Early Childhood Development

The Birches South AfricaHow young is too young? In the early days of Teach A Man To Fish we received a brief rejection letter from Comic Relief stating “children should be learning numeracy and literacy at primary school, not business”. Why do I remember it 15 years on? In part because it ignored a painful reality; that a significant proportion of young people in many of the places where we work, never make it to secondary school.

Wishing the world was different doesn’t make it so. If you might not make it to secondary school, learning essential skills for success needs to start at primary.

The irony is that we now have evidence from follow up studies that teaching entrepreneurial and life skills at primary school can have a significant effect on increasing a child’s chances of staying on into secondary education - unlocking the huge benefits which this typically brings. But there must be a limit right?

Could it ever make sense for children as young as four and five to take part in such programmes? The answer is yes. But it is different.

In 2023, we piloted an Early Years programme in South Africa with support from The Saville Foundation and Charles Bronfman Prize funds. It fused and adapted our award-winning School Enterprise Challenge programme with some of the marvellous innovations developed by Scilla Edmonds of The Birches Pre-Primary School in Durban.

The first thing that strikes you about children at The Birches is how excited and proud they are of their enterprise. But this isn’t just ‘business’, this is responsible business. Sustainability is front and centre of their efforts.

Among various enterprises they upcycle bottles into vivariums (vivaria?!) and grow organic vegetables for sale in their farm shop.

For the children it feels like play, and
it is play - but with a huge amount of learning baked in.

All too often children spend a huge amount of time being told what they’re allowed to do and what they can’t do - not challenged to show what they can do, and given the freedom to make decisions.

It’s about agency. Agency creates the space to realise potential. When learners’ efforts create visible results, their enormous sense of achievement builds confidence and generates excitement. And it’s infectious. They get their parents to join in, to make and plan and sell. On a tiny scale, but together.

A confident five year old with a sense of agency is primed to excel when they hit primary school, something we hope to build evidence for as we develop our Early Years programme in 2024. The Birches may be a leader in this space, but our pilot gave us confidence that the magic it creates can be replicated even by lower resourced early years centres and pre-primary schools when their passion is ignited so we're doing this with Scilla in 2024.

We’ve more work to do - to refine this approach further, to document its impact and prepare it for scale. But it’s exciting times! How young is too young? When it comes to setting children up for long term success, the Early Years is definitely not too early!

Nik Kafka, CEO