The South African edutech startup Play Sense, which recently raised more than R8-million in international investment from an Africa-focused, gender-lensed venture capital fund, has now also become one of the first registered play-focused preschool franchises in the country.
The digitally-enabled micro-playschool programme is a first for South Africa and enables teachers to set up their own playschools at home under the Play Sense banner, with its award-winning imaginative play-centred curriculum for preschoolers as its primary drawcard. It has now become one of the first programmes of its kind to be accredited by the Department of Social Development as a registered early childhood development (ECD) programme in terms of the Children's Act.
The business was founded by early childhood expert and author Meg Faure, who also founded the well-known Baby Sense brand, and fellow occupational therapist and educator Lara Schoenfeld, who also founded the successful Nanny ‘n Me franchise. Faure is CEO and Melissa Cumming, previously the MD of ecommerce business Bloomable, is COO.
“Our evidence-based curriculum follows the Vygotskian theory of development which says that guided imagination-based play is the best way to equip kids with the core capacities they need to thrive in a changing world, including self-regulation, executive function, creativity, collaboration and learning readiness,” said Faure.
“Our accreditation by the department is an important validation of the quality of both our educational programme and the innovative business model that underpins it. We’re excited about expanding the programme across South Africa this year and globally in the near future - and in the process bringing the ECD space into the sharing economy as a solution to some of the most pressing challenges faced by children, parents and teachers in the world today. This kind of schooling really is the way of the future.”
The Play Sense team raised R8.25-million in early-stage funding from USA-based Enygma Ventures in April. The private investment fund focuses on investing in women-led social impact businesses in Southern Africa. The Africa Trust Group is its local implementation partner.
The Play Sense franchise model was founded to provide high quality, cost-effective ECD business opportunities for teachers and qualified caregivers who want to run world-class preschools from homes. The model is designed for groups of up to six children between the ages of two to four to come together to play and learn in a safe home-based environment for three to five days of the week.
The franchise stable currently accommodates more than 30 groups in the Western Cape, Gauteng, KZN and online, but it is gearing to scale to 200 in-home groups and 15 online groups, as well as to have its global expansion playbook bedded down by the end of 2021.
The startup successfully pivoted at the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis in South Africa to offer parents and teachers an online learning environment as well. It was this online move that ensured its funding from Enygma, whose investors wanted to see Play Sense scale and roll out its new tech platform in response to the boom in demand for online, independent home-based schools during the pandemic, and empower women entrepreneurs in the process. With the online model, the teacher undergoes the same training but can run an online school for up to 12 families who check in virtually twice a day while teaching their own children at home.
“All our teachers are trained in both online and in-home education so that they can adapt as situations change. We just don’t know what 2021 holds, so we have to be flexible,” said Faure.
“What makes Play Sense unique is that it is such a cost-effective and scalable model for highly progressive preschool education - something that the market has been asking for and that will empower lots of women who are passionate about ECD to become entrepreneurs who make an impact in their communities. They can now set up schools that offer exceptional education to learners, without the high overheads of a school building because they can use their existing and under-utilised assets, their homes, instead. The fact that they work with a fully developed curriculum and fully equipped starter kit also saves them time and money, and ensures that a specific standard of education can be upheld,” said Faure.
The Play Sense curriculum is aligned with UNICEF’s National Curriculum Framework (NCF), Early Learning Developmental Areas (ELDAS), National Early Learning Development Standards (NELDs) and Operational Norms and Standards for preschool education.