More than a Classroom

More than a Classroom

By: Angie Thadani

In June, I travelled to Lebanon to plan for our program’s 2022-2023 school year. Being relatively new to the Luminos Fund, I was excited to visit our Lebanon classrooms for the very first time and meet with our students, teachers, and community partners.  I know how impactful a classroom can be for children who have experienced war, displacement, and suffering from my time leading the United Nations Relief and Works Agency’s emergency education program in Lebanon.

In places like Lebanon, classrooms are much more than a place to learn. They can often be the only source of safety, stability, and community that children know. Since 2017, Luminos has been working with community-based organizations to support out-of-school Syrian refugee children in Lebanon —both academically and emotionally— so they can catch up to grade level in safe, welcoming classrooms and prepare to advance into Lebanese government schools.

Angie Thadani, Luminos Senior Director of Programs

In places like Lebanon, classrooms are much more than a place to learn. They can often be the only source of safety, stability, and community that children know.

Looking out from the plane window and seeing the Beirut skyline, my excitement turned to apprehension. Lebanon has come to be a second home for me, filled with special memories. I had a picture of what Lebanon was in my mind that I was anxious to preserve. Lebanon is no stranger to crisis. It has experienced over 15 years of war, occupation, and several rounds of economic and political collapse. However, to me, the country and its people have always exuded an extraordinary resilience and hope that has made Lebanon feel so special. I was nervous to see what friends had described as a “drained and changed” Lebanon.  

%

of Lebanon's population has been pushed into poverty

Syrian refugees live in Lebanon

The last three years of economic crisis, compounded by COVID-19, the 2020 Beirut Port explosions, and political instability has pushed over 80% of the population into poverty, with disproportionate consequences for Syrian refugees. Lebanon, home to the largest number of refugees per capita, hosts an estimated 1.5 million Syrian refugees. The UN estimates that nine out of ten Syrian refugees are living in extreme poverty.

I spent my first evening visiting my Syrian friend Mariam and her family. On my way to Mariam’s home, the streets seemed unfamiliar. Usually bustling with activity, neighborhoods were now eerily quiet and dark. So many of my favorite places had shut down.

Mariam shared how difficult the last few years have been for her: “I’ve never seen the situation this bad before. I do not know one person who hasn’t felt the impact of the last few years,” she sighed sadly.

The sharp devaluation of the Lebanese pound has made basic food items out of reach. Mariam has had to make hard choices about when and how to feed her family, and each day brings new unknowns. With all the challenges she faces, Mariam still describes herself as one of the lucky ones—she has been able to send her children to school.

%

of Syrian refugee families had to stop their children’s education in 2021

In 2021, 35% of Syrian refugee families have had to stop their children’s education, and the barriers to education are only increasing. Public schools are overwhelmed and under-resourced, families can no longer afford transportation costs, and Syrian children lack the basic language, reading, and writing skills to join the education system.

As I listened to Mariam, I could not help but think about our students and the daily challenges they must also face. The next morning, I travelled to the Beqaa region to visit our classrooms. Beqaa is home to Lebanon’s largest number of registered refugees. I arrived just in time to see children pouring out of school buses, greeting their friends and teachers with smiles and giggles.

Against the backdrop of what had been a difficult evening with Mariam, entering our classrooms the next day felt like a different world. Walls were covered in colorful artwork and lessons were filled with laughter and song.

Teacher Taghreed and her students laughing.

Teacher Taghreed and her students laughing. Teachers like Taghreed work hard to create joyful classrooms that serve as an oasis for Syrian refugee students, providing a safe space to learn and play. (Photo: Chris Trinh for the Luminos Fund)

It was snack time when I entered one classroom, and a young boy named Ahmed greeted me excitedly in English. He offered me his seat and a bite of his sandwich, before wrapping part of it up to take home for his brother and sisters. His teacher, Layal, told me that Ahmed could not communicate in English at all a year ago. Ahmed grinned proudly and showed me his exercise book filled with notes and drawings about his family and friends. On days that Ahmed is not in the classroom, he works with his father. For up to 23 hours a day, Ahmed has no electricity in his home that he shares with two other families. Against the enormous challenges that he faces daily, it struck me how thoughtful, kind, and cheerful Ahmed was.

At Luminos, our first priority is ensuring the well-being of our students. Our teachers in Lebanon have invested much of the last year rebuilding good classroom practices that children had forgotten as a result of learning remotely during the COVID-19. So many children have had to be re-taught how to listen to others, how to share and care for each other, and most importantly, how to play and be children again.

In a context like Lebanon, finding precious moments to be a carefree child can be life-changing. Before saying goodbye to Ahmed, I asked him what he wanted to be in the future. He told me he wanted to be superhero. He flexed his muscles and said, “My teacher Layal tells me I am already strong, just like superman.” It was my turn to grin. Ahmed has shown me that in our classrooms, Lebanon’s resilience and hope is still very much alive and thriving.   

Ahmed has shown me that in our classrooms, Lebanon’s resilience and hope is still very much alive and thriving.

Meet some Luminos students in Lebanon!

Angie Thadani is a Senior Director of Programs at the Luminos Fund where she oversees the design and delivery of the Luminos program in different geographies, working in close collaboration with governments and our local community partners. Angie previously served as the Programs Manager at Dubai Cares, and as the Education in Emergency Programs Manager at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). There she led the implementation of the Agency’s emergency education response to the Syrian crisis and supported the integration of Palestine refugees from Syria into UNRWA’s education system in Lebanon. 

What the Average Hides

What the Average Hides

By: James Earl Kiawoin

At the Luminos Fund, our work is driven by a commitment to help children learn an incredible amount in a short time: three years of school in just 10 months. As the Country Manager for our Liberia program, my team and I set ambitious targets to ensure all our students build foundational learning skills — and we measure their progress along the way, in real-time, often using data averages to gain quick insights.

While averages are helpful, we’ve learned it is critical to dig deeper to uncover who might be falling behind and why, because addressing these subtle differences ensures no student is left behind.

James Earl Kiawoin, Luminos Liberia Country Manager

Proving that Every Child Can Learn

In Liberia, one of our most challenging targets for the 2021/22 academic year was that every student could read a minimum of 40 correct words per minute (WPM) after 10 months.

At the start of the year, internal baseline data showed that children were entering the program reading just one WPM on average. Only three months later, reading abilities varied quite dramatically (this is not necessarily surprising, given our students come from very different backgrounds).

2021-2022 Luminos Liberia reading fluency scores

Seven months into the school year, we were entering the final stretch. With just three months left, our team made one last push to ensure all students had a real chance to succeed and could move closer towards the goal of 40 WPM. We doubled down our efforts to understand who was struggling and why.

What Impacts Student Learning?

First, we looked at the data: There was remarkable progress compared to day one, but roughly 50% of students were reading below our benchmark of 30 WPM for this point in the program. Within this group, a majority of students were with new, first-year teachers.

Second, our community partners visited the classrooms to identify what other challenges might exist that data alone could not reveal. For example, were these students struggling because they lived in areas where English, the language of instruction, is not widely spoken? Was student attendance a challenge? Were parents and caregivers supportive and engaged? 

Overall, we needed to target different schools for different reasons, but the data helped Luminos and our community partners identify the classrooms with students falling behind and develop tailored strategies to support them and their teachers. This included a range of techniques:

    Providing more frequent and tailored support for new teachers:

    Our community partners in Liberia typically visit up to five classes a day. In order to better support new teachers, our partners began to spend more time in fewer classes, providing teachers with deeper, relevant, timely, and actionable feedback. One cross-cutting challenge they identified was related to phonics, breaking words down into sounds and combining letters to form words. This approach is not taught in Liberian government schools, and for most of our students, this was the first time they encountered phonics. For the same reasons, our newer teachers benefitted from additional training and support in this area.

    Sharing and discussing data with teachers:

    While data helps Luminos think about program design, training, and curriculum updates at a high level, teachers can use data daily to help them steer their approach in the classroom, understand which students are struggling, and continuously improve their craft.  Our community partners worked to share and discuss student assessment data with teachers, ensuring teachers were equipped with practical strategies to adjust their teaching to help all students learn joyfully and effectively.

    Providing additional one-to-one and small group support to students:

    During regular lesson times, teachers provided additional one-to-one support to students who were performing lowest in the weekly assessments. Teachers also paired higher-performing students with those who are lower performing so that they can help to provide additional support during lessons. Additionally, teachers identified students who would benefit from small group instruction that provided targeted lessons on specific skills.

    Regrouping students and teachers:

    In communities with more than one classroom, we moved students to other classes based on their reading level, usually having an experienced teacher available to ensure they can catch up more effectively.  

    The Results

    Looking back on the school year, there was no silver bullet — but there was a process, and that yielded significant learning improvements for our students. At the end of the school year, 67% of students were reading at or above 30 WPM—an increase of over 17% from month seven of the program—thanks to the efforts of our community partners, teachers, and yes – data.

    One of the joys of working at Luminos is that data is centrally important to us. It helps us identify challenges and respond to the needs on the ground in real-time.

    Luminos is constantly striving to find the right balance – not over-complicating what we ask community partners and teachers to do, but also having high expectations and aspirations for what we can and should be achieving for the benefit of our students.

    As I close in on one year at Luminos, I have learned that a hands-on approach to teacher training and a strong focus on collecting real-time data is key. Taken together with our passion for helping every child to succeed, we can support children everywhere to unlock the light of learning and fulfill their potential.

    Luminos is constantly striving to find the right balance – not over-complicating what we ask community partners and teachers to do, but also having high expectations and aspirations for what we can and should be achieving for the benefit of our students.

    James Earl Kiawoin is the Country Manager for the Luminos Fund in Liberia where he manages day-to-day operations, overall program delivery, government and stakeholder engagement, and supports staff development. Previously, James worked as a Strategy Consultant at Dalberg Advisors in Rwanda where he completed projects on higher education financing and digital ecosystem development including e-government services. 

    Teachers Transforming Education: Five Key Learnings from Luminos’ Event

    Teachers Transforming Education: Five Key Learnings from Luminos’ Event

    The Luminos Fund’s sixth annual U.N. General Assembly (UNGA) week luncheon event, “Teachers Leading in a Post-COVID World,” discussed innovative strategies to tackle the global teacher shortage and ensure teachers have the tools and training they need to help children become successful learners in a post-COVID world.

    The panel discussion, moderated by Luminos CEO, Caitlin Baron, included:

    • Dr. Andrew Cunningham, Aga Khan Foundation
    • Dr. Asyia Kazmi, OBE, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
    • Dr. Vongai Nyahunzvi, Teach for All

    The event also marked the launch of the Luminos Method – a new series of resources that combine the latest research with key practices and data from our work. The first three elements of the Luminos Method are available in interactive web and PDF formats, including Community Teachers, Teacher-Led Assessment, and Identify and Self-Belief.

    Against this backdrop, each panelist shared important insights on how teachers can be empowered to create an environment of transformational learning. Of the many valuable lessons they shared, here are five that stood out:

    1) We need to think differently about who can be a teacher, how we train them, and how we support them.

    “Teachers need ongoing support. It’s a contact sport. It’s a team sport. You cannot tell the teacher at the beginning of the year, ‘This is what you need to do for the rest of the year,’ and walk away.”

    Dr. Asyia Kazmi, OBE, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

    The world is facing a global teacher shortage, with UNESCO estimating that almost 69 million teachers need to be recruited to achieve universal education by 2030. The Community Teachers element of the Luminos Method is our response to this global challenge.

    Our experience shows that motivated people recruited from the same communities as our students can become great teachers for the early grades, provided they have quality training, practical written guidance, and ongoing in-classroom support.

    With a supportive environment, we believe community teachers can play a critical role in reaching the most vulnerable children and enabling them to catch up with their peers.

    2) Teachers can build a child’s confidence (and change their life).

    “I could have been a number.” – Dr. Vongai Nyahunzvi, Teach for All

    Instead, Dr. Nyahunzvi’s teacher said three powerful words that changed her life: “You are enough.”

    “I remember in that moment… she built something inside of me to a point that I became the first generation [in my family] to attain levels of education beyond grade seven,” said Dr. Nyahunzvi.

    How can we help students change their perceptions of themselves, build their confidence, and enable students to see themselves as successful learners, well-equipped to return to government schools? How do we ensure our teachers are building our students’ sense of self-belief and sending a clear message that all children can learn?

    The Identity & Self-Belief element of the Luminos Method describes how we address these challenges by building self-belief among our students,

    which in turn supports further successes in a virtuous circle that can continue throughout the students’ school career and beyond.

    3) Assessment is essential.

    “When I heard about Luminos and what you are able to do in nine months–that perhaps the public systems are not able to do in three years—I remember saying, ‘I bet you they have a really strong assessment-informed instruction principle.’ That means they’re using assessment information to understand where children are. They are then supporting the teachers to say, ‘Where do they need to be and how we can help you get there?’”

    Dr. Asyia Kazmi, OBE, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

    Luminos views regular assessment as an essential component of education that is truly learner-centered and based on individual needs. The Teacher-Led Assessment element of the Luminos Method highlights strategies to empower teachers to track their students’ progress using a mix of weekly assessments and informal techniques. Equipping teachers with simple assessment tools, along with the appropriate coaching and support, is essential to keep students’ learning on track.

    4) We must value and respect local cultures and communities.

    While teachers should have access to detailed lesson plans and curriculum, we also believe there should be flexibility for teachers to utilize their expertise and knowledge of the local culture and context. For example, at Luminos, reading materials, songs, games, and role-play are relevant to the children’s mother tongue and culture. Family members and other community figures participate in students’ learning as well.

    Learn more about ways Luminos works to ensure students feel their culture and identity is valued in the Identity & Self-Belief element of the Luminos Method.

    “When you think about what assets this community has—you think, there’s wisdom in the grandparents—and then by involving them in the schools, in the academic, it helps the kids learn and build from what they know.”

    Dr. Vongai Nyahunzvi, Teach for All

    5) All children can learn.

    “With the right skills and support, anyone can be anything.”

    Dr. Vongai Nyahunzvi, Teach for All

    All children should have equal access to joyful, foundational learning, especially those shut out of education by crisis, poverty, or discrimination. When given a second chance at education, children can learn, thrive, and succeed throughout their lives.

    Yet 70% of children in low- and middle-income countries cannot read a simple story. As a sector, we desperately need to extend our reach and provide quality education to the most vulnerable communities around the world. By sharing the Luminos Method, we move closer to making this possibility a reality. 

    Unlocking the Light

    The Luminos UNGA week event highlights that by providing teachers with simple, but effective tools, training, and support, teachers can be empowered to truly unlock the light of learning in children.

    “Teachers can own, lead, and inspire change.”

    Dr. Andrew Cunningham, Aga Khan Foundation

    BBC News Features the Luminos Fund in Ethiopia

    BBC News Features the Luminos Fund in Ethiopia

    BBC News Africa featured the Luminos Fund’s program in Ethiopia, highlighting how we address challenges of child labor by ensuring all children have equal access to joyful, foundational learning. Watch the segment to see inside our classrooms and hear from Dr. Alemayehu Hailu Gebre, Ethiopia Country Director & Regional Strategic Advisor for the Luminos Fund.

    A summary of their report was also shared on the BBC News Africa Facebook page.

    Luminos Awarded 2022 Klaus J. Jacobs Best Practice Prize

    Luminos Awarded 2022 Klaus J. Jacobs Best Practice Prize

    • The Luminos Fund, headquartered in the United States, recognized for catch-up education programs for out-of-school children in the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa, which have reached more than 172,000 children
    • The Luminos Fund is one of three Best Practice Prize recipients who will be awarded CHF 200,000 ($206,000) each at a ceremony taking place in Zurich on 30 September
    • They were selected from a shortlist of 10 finalists, all of whom will convene for a co-creation event, taking place on 1 October 2022, and are eligible for follow-on funding of up to CHF 150,000

    The Luminos Fund has been named a recipient of a CHF 200,000 ($206,000) Klaus J. Jacobs Best Practice Prize 2022. It is one of three best practice winners that are being honored for outstanding achievement and practice in advancing quality education.

    The two other recipients of this year’s Best Practice Prizes are the Luker Foundation, which provides reading programs for children in Colombia and Panama; and Youth Impact, a grassroots, youth-led movement that pioneered simple math tutorials by phone and text message in Botswana, India, Kenya, Nepal, Uganda, and the Philippines.

    The three Best Practice Prizes will be awarded at a ceremony in Zurich on 30 September 2022. The recipients were selected from a shortlist of 10 finalists, all of whom will convene for a co-creation event, taking place on 1 October 2022. They will exchange knowledge and ideas on advancing learning, and will have the opportunity to partner with other shortlisted applicants to develop proposals for new projects. Two concepts will receive follow-on funding of up to CHF 150,000 ($155,000) each.

    The Luminos Fund is being recognized for providing transformative education programs for out-of-school children aged 8-14 in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, helping them to catch up on three years of learning in just 10 months, then reintegrate into local government schools. Each year, over 90% of Luminos students advance to local government schools, and at least 75% remain in school after 12 months.

    With a focus on learning-through-play and assessment-led pedagogy, the Luminos Fund strives to make learning a joyful experience, to equip students with a positive outlook on education. The program is delivered through community-based partners whose capabilities Luminos helps build, support, and oversee. Classrooms are taught by high-potential local young adults who Luminos trains to teach, thereby fueling local education systems with much-needed trained resources.

    To date, the Luminos Fund has supported more than 172,000 children across Ethiopia, Ghana, Liberia, The Gambia, and Lebanon, and plans to reach an additional 200,000 students by 2024. They work with governments, advising on curriculum development, strategies, and national education policy.

    The Luminos Fund plans to invest the winning funds in supporting new programs in Ghana and expanding its operations in The Gambia. It will also launch the Luminos Method, a collection of best practices aimed at accelerating their vision of helping all children achieve foundational learning across the globe.

    Fabio Segura and Simon Sommer, co-CEOs of the Jacobs Foundation, said:

    “We want to warmly congratulate the Luminos Fund on being awarded a 2022 Klaus J. Jacobs Best Practice Prize. These prizes were created to showcase the groundbreaking work that businesses, social ventures, and non-profits all around the world are doing to ensure children have access to quality education. There is not a moment to lose. By bringing to light the evidence of what works we can use it to implement solutions that can be tailored to learners’ diverse individual needs.

    “We can’t wait to see what innovative ideas the Luminos Fund and our other 2022 Best Practice Prizes top 10 finalists are able to develop together at our co-creation event. With the deadline for SDG4 fast approaching, the education community must work together to jointly come up with solutions to ensure equitable education for all.”

    Caitlin Baron, CEO of the Luminos Fund, said:

    “We are so thrilled to receive this prestigious award, particularly as it is based on such rigorous criteria. We would like to thank the Jacobs Foundation for shining a light on the important work that organizations around the world are doing to advance education, and we look forward to exchanging ideas with all the amazing 2022 Best Practice Prize finalists.”

    Klaus J. Jacobs Best Practice Prizes

    Recipients must demonstrate outstanding achievement in advancing learning and education, and embrace variability in learning. Their projects should draw on scientific evidence, use a clear results framework, and must be sustainable, scalable, and financially viable. Finally, they must build on strong leadership and partner networks.

    In memory of its founder, the entrepreneur Klaus J. Jacobs, who passed away in 2008, the Jacobs Foundation presents two awards every other year for exceptional achievements in research and practice in the field of child and youth development and learning. The Klaus J. Jacobs Research Prize rewards scientific work that is highly relevant to society, and the Klaus J. Jacobs Best Practice Prizes honor exceptional commitment and innovative solutions of institutions or individuals.  

    Notes to editors:

    The Jacobs Foundation is active worldwide in promoting child and youth development and learning. The Foundation was founded in Zurich by entrepreneur Klaus J. Jacobs in 1989. As part of its Strategy 2030, it has committed 500 million Swiss francs to advance evidence-based ideas for learning, to support schools in offering quality education, and to transform education ecosystems around the world. https://jacobsfoundation.org/en/

     

    Media contact:

    Jacobs Foundation

    Alexandra Guentzer, Chief Communications Officer

    alexandra.guentzer@jacobsfoundation.org 

    Tel. + 41 (0) 79 821 74 29

     

    The Luminos Fund

    Michael Stulman, Director of Communications

    michael@luminosfund.org 

    Tel: + 1 667 289 7534

    71 Commercial Street, #232 | Boston, MA 02109 |  USA
    +1 781 333 8317   info@luminosfund.org

    The Luminos Fund is a 501(c)(3), tax-exempt charitable organization registered in the United States (EIN 36-4817073).

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