The ECD Heroes Challenge.

Focus Area

 Quality Early Learning Programmes

Innovation Lever

Existing product, platform or service


Proof of Concept



The ECD Heroes Challenge (2017) set out to explore a novel approach to training and supporting the professional development of preschool teachers in low-resourced settings. An existing digital platform, with built-in game mechanics, was adapted to spark applied learning throughout an 8-week competition.

Why the name – ECD Heroes Challenge?

Preschool services in low-income South African communities are commonly referred to as ECD (Early Childhood Development) Centres and often simply as ECDs.

The Problem.

A 2014 report found that more than 40% of teachers and assistant teachers in ECD centres in South Africa have below a Grade 12 level of education and less than 10% have an early childhood development qualification. These low barriers to entry into the profession may be a good thing for job creation, but have potential negative consequences for both teacher and child. Two such consequences for teachers are the underrated public opinion of the profession and the low levels of remuneration. Most preschool teachers, regardless of qualification, earned less than R2500 (173 USD) per month in 2014.

The Innovation.

The idea was inspired by a digital gamified platform developed by the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation. They have been using the platform to motivate and equip high school students, through fun and competitive applied learning, to become future entrepreneurs. True to our fondness for pivoting platforms for new purposes, we worked with the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation to adapt their product for preschool teachers.

To create a sense of urgency and to drive uptake, we designed an 8-week challenge-based competition. Preschool teachers were able to practice applied learning through participating in 40 themed tasks/challenges, accessible from any smart device (phone, tablet or desktop), and incentivised with weekly cash prizes. The completed tasks were peer reviewed, with moderation, and earned points towards live leaderboards. We also ran a national PR campaign around the competition to shift public perception of the importance of preschool teaching and to celebrate the work of exceptional teachers.

Take an indepth look at our approach, lessons and next steps in this Innovation Insights report.

Why we invested.

Studies show that children who regularly attend a high-quality preschool programme perform better at school than their peers. At the top of the list of defining features of high-quality programmes is a cohort of skilled and engaging teachers. We wanted to explore the peaks and pitfalls of using an adapted gamified tech platform to upskill preschool teachers in low-income areas. We were also interested in whether an accompanying PR campaign would help shift perceptions of the importance of preschool teachers.

The Project Team

The Allan Gray Orbis Foundation was the tech and implementation partner with Anthony Selley as Project Manager. The Allan Gray Orbis Foundation invests in the education and development of individuals with entrepreneurial potential within Southern Africa.

ByDesign Communications looked after the PR Campaign component. ByDesign Communications is a new age communications company, led by passionate communication strategists who are driven by a challenger mentality.

Cotlands, Tree ECD, LETCEE, Smart Start, and Ntataise were the NGO partners.