of 50.6% male (n=44) and 49.4% female (n=43) with a range of age groups recorded. Around a third of respondents told us that English is their first spoken language (66.7%, n=58) with one-third of respondents (33.3%, n=29) reporting another first language (of respondents who told us their first language, the most frequent response was Afrikaans (65.6%, n=21)). South Africa has 11 official languages. Learners receive mother tongue instruction up until the end of Gr 3. In Gr 4, most schools switch to, or continue with, instruction in either English or Afrikaans. By high school, all subjects are taught in either English or Afrikaans.

As you can see in the chart below, a range of highest educational qualifications were reported by respondents, with 18.2% of respondents having either a Master’s degree or Doctor’s degree (12.5%, n=11 and 5.7%, n=5, respectively) and 40.9% of respondents reporting an Honour’s Degree or Postgraduate Diploma (n=36) as their highest qualification. In total, 83.0% of respondents reported having a Bachelor’s Degree or higher (n=73). This result however is not representative of the average national level of qualification of South African teachers. The significance of this result is discussed later in terms of the bias in the survey participants.

"What is your highest educational qualification?"

“What is your highest educational qualification?” (Siyavula)

Almost 80% of educators described themselves in full, or part, as a “Classroom Teacher” (78.6%, n=66). 65.1% of respondents reported teaching for over 10 years (n=56) and 80.5% of respondents reporting that they conducted full-time, face-to-face teaching (n=70). Almost 40% of respondents told us that they did tutoring in addition to other kinds of teaching (39.1%, n=34). Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the subjects that Siyavula open textbooks cover, over 60% of respondents teach in the Physical Sciences (63.2%, n=55), nearly 40% in Natural Sciences (39.1%, n=34) and almost 60% in Mathematics (59.8%, n=52). Many teachers in South Africa do also teach more than one subject and grade level.

Join us tomorrow for the second in this four-part series, where we’ll be looking at different educational contexts in South Africa.


URL for South African map by Htonl (Own work) CC-BY-SA-3.0: