Can Primary, or even Secondary education materials in Singapore be made Open Source so that educators or even members of the public contribute and consume freely? Can and should such education materials be made free and open for all?

What triggered me was the need to sign up for an account before I could even browse the booklist at an appointed book store for my child’s Primary school. After glancing through the list of books, it’s clear that only a few handful of publishers monopolize this entire market.

I recall having gone through much of my youth depending on many external/supplementary resources including the famous “10-year series” as well as various other exercise books, notes, etc.

When I went to Polytechnic where I was given a choice of my own, I did not buy a single textbook after my first year and instead relied on lecture notes (which were annoyingly only for purchase at the school’s printer) and additional material either on the Internet or the library for most of my studies.

I also recall books getting stolen, because people who didn’t bring them didn’t want to get punished, so the stole others’. I also recall ripping apart super thick books by chapter so we would carry less weight around to school, and then getting scolded for it because defacing a textbook was an offence. (For the youngsters who don’t understand: back in those days we carry every single book to school every day – there were no lockers and we can’t leave them under our desks. The idea was that if we left the books in school, we don’t study them at home.)

Long story short, my personal experience with textbooks hasn’t been great; if textbooks were perfect, our teachers wouldn’t need to come up with additional materials and creative ways to teach.

Imagine a world where we could opt for books in print or PDF. Imagine a world where we could just print only the chapters we wanted. Imagine a world where if your child saw a typo error could just submit an edit back, and maybe even get recognized for it. Imagine a world where if we needed to see a newer or older version of a book we could simply download a different PDF, or look at a specific git tag? Imagine a world where underprivileged families wouldn’t have to get sponsorship to buy textbooks, but instead go and print a chapter they need at a community center?

I’m sure every year thousands of educators create content that would have made our materials much better and more up-to-date if it were contributed back to a central, open, textbook. Our education ministry MOE can then act as the maintainer of the project – to curate and validate content before accepting it mainstream.

Question is, where and how to start? Can our education ministry drive this? Can we see in 5, 10 years that Singapore has built such a strong Open Source resource that we have other countries use and also contribute back?

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