The Wordworks app supports parents, caregivers and educators of young children aged 0-5 years, by providing them with fun and creative ideas about how to talk, play, sing, write, count and share books with them on a daily basis.  

The need

There are just over 6 million 0-6 year olds in South Africa. The first 1000 days of life open a critical window of opportunity. During this period, children’s brains form thousands of neural connections every second. The connections made by the brain during this time, are the building blocks for their future. Homes are therefore critically important places for supporting early learning.

A focus of the national ECD Policy is to provide quality information about how to support informal learning at home. Currently, there are limited opportunities for parents and caregivers to get this information. Solutions to offer this support practically and at scale are critically needed.

Although parents know that babies and young children need food, shelter and health care, many don’t realise that responding to babies and young children through singing, talking, playing and reading is also essential for their development. The Wordworks app has been developed to address this need and to support parents, caregivers and educators on how to provide babies and children with nurturing care that will enable them to realise their potential

The innovation

The Wordworks app equips parents, caregivers and educators of children aged 0-5 years with the skills to support early learning in a simple, enjoyable, accessible and cost-effective way. Parents and caregivers can access quality information about supporting young children’s learning via their mobile phones.

Leveraging the power of mobile technology, the Wordworks app has been developed with the purpose of sharing knowledge cost-effectively and at scale.

The app takes users on a fun journey and provides ideas about how to talk, play, sing and share books with babies and young children. Content includes information on how to support young children’s drawing and early writing skills and how to enjoy maths through everyday activities. Wordworks also offers motivational messages and suggestions for positive phrases to say to young children.

The messaging sequence has been designed for users to receive activity related messages from Monday to Thursday and an inspirational message on Fridays. Health messages related to the critical importance of the first 1000 days have also been weaved into the content. The resource section contains short instructional videos as well as Nal’ibali stories, rhymes and songs for young children.

A tracking and sharing functionality allows users to see how they are progressing through the learning journey and to share activities or ideas with other caregivers or colleagues. The app can be used by individuals or groups of parents, caregivers or ECD practitioners.

The app is available for free download on the Google Play Store in English, isiXhosa, isiZulu and Afrikaans. To address the cost of data, the app runs in offline mode after it has been downloaded, and there is no cost to access the content once it has been downloaded. The cost of download depends on whether Wi-Fi or mobile data is used, but even on an expensive mobile data package, download costs should be less than R10.

Key insights

An enjoyable user experience is key to ensuring user engagement. Building on the lessons learned from the CareUp application, two features have been introduced in the WordWorks app. These include a translation icon and a “My Progress” section. Previously, users had to go through 4 steps to change the language setting whereas now they only need to press one button. The “My Progress” section encourages the parent or caregiver to work through all the content that is available to them and provides them with a visual cue of their progress through the different sections.

Mobile interventions have the potential to be tremendously cost-effective at scale, as the marginal costs of making the content accessible to additional users is very low.  The biggest barrier to scaling this type of technology is the initial cost of downloading the application and the ongoing cost of accessing a mobi site for those who do not have access to an Android phone. Various efforts are underway to zero-rate products like the Wordworks app to avoid users having to incur costs to access the service.

The project team

The app was developed by The Reach Trust and Wordworks, using adapted content from the Every Word Counts programme. Every Word Counts was developed through funding from the Claude Leon Foundation, The Solon Foundation and the Jim Joel Foundation.

The video content embedded in the app was sourced with permission from The Family Literacy Project, Mikhulu Trust, Bulungula Incubator and Rhodes University Community Engagement.

The App is available on the Google Play Store. For more information on how to download the app click here

Last Updated 07 June 2018