Early learning gets a boost – ELOM and SmartStart

A quick update on two important early learning initiatives:


Research indicates that while children from better-off homes make good progress following Grade R, children from poor households do not, and the gap between these two groups widens with age. Quality preschool programmes enable poor children to be ready to benefit from Grade R. However, according to the Innovation Edge, South Africa lacks a reliable and valid instrument to assess how early learning programmes perform in preparing children for this level of education.  But not anymore! The Innovation Edge Early Learning Outcomes Measure (ELOM) is now complete.  It is the first South African pre-school child assessment tool, rigorously standardised, culturally fair and simple to administer that indicates if early childhood development (ECD) programmes are effective in preparing children for Grade R, and identifies areas for improvement.

The ELOM has been constructed to assess two age groups: 50-59 months and 60-69 months.  It is underpinned by Early Learning Development Standards (ELDS) which stipulate what children of particular ages and stages should know and be able to do.  This approach permits the ELOM to be aligned with expectations for children’s knowledge and capabilities that are expressed in South African Early Childhood Development (ECD) programming guidelines such as the National Early Learning Development Standards (NELDS) and National Curriculum Framework (NCF) for Children Birth to Four Years – all developed by the national Department of Basic Education.

The ELOM was developed in three phases and the final Direct Assessment ELOM, revised and ready for public release, has 23 items clustered in five equally weighted domains: Gross Motor Development; Fine Motor Coordination and Visual Motor Integration; Emergent Numeracy and Mathematics; Cognition and Executive Functioning; Emergent Literacy and Language.



Training and accrediting of ELOM assessors will commence by the end of this year, with scaled roll-out planned for 2017.







SmartStart is a social franchise which aims to expand access to quality, affordable early learning opportunities for young children in South Africa. The SmartStart programme is aimed at the three and four-year-old age group, starting with the poorest 40% of children of that age. It is delivered through playgroups, day mothers and as part of established ECD programmes, collectively known as Franchisees.

By 2026 SmartStart aims to build a delivery model that reaches 1 million 3 & 4 year olds annually through a network of 50 000 licensed Franchisees. SmartStart is supporting Franchisees across the country through a ‘network of clubs’ approach. It also aims to strengthen communities and parents’ appreciation of the importance of creating quality learning opportunities in the early years of a child’s life.

In their first year of operation (since June 2015), they have licensed 850 Franchisees and registered over 10 000 children. Their big challenge for year 2 is assessing and monitoring the quality of the SmartStart programme. They are busy piloting a Child Progress Report, which will provide feedback to SmartStart on areas for learning and improvement. They have also taken on board five new Franchisors who will manage operations at a regional level.

Watch this video to learn more about SmartStart and to see it in action:



Share this post

Get the latest news & updates:

Select the specific themes and topics that interest you:

Other news and articles:

Hands-on Learning Issue 27

Through the newly rebranded edition of our Hands-on Learning publication developed in June 2023, we hope to play a helpful role in synthesising information from

Read More »