The Early Learning National Assessment (ELNA).

Focus Area

Quality preschool programmes 

Innovation Lever

 Data Tools & Insights





The South African National Department of Basic Education (DBE) has partnered with Innovation Edge to develop an assessment tool that will enable the DBE to report on the percentage of children completing Grade R who are ready for Grade 1. This information can be used to strengthen pre-Grade 1 learning support and assist the Department with enhancements to Grade 1 bridging interventions. The tool has been called the ELNA – Early Learning National Assessment.

The Problem.

The Assessment and Research Directorates of the National Department of Basic Education (DBE) identified the need for a reliable measure for DBE to report on their Annual Performance Indicator: What percentage of children in the country are ready for Grade 1? DBE needed an assessment tool that would provide sufficient depth of data to understand systemic changes required to address child development gaps. Importantly, this data is needed to support enhancements to the quality of Grade R, and also to signal areas that might need attention for children entering Grade 1. The tool needed to be aligned with the outcomes and performance standards expected for children exiting Grade R as expressed in the South African Curriculum Assessment Policy Statements (CAPS). It needed also to be relatively quick and easy to administer by trained non-subject specialists.

The Innovation.

The decision was taken early on in the development process that in order to understand the kinds of systemic changes that are required to improve outcomes, two instruments are needed – one instrument focused on mathematics and one focused on literacy – each requiring approximately half an hour to administer. The ELNA has therefore been designed as two instruments, to assess the language and mathematical skills of children entering Grade 1 (70-89 months). Underlying cognitive and executive functioning skills that correlate with both language and mathematical abilities are also included.

The development process for the ELNA included a review of the literature to consider the abilities that are strongly associated with mathematics and literacy performance in the early grades. A scan of other assessment tools (including normed South African tests) was undertaken to help with the sourcing of items for the tool, with a focus on instruments developed in the Southern and East African Region. The item selection and adaptation process that is being followed is iterative, based on inputs from a range of technical experts and field testing with children in all 11 official South African languages.

DBE’s intention is to administer the instrument annually on a nationally representative sample of children. The tools will involve direct child assessment on a random sample of Grade 1 children by a trained and accredited assessor. These will be complemented by a rating of Social and Emotional functioning of each child, to be completed by children’s class educators. This will be based on the ELOM Teacher Assessment Tool.

Why we invested.

Beyond the direct impact of our portfolio, we have identified a couple of areas where we hope to have a broad and deep influence. In particular, we hope to influence how data and measurement is used to drive service quality enhancement and investment in early years interventions. 

The Project Team

Department of Basic Education: Mark Chetty, Busi Nkosi, Glenda Bonga and Dix Mathebe 

Technical development team: Andrew Dawes, Elizabeth Girdwood, Linda Biersteker, Matthew Snelling 

Fieldwork service provider: Tara Ngwato (Social Surveys Africa)

Technical advisors: Hamsa Venkatakrishnan (UNISA), Elizabeth Pretorius (UNISA) Shelley O’Carroll, Wordworks, Cally Kuhne (UCT)