Early Bird Educare@Work.

In a win for both businesses and employees, Earlybird Educare@Work provides high quality, socially inclusive educare at places of work, and channels new sources of funding into ECD.

The need

Targeted provision of early childhood development (ECD) services represent a life-improving intervention for individuals and an equality-promoting investment for society as a whole.

Return on investments in high quality centre-based ECD for low-income families (7%-13%) are higher than the rate of return to any other social program currently measured. The positive returns are driven by the fact that the short- and long-term health, educational, social and economic benefits significantly outweigh the cost of provision.

Despite the well-documented importance of quality early stimulation, at least 1 million South African children aged 3-5 years have no access to educare services. And for those that do, there is little social integration across income levels, most of the ‘learning’ that takes place is rote, families are largely side-lined, and meaningful assessment is non-existent.

The innovation

Earlybird Educare@Work is South Africa’s first high-quality, socially inclusive workplace based educare model. Early Bird provides the same affordable, convenient, high quality ECD experience to the children of the working poor, squeezed middle, and well-to-do in the same learning environment.

The offering also reduces the stress associated with balancing career and childcare, increases female workforce participation and retention without risking mother-child attachment, and positions businesses as employer of choice for individuals who want to grow their families as they grow their careers.

Among the key elements of high-quality preschool systems are, a well-trained and stable workforce, use of evidence-based curricula, ongoing coaching by expert mentors, and family engagement. Early Bird’s approach incorporates these elements and others to deliver an education experience that prepares children for success in school and life. Focusing on children aged 4 months to 5 years old presents the opportunity to positively influence brain development, self-regulation, language acquisition, early numeracy skills and reasoning at a critical time in children’s development.

The model has been designed to tap into enterprise development, supplier development and preferential procurement funding available through South Africa’s Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment (BBB-EE) scheme. Designing Earlybird in this way helps companies meet BBB-EE scorecard requirements and enables Earlybird to keep parent fees affordable for employees at all levels within the company.

Key insights

It is unrealistic to expect quality to improve in early childhood settings without increasing the quality of the workforce, including adequate compensation and in-service training. Currently, opportunities within ECD for career minded school leavers are minimal.

Earlybird will create a rewarding career pathway for skilled, motivated ECD practitioners with franchise opportunities to attract and retain top talent, and ensure a quality experience at every Earlybird site. This will simultaneously ensure a predictable supply chain of black, women-owned businesses qualifying for BBB-EE spend.

Another major advantage of offering workplace based educare in South Africa is the opportunities it presents for social integration across racial and economic lines. Earlybird will provide all children – regardless of their parents’ position within the company – the opportunity for world class early care and education services and, we hope, spark playdates across prejudice!

The project team

BlueDoor leverages technology and economies of scale to deliver affordable, high-quality early childhood education in low-income communities in South Africa.