Impact Area:

Quality Early Learning Programmes 

Year of Investment and Stage:

2022| Developing and testing to validate problem solution fit

Current Stage

Proof of Concept Stage 

Investment Amount:

R1 500 000

Financial Instrument:

Grant/ Recoverable grant


Open, Active

Upskill is a mobile and web-based learning application (app) that provides a library of South African Council for Educators (SACE)-endorsed modules to early learning practitioners, teachers and school leaders in Africa.

The app is designed to empower users in urban, peri-urban, and rural areas and is currently available in South Africa, Ghana and Kenya. It offers curated, high-impact learning content that supports users by providing teacher training and professional skills development.

The Problem

School leaders and teachers are often under-supported and unprepared to develop school and classroom environments that support learners, close learning gaps and improve learning outcomes for learners. 

According to evidence, leadership effectiveness contributes to as much as 25% of a school’s impact on a student’s academic performance. Research shows that almost half (49%) of four-to-five-year-olds attending early learning programmes from South Africa’s poorest households lag in meeting the required literacy and language standards. Consequently, children who have poorly developed language and early literacy skill challenges before they even begin school, are more likely to struggle to learn to read and write. 

Evidence also proves that equal access to quality educational content, training and teaching for early learning programmes can improve the skill set of ECD practitioners and educational outcomes of young children. Educators who are fortunate enough to receive training for professional  development typically experience traditional, workshop-based training; even though research shows it is ineffective. By improving teacher training and the quality of training through professional skills development, learning gaps can be identified and improved to sustain positive educational outcomes for children. 

The Innovation

Upskill aims to reimagine the way educators access and engage learners in the classroom by providing them with guidance and development. This is achieved by providing  continuous support  through the app, where educational content is accessible to users for free. 

On the Upskill platform, teachers can explore and gain knowledge and skills by engaging in competency-focused modules following a See it, Name it, Do it and/or Inquiry-based content acquisition practice. 

Most of the modules use low-data approaches (no videos, light images and light text). The modules can take approximately 30 to 35 minutes to finish, and can be completed in multiple sessions. This is an effective solution for the communities Instill operates in, as the lack of infrastructure and high cost of mobile data are often barriers to e-learning.

Upskill’s attention to addressing the time and infrastructure barriers faced by users has resulted in much higher completion rates than other e-learning platforms which typically attain around 5 to 15% module completion.

How It works

Through the Upskill platform, teachers and ECD practitioners are offered self-paced, bite-sized online modules and educational content supporting them in developing systems and practices that can immediately be implementable in the classroom. Teachers have the opportunity to cover the content at their own pace, and receive immediate feedback on performance against a set of practical competency-aligned measures. All modules are aligned with national standards set by the South African Council for Educators, Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development, and Ghana National Teaching Council. 

 The modules are structured to provide multiple ‘deliberate practice’ opportunities and teachers have the opportunity to support each other through virtual communities of practice, which are driven through the platform and through WhatsApp groups. Modules can be combined according to theme or topics into pathways to either address a specific user type (e.g. induction programmes for novice teachers, specialisation: learner engagement) or tailored to the needs of educators.

Why We Invested

The quality of engagement experienced between an ECD practitioner and the child can greatly improve child learning outcomes in early learning programmes. Additionally, evidence indicates that improved working conditions in early learning practitioners has  been found to be associated with positive child experiences in early learning programmes.  

We invested in Upskill to support its aim to provide accessible quality professional development course material to ELP practitioners and reduce barriers to engagement. This will encourage  teachers’ skills development and increase the level of their self-efficacy in the classroom and ultimately, sustain positive educational outcomes for children.  

The Project Team

Tom Parry, Co-founder and Chief Development Officer

Parry is the Co-Founder of Instill Education and has over a decade of experience working in classrooms and non-profit and for-profit education initiatives. He was also a teacher at Teach First and the Founder and CEO of Business Bridge and has considerable experience in the education sector and running business initiatives. His role as the Director of Operations drives the business initiatives and activities necessary to sustain and scale their education offerings. 

Evan Hendon, Co- founder and Chief Programme Officer 

Evan is the Chief Programme Officer at Instill Education and oversees the programme delivery. He manages the operational running of the Upskill platform as well as the user experience both on the platform and on campus. 

He is the former Director of operations at Relay Graduate School of Education and under his four-year tenure as Director of Operations, oversaw the certification process of over 300 graduate students (working with the New Jersey State Department of Education and New Jersey’s Office of Higher Education). He holds a Master’s degree in International Educational Development from Teachers College in Columbia University, and is currently pursuing his PhD in Higher Education Administration at the University of Johannesburg. 

Shemanne Davis, Chief Learning Officer

Shemanne is a Dean at Instill Education and is responsible for the design and execution of the in-service and pre-service programmes. She manages and drives the curriculum development process and provides academic support for the onboarding and retention of students.  She has released 12 White papers covering topics from “Technology in your Classroom” to “Culturally-Responsive Classroom Management” and “Teaching as an Act of Social Justice”.  She is also the former Senior Dean of Student Affairs at the Relay Graduate School of Education and holds a Juris Doctor in Law with a focus on Education Law from The University of Georgia School of Law and a Master of Arts in Teaching from Emory University.