About the Thrive by Five Index

The 2021 Thrive by Five Index, released in April 2022, is the largest survey of preschool child development ever undertaken in South Africa. It is the first in a series that will be repeated every three years to monitor whether children attending Early Learning Programmes (ELPs) are developmentally on track for their age. Before this, there was no national data available on this critical measure of development.

These findings have long-term implications for South Africa’s education, health and employment outcomes. The Index has motivated and informed action at multiple levels – it was recommended as an indicator in the Medium Term Strategic Framework in the National Planning Commission’s ECD Advisory Document 2024. Collaboration with the Thrive by Five Index is also noted by the Department of Basic Education in government’s Strategy for Early Childhood Development Programmes: Every Child Matters, released in March 2024. 

The 2021 dataset is nationally and provincially representative and can be filtered by income level and sex. The 2021 Thrive by Five Index reports on how well 4-5-year-old children are doing in three key developmental domains – Early Learning, Physical Growth and Social-Emotional Functioning.

There are 1.2 million children in South Africa aged 4-5 years; 45%-55% of them are reported to attend some kind of ELP. According to the 2021 data, 5.7% of these children show signs of chronic malnutrition, and less than half are On Track in key areas of cognitive development. Of particular concern are the children in the poorest 60% of households who are Falling Far Behind the expected standard for their age.

The Thrive by Five team is preparing to commence data collection for the 2024 Thrive by Five Index. Data collection will take place in the final quarter of the 2024. In addition to assessing over 5,000 children enrolled in ELPs across South Africa and across all income groups, the 2024 Thrive by Five Index will also assess children aged 4-5 years who are not enrolled in any form of ELP. 


The idea of measuring early childhood in South Africa was partly inspired by the Business Confidence Index. In 2018, First National Bank (FNB), Innovation Edge and the Department of Social Development began to pilot the development of the Index. The Department of Basic Education (DBE) became the Index’s lead government department in 2019, following the President’s announcement that the DBE would take on responsiblity for early learning.

Delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, data was eventually gathered in late 2021, and the inaugural Thrive by Five Index launched in April 2022.

The inaugural 2021 Thrive by Five Index was initiated by FNB and Innovation Edge, in collaboration with DBE, and was supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and ECD Measure. Data was collected using the locally-developed and standardised ELOM tools. As of 2022, responsibility for coordinating the Index sits with DataDrive2030

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Methodology: 2021 Index

A nationally representative sample of over 5,000 children attending 1,247 diverse Early Learning Programmes (ELPs) were assessed in 2021 using the South African Early Learning Measurement (ELOM) tools. The ELOM tools are available in all 11 official South African languages and accurately measure a range of developmental outcomes in young children, taking into account diverse socio-economic backgrounds.

Details of the research methodology can be found in the Thrive By Five Index Report.

The Thrive by Five Team

The Thrive by Five Index is the product of the collective efforts of a multidisciplinary team, including experts in early childhood development, psychology, economics, data science, fieldwork management, research, communications, and child assessment. It would not have been possible without the thousands of children and hundreds of early learning practitioners who gave of their time to participate.

Sonja Giese
Index lead

Sonja Giese was founding Executive Director of Innovation Edge (IE) and led the organisation and IE’s data work for eight years. She now heads up DataDrive2030.

Dr. Janeli Kotze
Index lead

Dr. Janeli Kotze is a Deputy Director in the Research Coordination, Monitoring and Evaluation Directorate at the Department of Basic Education.

Dr. Colin Tredoux
Technical lead

Colin Tredoux is Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Cape Town and a Research Associate at Université de Tolouse, Jean Jaurés.

Assoc. Prof. Andrew Dawes
Technical lead

Andrew Dawes is Associate Professor Emeritus in the Department of Psychology at the University of Cape Town and a Research Associate with the Young Lives study at Oxford University.