The Thrive by Five Index Report

The superb Thrive By Five report (  is a must read for everyone who is concerned about inequality and economic exclusion in South Africa. And if you don’t have time to read the 39 page report, do yourself a favour and read the two page Executive Summary.

It is well established that:

  • The brain grows fastest and is most responsive to its environment, care and learning opportunities during the first five years of a child’s life.
  • Children who are well nourished and nurtured in those years, have learning opportunities at home and have access to good quality early learning programmes (ELPs), are more likely to enter school “on track” in key areas of development.
  • Children  who are not “on track” when they enter the foundational stage of school are less likely to do well at school, to progress to tertiary education and to earn above their peers.
  • Poor children are significantly less likely to be “on track” when they enter the foundational stage of school.
  • The experiences of poor children in South Africa in their first five years present significant barriers to their success in school and to their long term prospects of economic exclusion.

The survey underpinning the report took a nationally representative sample of children aged from 50 to 49 months and attending ELPs. It measured three key areas of their development which are known to be predictive of later success. Unbelievably, prior to this survey in 2021, there was no national data to track the key areas of development of children as they enter the foundational stage of school. The data from this survey will serve as a baseline measure for future surveys and the Thrive to Five Index will allow trends in the readiness of children to be monitored.

As predictable as they are, I encourage you to read the three page summary of Key Findings ( They are shameful.  A truly staggering 65% of South African children enrolled in ELPs are not “on track”. And 16% face “significant” barriers to thriving because both their physical development and  their early learning scores are not “on track”.  And while the survey sampled only children enrolled in ELPs, it is safe to assume that children who do not attend ELPs will be even more disadvantaged. What better way could there be to reinforce intergenerational cycles of poverty and economic exclusion?

But if you think that this is a depressing report, you are wrong. In the sections dealing with each of the components of the Index, the authors identify steps which can and must be taken to remedy early learning deficiencies, compromised physical growth and sub-standard social-emotional functioning (which includes readiness for school). And the Thrive by Five website ( includes five Action Briefs prepared by experts in their respective fields which provide practical examples of the actions that can be taken.

Here are my key takeaways from this Report and the Action Briefs:

  1. We cannot change the failure since 1994 to ensure that children entering school had the best possible start but we can learn from the lessons of the past and redefine the future.
  2. Urgent collective action – involving the public, private and NGO sectors – is needed to increase the percentage of children who meet the Thrive by Five standard.
  3. Our collective responsibility is to address the performance gap between children from the richest and poorest households.
  4. We know what needs to be done, we have the ability and resources to do it and the time to do it is now. There is no time to waste.