The Early Learning Outcomes Measure (ELOM).

Focus Area

Quality Early Learning Programmes

Innovation Lever

New product or service


Transition to Scale



The Early Learning Outcomes Measure (ELOM) is a set of population-based child assessment tools designed to determine whether children are developmentally on track for their age. The tools also establish whether an Early Childhood Development (ECD) programme is effective in preparing children for entry into school, and identify areas for programmatic improvement. ELOM has been developed and validated in South Africa for children aged 4 – 6 years old and is currently available in nine official South African languages.

The Problem.

The types of experiences children have during the first six years of life determine the extent to which they develop the foundational skills they need when entering school. These experiences include the interactions they have with their parents and other caregivers in their home and their participation in an early learning programme. In order to determine whether children in South Africa are being exposed to the kinds of early life experiences that build thriving brains, we need to be able to measure child outcomes at a population level – across various developmental domains. We also need to be able to evaluate and inform the efficacy of early learning programmes.

Until recently, South Africa lacked a child outcomes assessment tool tailored to our context. One that was reliable and valid, affordable, culturally fair, language appropriate and that could reasonably be implemented at scale within a developing country context.

The Innovation.

ELOM was designed to fill this gap. The South African pre-school child assessment tools that are rigorously standardised, culturally fair and simple to administer. The can be used to evaluate whether an early years intervention is effective, and  identify areas for programmatic improvement.

The ELOM tools have been constructed to assess three age groups: three to five year olds, four and five year olds, and six and seven year olds. The instrument has been peer-reviewed by a wide range of experts and published internationally. It is aligned with the South African National Curriculum Framework and other relevant guidelines.

The ELOM 4 & 5 Years Assessment tool enables direct assessment of crucial milestones, including gross and fine motor coordination and visual motor integration, emergent literacy and language, early numeracy, and cognitive and executive functioning.

The ELOM 4 & 5 Years Targeting tool is a short form of the ELOM 4&5 Assessment. It offers a relatively quick and easy way of identifying children who may be falling far behind the expected standard for their age. These children can then be referred for further assessment and, if necessary, remedial support.

ELOM 6 & 7 Years Assessment tools measure the development of children at the end of their Grade R year or at the start of their Grade 1 year. There are two tools that can be used independently, but are more effective when used together to understand fully how well a Grade R programme is preparing children for Grade 1. One focuses on early Mathematics, while the other one focuses on early language skills. Underlying cognitive skills are assessed in both tools.

The ELOM Social-Emotional Rating Scale is used in conjunction with the ELOM 4 & 5 Assessment and ELOM 6 & 7 Assessment tools to measure a child’s social and emotional functioning – aspects of behaviour that aren’t reliably assessed by a stranger. The short assessment is designed to be administered with a teacher, day mother, playgroup leader or caregiver, familiar to the child.

The ELOM Learning Programme Quality Assessment tool has been designed to measure the quality of group learning programmes targeting children aged 3 to 5 years. Assessors spend 2 hours observing the programme, and score their observations on a three-point scale (inadequate, basic, and good) across five areas: The learning environment; learning and teaching; relationships and interactions; curriculum; and teaching strategies.

The ELOM Home Environment Learning tool is a short questionnaire designed to measure home aspects associated with early language, numeracy and cognitive functioning for children aged 2-7 years old

For more information access the Early Learning Programme Outcomes General Report.
Commissioned by Innovation Edge and Ilifa Labantwana, to help inform the collective efforts of Government, NGOs, donors and business to support access to quality early learning programmes for young children in South Africa. Apply to view the Early Learning Programme Outcomes Technical Report here. Visit the Data Drive website for detailed information on each tool.

How it works

Accredited ELOM assessors spend ±40 minutes with the child in an interactive direct assessment process. A teacher or practitioner who has worked with a child for at least 6 months is also interviewed about that child. All scores are captured on a tablet which sends the data to an online server

A semi-automated report is generated which summarises ELOM scores across the assessed children, for each developmental domain and for the ELOM as a whole. The report is able to identify strengths and weaknesses of the early learning programme based on its child outcomes. This allows a programme to prioritise its inputs, focus its practitioner training, and tailor its curriculum more effectively.

Resources are available on the ELOM website to assist organisations, programme designers or evaluators respond to any areas of need. Users of ELOM are also free to reflect on their experiences of using the tool. Lessons drawn from this learning community are used to inform enhancements to the manual, additions to the website and toolkit, and the selection and training of accredited ELOM assessors.

A central open access data repository has been established to collate ELOM data from multiple sources so as to help strengthen the evidence base of what programmes are effective and encourage more research on South African children.

The ELOM is not:

Intended as an instrument for assessing school readiness;
A psychological test designed to assess intelligence or diagnose developmental delay, although it could be used to identify children who are significantly behind the standard expected for their age.

Why we invested.

 The ELOM is essential to the work of Innovation Edge – to enable us to measure the effectiveness of our investments in enhancing the quality of early care and education for young children in South Africa. It is also being used by other funders, researchers, government and programme developers to inform practice, policy and resource allocation.

The Project Team

Professor Andy Dawes is a clinical and developmental psychologist and Associate Professor Emeritus in the Department of Psychology at the University of Cape Town.

Linda Biersteker is a developmental psychologist and independent Early Childhood Development specialist.

Elizabeth Girdwood is an economist, focusing on early child-centered research and developmental interventions.