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Investment to scale up quality Early Childhood Education (ECE) across South Africa

Posted 15th July 2020

GIF is providing a $1.46 million grant to SmartStart, a non-profit company creating social franchises aimed at scaling up quality Early Childhood Education (ECE) across South Africa. SmartStart currently reaches roughly 35,000 children a year through 3,500 practitioners in all nine of South Africa’s provinces, and is targeting 10,000 practitioners with the aim of reaching 100,000 children a year in its 2020-2022 phase.

SmartStart programmes help to develop children's language skills.
SmartStart programmes help to develop children’s language skills.

In South Africa, UNICEF reports that in 2017, 49 percent of children aged from three to five are enrolled in a group early learning programme, but it is estimated less than half of these, roughly 800,000 children, participate in programmes that are of sufficient quality to derive the expected ECE benefits. Furthermore, more than 1 million children, primarily from the poorest backgrounds, do not have access to any form of group learning programme.

A key aim of SmartStart is to demonstrate to the Government of South Africa that a two-day, non-centre-based ECE programme will lower the cost of provision, allowing existing budgets to expand access to more children, without adversely affecting learning outcomes.

GIF’s grant, which is being provided in collaboration with South Africa’s Department of Science and Innovation, is to fund the design and build of a mobile-enabled ECE/ECD practitioner management and support platform. This will be used by SmartStart initially, but ideally in the longer-term be adopted by the Government of South Africa, as well as other early childhood care and development providers. GIF’s expectation is that the platform will support SmartStart as it scales to monitor and continuously improve the quality of its programme delivery. The platform will be made available to the wider ecosystem as an open source project .

SmartStart was established in 2015 and incubated by the DG Murray Trust, a well-respected leader in the human development space in South Africa.