Challenges facing eTextbook provision to South Africa

posted by / Tuesday, 03 February 2015 / Published in Latest posts, RESEARCH PAPERS

One of the mandates of the Department of Basic Education (DBE) in South Africa is to distribute textbooks to both urban and remote rural schools. The challenge that the DBE faces in this regard is that the distribution machinery has not been that efficient, resulting in some schools opening without the necessary textbooks. Distribution problems to schools has also meant that some schools are using outdated books, especially now that the new CAPS curriculum has recently been introduced. This article reports on the alternative to paper book provision in South African schools, in the form of provision of eBooks to schools. This means making available digital books that can be downloaded to the various schools to avert problems associated with distribution delays and to ensure that books that are aligned to the current curriculum are available at any point in time.

Although eBooks in general have many advantages, South Africa cannot subscribe a uniform solution to all schools. It is the current information and telecommunications technology (ICT) infrastructure and financing of such a project that determines the mode of eBook provision at the end of the day. Not overlooking the fact that there is a serious digital divide in South Africa, which pits the well-endowed urban schools against the poor-resourced deep rural schools, a number of recommendations on how eBooks can be made available to schools are outlined in this research. The proprietary eBooks and eBook readers as provided by the established international companies are very expensive for the South African environment, and this would result in uneven access to such resources. Therefore South Africa has to come up with its own low-cost appropriate technologies to enable eBook provision to the schools. The option is to take advantage of the current ICT infrastructure that has been rolled out by the government in the form of projects such as computers for schools. The problem is that this sort of infrastructure hasn’t been rolled out to all schools yet, with the deep rural schools unlikely to have any such computer networks. Where there are, these school networks can be configured for eTextbook accessibility via desktop computers, laptops, tablets and Smartphones for those that cannot afford the proprietary eBook readers. Mobile access is approaching 100% in South Africa, although there is no guarantee that the phones that are in the hands of the majority of the people support internet access and multimedia services. The DBE should set up its eTextbook store which comprises content by local publishers, is customised to the local environment, has the appropriate digital rights management (DRM) in place and can be easily accessed by these schools.

 

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