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