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New research highlights role of early learning in school readiness

by Tia

Research conducted by early learning non-profit SmartStart has revealed the value of quality early learning programmes in providing children with age-appropriate emotional, language, learning and social skills by the time they attend primary school. The findings were released at a launch event held in Ixopo, KwaZulu-Natal.

“The results from the research study speak for themselves; children who have been through the SmartStart programme are poised to succeed in primary school and beyond. Irrespective of location, if the SmartStart programme is implemented correctly, it has the potential to vastly improve the quality of learners we produce by Grade 12 and beyond,” said Professor Yanga Zembe-Zondi of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, who collaborated with SmartStart to produce the research.

The event included a panel discussion with policy influencers, early childhood development (ECD) sector experts, and representatives from the provincial education department, among others. With a focus on the 1.3-million South African children that lack readiness for Grade One, the panel discussed ways to improve access to early learning programmes and accelerate progress.

“From our discussions as various stakeholders within the ECD sector, it is abundantly clear that government support is integral to ensure that every child has access to a quality early learning programme. This primarily starts with government investment at all levels of the ECD ecosystem to make this a reality,” said Boipelo Lekwane, Steering Committee Member of Real Reform for ECD.

The event also featured a photovoice exhibition, showcasing the works of the children enrolled in SmartStart’s inaugural programme in 2015. Photovoice is a participatory research method that aims to give voice to the voiceless, providing an opportunity to tell realities, stories, and messages about respondents in specified settings. The works illustrated the value of early learning provided by programmes like SmartStart, in terms of the progress and learning journeys of school-going alumni children, aged eight to 13-years-old, in rural and urban settings across the Eastern Cape, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape.

SmartStart focuses on quintiles one and two as this is the greatest population of three- to five-year-olds that are not enrolled in any early learning programme. The social franchise works with implementing partners through home and community-based programmes, run by trained women from communities across the country. Ixopo was chosen as the ideal location for the study, as it is a microcosm of this population.

“My child has progressed very well in school, even right now as a Grade Three learner, due to SmartStart. Her involvement in the SmartStart programme has expanded her knowledge and worldview. For this, I am very happy,” said Sinegugu Dlamini, a parent from the Ixopo community. 

Since 2015, SmartStart has recruited, trained, and supported over 15 000 early learning practitioner franchisees, reaching 177 000 children with quality early learning. By 2030, the social franchise aims to reach one-million children between the ages of three and five annually. For more information, visit www.smartstart.org.za.


Research overview:

The research project involved compiling a qualitative and participatory report with SmartStart programme alumni in KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng, Western Cape, and Eastern Cape, aged 8 to 13-years-old. The research was conducted with 24 children, 24 practitioners, and 24 primary school teachers. 

Primary school teachers indicated that children who attend quality early learning programmes:

  • Excel in adapting to formal learning environments
  • Have better handwriting skills
  • Participate more vocally in lessons

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