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The first-ever ECD Heroes Challenge, a national competition for ECD (early childhood development) practitioners has ended, with very encouraging results.

Many ECD practitioners in South Africa lack access to quality training and on the job learning experiences. The traditional training methods used are often difficult to engage with and generally require many hours of instructor led teaching. This results in insufficient training and a lack of personal growth prospects for ECD practitioners. These factors lead to a prevailing culture, which does not sufficiently value and appreciate the critical work these ECD practitioners perform.

Innovation Edge, a grant-maker and investor in unconventional ECD ideas, conceptualised and funded the ECD Heroes Challenge to encourage innovative ECD practitioner learning using a series of tasks and incentivised challenges. Their aim was also to highlight early years teaching as a desirable profession and to celebrate the work of exceptional teachers already employed in this space.

The Challenge adapted an existing web platform, created by the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation (AGOF), which currently focuses on developing entrepreneurial mind-sets in high school students using a gamified challenge and reward system.

The ECD Heroes app-based challenge presented 40 action-oriented tasks, accessible on demand from any smart device, which the participants had to complete over the eight-week course of the competition. The submissions were reviewed by peers, and the gamers were ranked on a national leaderboard.

With an overall score of 40 791 out of a possible 46 000, the ECD Heroes Challenge winner is Emily Moleme (Connected to the Ntataise network) from the Lejweleputswa District Municipality in the Free State Province.

Zoleka Matwa (Olieven Toy Library, at Olievenhoutbosch) takes second place, with 40 636 points, while Joyce Sethoga (Cotlands ELG Centre, Olievenhoutbosch in Centurion) comes in third, with 40 314 points.

Sonja Giese, Executive Director of Innovation Edge, says that participation exceeded expectations: “We had 254 entrants, who completed a total of 3 098 intense challenges. This uptake was driven mostly by a core group of 50 heroic teachers who each completed more than 80% of the 40 challenges. This group greeted the competition with incredible energy and enthusiasm, and it was gratifying to see the improving quality of the submissions as the weeks went by.”

The winner, Emily Molema, says that the challenges were “really exciting and refreshing” and that she enjoyed learning from the other heroes (teachers) when doing the marking.

Giese says that the support the teachers showed for one another over the weeks was striking. “They cheered each other on from the word ‘go’. Their passion for the work they do is clear! Some of the winning challenges can be seen on the ECD Heroes Challenge Facebook page.”

Each challenge had a R1,000 prize attached, and the three overall winners each received a Samsung Galaxy Tab, with R10,000, R5,000 and R3,000 in cash for first, second and third place respectively.

The biggest uptake (quantity) was seen in the provinces of Kwazulu Natal and the Free State, with the Fezile Dabi and Lejweleputswa District Municipalities each seeing more than 500 challenges completed. The City of Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality topped the district leaderboard (quantity and quality) all the way from start to finish.

Giese says that quality ECD is a critical determinant of future success, as the foundations for language development, literacy, numeracy, social skills, and even higher cognitive functions, are all embedded within the brain in the first six years of life. “Enabling positive brain development at the beginning of a child’s life produces better health, education and social outcomes for that child.”

Innovation Edge partnered with a number of ECD organisations, which played key roles in creating the content that went into the weekly challenges. Each week centred around critical themes, which included reading, literacy and language; play-based learning; parent engagement; observational assessment; numeracy; professional practice; child protection; and inclusivity.

Post-challenge, Innovation Edge is looking to integrate the learning modules with accredited training programmes at TVET Colleges. School chains in Sierra Leone have also expressed interest in the innovative platform. To find out more about Innovation Edge and the work they do, please visit www.innovationedge.org.za

To view the ECD Heroes challenge video for an overview of the initiative, visit the link – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QKzHDRZ9XAM&feature=youtu.be

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