Skip to main content

Kids Collab: Reflections on our pathway to Open Education

23 February 2024

Kids Collab's Early Strides into Open Education

Over the next few months, this series will share some insight into Kids Collab’s current pilot project in South Africa with the Gauteng Department of Education, in partnership with NBA. We hope that this series will not only share information about our journey so far but also provide some insight into how small startups can create and deliver impactful education programmes that are both accessible and free to the end user.

Who is Kids Collab?

It’s probably best that we go back to the beginning to provide some context. Kids Collab was started by Whitney Richardson and Rachel McMahon. We have known each other for the last 16 years, a friendship built on a love for sport, travel, and kids! Rachel, a biokineticist by profession, has an interest in enhancing children's gross motor abilities, while Whitney, an interior architect, has done extensive research on how space can manipulate and influence human behaviour. Together we envisioned designing school spaces that naturally stimulated and improved children’s physical activity levels and development. 

Our journey gained momentum in 2019 in Melbourne, Australia, when we had an opportunity to conduct research with ten nursery schools, testing the gross motor skills of over a thousand children. The results were eye opening, setting the stage for our venture. By the start of 2020 we were overwhelmed with the excitement of starting a business; let’s just say that naivety is a wonderful thing but without it, we would probably not be here today. 

Upon our return home from our three-month stint in Australia, unforeseen challenges emerged. Navigating the hurdles of visas and the sudden impact of COVID, we channelled our energy into developing content alongside healthcare professionals. Armed with a digital platform developed during lockdown, we envisioned Kids Collab as the next ed-tech startup, poised to help schools prioritise physical activity and well-being. If there are two things we do not lack it is endless passion for what we do and the uncanny ability to dream big. 

Over the following two years, we had countless meetings with schools, corporations, and organisations. Despite securing contracts with a few schools, our trajectory did not align with the fast-growing ed-tech solution we had envisioned. However, a fortuitous encounter with Neil Butcher (NBA’s director) during one of our routine runs with a local running club triggered a transformative shift in our perspective.

Opening up access to our resources

Neil posed a thought-provoking question: had we ever considered making our programme scalable through openly accessible resources? Over the proceeding few months, Neil played a pivotal role in guiding us as we developed a proposal to pilot our Kids Collab Programme, aiming to showcase its scalability through open educational resources (OER).

Amidst the initial excitement of OER, we must admit that we had a wave of scepticism wash over us. The pressing question lingered: how could we possibly sustain ourselves if we were giving away our intellectual property and resources for free? This scepticism remained. During this period, we were earnestly attempting to sell and launch our ed-tech solution in schools in both South Africa and the UK. However, we encountered formidable barriers such as rigid education frameworks, tight budgets, and competing priorities. We realised that education systems were lagging, treating play and movement as supplementary rather than integral components of learning. 

These challenges, along with our more recent exposure to other projects in Africa, prompted a crucial shift in our perspective. We began pondering the fate of those outside the privileged circle who could readily afford our solution. Our growing involvement in grassroots projects exposed us to lower-resourced communities in South Africa and Botswana, who are working tirelessly with minimal resources. Observing these organisations and these communities’ unwavering determination to create change sparked a profound understanding of the transformative impact that the Kids Collab Programme could have. We revisited the concept of OER, with Neil and his team graciously addressing our myriad of questions. Slowly but surely, we wrapped our heads around the idea that open licensing could catapult our programme into the hands of a much larger audience, where impact mattered more than profit margins.

Piloting the Kids Collab Programme in Gauteng

And so here we are, amidst a six-month pilot project for the Gauteng Department of Education involving the adaptation and development of the existing Kids Collab School Programme, comprehensive onboarding of early years educators through in-person training sessions, and continual support for educators. During the pilot phase, each Early Childhood Development (ECD) centre is actively engaging in weekly Kids Collab activities, using the programme's hardcopy handbooks and equipment packs. Kids Collab will conduct site visits, and progress assessments, and employ monitoring and evaluation tools to assess the impact of the programme on both the educator’s knowledge around the topics of physical activity and well-being as well as the children's gross motor skill development. 

NBA has helped us understand the concept of OER, while playing a crucial role in the success of the pilot project by contributing expertise and support in various key areas. 

These roles have included project proposal development, financial management, ensuring efficient use of funds received from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, as well as collaborating in the development of monitoring and evaluation tools. Furthermore, NBA facilitates the sharing of resources and research findings on relevant platforms, such as the Early Learning Resource Network (ELRN) and NBA's website, aligning with their commitment to creating supportive and empowered education systems worldwide. (You can view our materials for this pilot project on the Early Learning Resource Network here.)

In this upcoming blog series, we invite you to join us on a retrospective journey through pivotal moments that have shaped Kids Collab. From our transition from a for-profit to a non-profit organisation, to the challenges and triumphs of discovering the power of OER, we'll share our insights and learnings. Stay tuned to hear about our partnership with the government, our current pilot project's progress, and our vision for the future, emphasising the critical role of teacher autonomy. Additionally, we'll provide reflections on our diverse initiatives, including partnerships with organisations like Change X and the Lego Foundation.