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CareUp is a free mobile app solution designed to improve early literacy through mobile messaging, audio files, activities and resources targeting ECD practitioners and parents of children aged 4-5 years.

The need

Less than half of Grade 4 children in South Africa are able to read at expected levels of competency.

Participation in quality early learning activities in the pre-school years significantly enhances the ability of children to benefit from schooling. The best outcomes happen when the work of the pre-school teacher is reinforced through meaningful interactions between caregiver and child in the home environment.

Parents and teachers need access to practical, easy to engage with early learning content that motivates and facilitates quality interactions between them and their children.

The innovation

Mobile phones, and especially smart phones, are more readily available than landlines (and even books) in hard to access areas of South Africa. They are also becoming increasingly affordable.

Innovation Edge, The Reach Trust, and the Western Cape Department of Social Development (DSD) have teamed up to show how content delivered via mobile phones can be used to positively impact early learning and development for 4 to 5 year old children.

CareUp, an Android app and mobi site, sends regular messages and provides free quality learning resources to parents and teachers. The resources are made up of audio files offering information on things to do with the child; games; stories and inspirational messages. The App and content have been designed to use very little data and take into account the everyday reality of parents and children living in marginalised communities.

Messages to parents and to practitioners are co-ordinated so that learning in the home reinforces the learning that takes place at the ECD centre. Use of CareUp is continually tracked so that uptake, usage and user experiences can be properly assessed and adjustments can be made as needed.

Key insights


CareUp is easy to implement, delivering handy chunks of information in an easily accessible format.

It was tested in the Western Cape at 10 pre-school sites with 15 teachers and 120 parents in a 15-week pilot between August and December 2016. Here are some of the resulting insights:

Before CareUp, 67% of parents surveyed never read stories to their children. After using CareUp, 69% of parents read stories at least once to the children from the resource section.

97% of teachers and 92% of parents found activities useful.

74% of parents opened at least one new instruction in a given week.

A flexible evaluation model and monthly team ‘sprints’ enabled us to iterate the design during the initial proof of concept phase. CareUp v2.0 is under development and this new improved version will include a number of feature enhancements requested by users. The experience of developing and testing CareUp has also informed the development of the ECD Launch Pad.

The partnership with the WC Department of Social Development established a pathway to scale from the outset and ensured that the App was developed with Government priorities and systems in mind.

By establishing literacy foundations during the early stages of a child’s life, we can help close the achievement gap so often observed in school results later on.

The project team

The Reach Trust has helped more than 10 million people transform their lives through access to free education, health and counselling services on their mobile phones.

The Western Cape Department of Social Development ensures that a comprehensive network of social development services is provided to enable and empower the poor, vulnerable and those with special needs.

Wordworks is a South African non-profit organisation that focuses on early language and literacy development in the first eight years of children’s lives.

Kelello Consulting has been contracted to support the monitoring and evaluation of CareUp.