Quality provision of early childhood development (ECD) services represents a life-improving intervention for individuals and an equality-promoting investment for society as a whole. This is particularly important in the South African context of chronically high socioeconomic inequality.
All young children need and deserve high quality early learning and care. 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. For those that do, there is little social integration across income levels, most of the ‘learning’ that takes place is rote, families are largely sidelined, and meaningful formative assessment is non-existent.
Earlybird Educare@Work has launched South Africa’s first high-quality, socially inclusive workplace- and community-based educare model, in an attempt to meet this need for children from across the spectrum of socioeconomic backgrounds.
The offering increases female workforce participation and retention without risking mother-child attachment, and positions businesses as employers of choice for individuals who want to grow their families as they grow their careers. International and South African companies are realizing the retention, diversity and productivity gains of including workplace-based educare as an employee wellness benefit.
Among the key elements of high-quality preschool systems are, a well-trained and supported teachers, use of evidence-based curricula, ongoing coaching by expert mentors, and family engagement. Earlybird’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 in order to keep parent fees affordable for employees at all levels within the company. Earlybird also uses a fixed portion of revenue generated from corporate sites to subsidize the provision of the same high-quality preschool model at our Blue Door centres in low-income communities
Earlybird’s educational approach is grounded in social-constructivism, we know that young children learn best by doing. Earlybird uses a supported play-based approach that includes both free-choice and structured small-group and whole-class games and activities, all thoughtfully scaffolded by committed, caring, and well-qualified teachers, who are supported by the tablet-based Bird Seed guide and roaming expert mentors and coaches.
Throughout each day children are provided with opportunities to plan, play, reflect and share, making Earlybird classrooms an environment of meaningful engagement, curiosity, critical thinking, problem-solving and inclusivity.
In addition to substantial in-service teacher supports around curriculum and pedagogy Earlybird also recognizes the crucial importance of formative assessments (both game-based and observational) to equip teachers to meet each child where he or she is at.
Finally, Earlybird’s approach emphasizes family engagement as a major mechanism for sustaining the gains provided by the early learning and care experience. The principals, teachers, and counsellors aim to develop meaningful, positive relationships with all of the families of the children in the Earlybird preschools.
The project team
Luke Crowley – Luke is a development economist with ten years of experience running large-scale randomised evaluations of social programmes at Innovations for Poverty Action and J-PAL Africa. He is CEO of Earlybird and heads up a team developing a game-based formative assessment technology to track the learning and development progress of our preschool learners. He also works on strategy, evaluation, and finance for the company.
Megan Blair – A former teacher and Fulbright scholar, Meg draws on her experience from both the practical and academic side of the education aisle as she and her team at Earlybird work to build a scalable, high-quality preschool model for workplaces and communities.
Updated 10 July 2018