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The Early Learning Outcomes Measure (ELOM).

Focus Area

Quality preschool programmes

Innovation Lever

New product or service


Transition to Scale



The Early Learning Outcomes Measure (ELOM) is a South African population based child assessment tool that determines whether children are developmentally on track for their age and whether an Early Childhood Development (ECD) programme is effective in preparing children for entry into school, and identifies areas for programmatic improvement. It has been developed and validated in South Africa for children aged 4 – 6 years old and is currently available in 9 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.

The Early Learning Outcomes Measure (ELOM) was designed to fill this gap. It is a South African pre-school child assessment tool that is rigorously standardised, culturally fair and simple to administer. It can be used to evaluate whether an early years intervention is effective, and it identifies areas for programmatic improvement.
The ELOM has been constructed to assess two age groups: 50-59 and 60-69 months. 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 age-normed, psychometrically sound 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. It also incorporates a teachers’ assessment of the children in their care, enabling evaluation of emotional and social development in the crucial early years. More recently a home learning environment scale has been added to the ELOM suite which provides a window into a child’s home environment and its opportunities for early learning support.

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.