(Dig­i­tal) books for Africa For a young and tech-savvy gen­er­a­tion, free e-learn­ing tools are be­com­ing crit­i­cal.

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with uni­ver­sity stu­dents across the coun­try ral­ly­ing for lower fees and de­mand­ing change, South Africa’s higher ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem is un­doubt­edly in cri­sis. For­tu­nately, while gov­ern­ment and other stake­hold­ers grap­ple with how to ad­dress what ap­pears to be a stale­mate, dig­i­tal plat­forms are of­fer­ing stu­dents al­ter­na­tive means of get­ting the re­sources they so des­per­ately need.

One such plat­form, the Book­boon+net­work, is al­ready dis­tribut­ing text­books – in dig­i­tal for­mat – to stu­dents in SA and Africa. The net­work, which was re­cently launched by par­ent com­pany Book­boon – a Dan­ish eBook pub­lisher – has ap­pointed ra­dio per­son­al­ity Jenny Cr­wys Wil­liams as its South African pa­tron. She has been tasked with gar­ner­ing sup­port for the net­work from cor­po­rate SA, which, in turn, re­ceives brand ex­po­sure from a fast-grow­ing au­di­ence of young stu­dents on the con­ti­nent.

“If you look at ed­u­ca­tion in gen­eral, SA has one of the big­gest bud­gets in Africa, yet pro­duces some of the poor­est re­sults,” says Cr­wys Wil­liams. “There is an or­gan­i­sa­tional prob­lem [in lo­cal ed­u­ca­tion] of mam­moth pro­por­tion. Now, this ini­tia­tive brings lo­cal busi­ness lead­ers and Book­boon (the fastest­grow­ing eBook pub­lisher world­wide) to­gether to of­fer our stu­dents free dig­i­tal ac­cess to thou­sands of world class uni­ver­sity and busi­ness text­books.”

She high­lights that the text­books fo­cus on core ar­eas of need in the lo­cal econ­omy: en­gi­neer­ing, IT, busi­ness and fi­nance.

“Pupils that en­ter uni­ver­sity and study fields such as eco­nomics, IT and en­gi­neer­ing, of­ten get good bur­saries, but in many cases they come from ru­ral ar­eas and can­not even af­ford food…so of course they strug­gle with get­ting text­books. In many in­stances, stu­dents are lend­ing books out to each other. One book can eas­ily be passed around to about 30 learn­ers. But clearly you can’t study like that!”

James van der Westhuizen, Book­boon coun­try man­ager in SA, says that stu­dents us­ing the plat­form gen­er­ally print the books out – they down­load it once and print it around four times for friends and col­leagues.

“There is no lim­i­ta­tion on print­outs by reg­is­tered read­ers,” he says. “There is an in­creas­ing trend of books be­ing read on de­vices as well. They are all PDFs and quite small to down­load. Some use 3G or WiFi ac­cess – which is be­com­ing quite ac­ces­si­ble on many cam­puses and also ur­ban ar­eas such as Braam­fontein [in Jo­han­nes­burg] and Tsh­wane.”

Ac­cord­ing to Van der Westhuizen, the net­work has al­ready es­tab­lished a “for­mi­da­ble foot­print in Africa”, with over 5m books dis­trib­uted in SA and over 15m across the con­ti­nent last year.

“In re­turn for an­nual mem­ber­ship, to­day’s lead­ers will have a com­pelling plat­form to speak di­rectly to this dy­namic group of fu­ture lead­ers,” he adds. “We have an es­teemed global and lo­cal ad­ver­tiser base, in­clud­ing RMB and HP lo­cally, and many blue-chip com­pa­nies. How­ever, we do need much higher lev­els of lo­cal cor­po­rate sup­port to keep the books free in SA.”

‘Less than R2 a book’

Lo­cally, the Book­boon+net­work will be lim­ited to 40 busi­ness lead­ers who will each pledge to sup­port Book­boon (ei­ther in SA or across the African con­ti­nent) to en­sure that the re­source li­brary keeps ex­pand­ing.

“We only op­er­ate in the ar­eas of busi­ness, fi­nance, tech­nol­ogy and en­gi­neer­ing as well as busi­ness skills for en­trepreneurs,” notes Van der Westhuizen. “So we source the best au­thors from all over the world. I don’t think we have any SA-based au­thors yet, but there is no rea­son why there could not be some.”

The goal is to se­cure an in­vest­ment of R250 000 per cor­po­rate in SA, and for those com­pa­nies look­ing for ad­ver­tis­ing ex­po­sure fur­ther afield on the con­ti­nent, the fee is R500 000.

When the Book­boon+net­work is fully up and run­ning, Van der Westhuizen says that each busi­ness leader “will ef­fec­tively have spon­sored ac­cess to over 5m books for stu­dents and en­trepreneurs – at a cost of less than R2 a book”.

“One shouldn’t un­der­es­ti­mate the poverty that many of our stu­dents are deal­ing with,” adds Cr­wys Wil­liams. “Col­lec­tively, this net­work could save our stu­dents and emerg­ing en­trepreneurs over R2bn in text­book costs in 2016.”

print­outs by reg­is­tered read­ers.”

Jenny Cr­wys Wil­liams Ra­dio per­son­al­ity and lo­cal Book­boon pa­tron

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