The Luminos Fund’s program in Ethiopia was featured by TV5 Monde Afrique! The video report profiles Luminos student Wetise, and gives viewers a look inside a Luminos classroom, our unique joyful learning model, and some of the factors keeping children out of school. Watch the video segment (in French) here or by clicking the image below.
Showing Up, Raw Data, and Logistics: 3 Lessons on Conducting a Successful Baseline Evaluation in Ghana
Ernesta Orlovaitė is Associate Director of Programs at the Luminos Fund. Ernesta oversees the design and delivery of Luminos’ program in Ghana, collaborating closely with the government and local implementing partners. She also guides Luminos’ efforts to strengthen its capacity for data-based decision-making and drive better outcomes for our students. Previously, Ernesta worked as a Product Manager at Google, leading product design and development teams in Switzerland and Japan.
Launching an education program in a new country is an unforgettable experience. As a seemingly endless list of tasks gets shorter, emails and calls give way to something much more tangible: printing primers, delivering teacher training, and, finally, ushering excited children to the classrooms for their first lesson. The first day in class is the singular focus in the weeks and months before program launch – getting everything ready just in time is a monumental undertaking.
Yet at the same time, the first day is just that – the first day in a long journey of learning to read, write, and do basic maths; of learning to learn; and of falling in love with it. In that journey, every day matters. It’s that journey, joyful and child-centered, that transports Luminos students from zero to functional literacy and numeracy in just one school year.
On March 8, 2022, as dusk fell over the hills of Ashanti, Ghana, where we celebrated the launch of the Luminos program to 1,500 out-of-school children, we were already thinking about our next big goal: an external evaluation of our first year in Ghana.
Kicking off an independent program evaluation in Ghana
In Ghana, we are lucky to be working with an experienced local partner, Educational Assessment and Research Centre (EARC). In 2015, EARC, together with Ghana Education Service and RTI International, administered the national Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) and Early Grade Mathematics Assessment (EGMA) to more than 7,000 Primary 2 pupils in twelve languages across all ten regions of the country.
We knew we’d want to use the national assessment instruments to evaluate our program. These instruments have been extensively tested and translated to Asante Twi: the language of instruction in Luminos classrooms this year. Using them would also allow us to compare our student progress against learning achievements in formal schools. But we also knew that Luminos classrooms are, in several important ways, different from government schools, making assessment delivery significantly more challenging. So, we got involved – and here’s what we learned.
Lesson 1: Attend enumerator training and provide rapid feedback
EARC ran a five-day enumerator training in Kumasi, the capital of Ashanti, the week before data collection started. Under the guidance of field coordinators, enumerators visit classrooms to administer EGRA/EGMA and record student responses.
Enumerator training is a critical component of the data collection process, so the day after our program officially launched, I arrived at the Bethel Methodist Primary School to observe a practice EGRA/EGMA delivery to Grade 2 students. After the first round, I had several pages worth of feedback and so did the two field coordinators from EARC. Huddling together in an empty classroom, we discussed our reflections from that first attempt.
Some mistakes the enumerators made were mundane and would go away with further practice. For example, with students facing enumerators, several indicated the wrong direction of reading – from right to left. In the second attempt, not a single enumerator repeated the mistake.
A more serious issue – and one that’s difficult to catch when you don’t speak the language of assessment – was not sticking to the assessment script. With the two field coordinators fluent in Asante Twi, however, we identified and addressed the problem right away. As one of the coordinators emphatically put it while pointing at the enumerator manual, “Read this, and you will go to heaven.”
Knowing that EARC is an experienced partner, and seeing most enumerators administer EGRA/EGMA with fluency and precision, I wasn’t too concerned about the technical aspects of the evaluation. What worried me was how our students would experience the assessment.
Luminos works with some of the most vulnerable children in Ashanti. A typical student enrolled in our program would be an 11-year-old who is unable to read even the simplest of words. She might have been kept out of school because her family could not afford a school uniform. She might be tired because that morning she had been working on the family farm. She might be distracted because she hadn’t had lunch before coming to class. The experiences of Luminos children are very different from those of 11-year-olds at the Bethel Methodist Primary School. Few children enjoy assessments. I was worried our students would hate them and fail to demonstrate the extent of their true knowledge.
As the day progressed, I demonstrated the behaviours that I observed and wanted to correct, celebrated behaviours I wanted to replicate, told heart-warming stories about our students, and gave passionate elevator pitches on rapport building. I might have overdone it, but that’s a small price to pay if, in return, our children showed off all their skills and had fun while doing so.
As I continued observing enumerators, I kept bringing it up – the importance of building rapport with the student, of making the assessment feel like a (granted, rather boring) game, of creating a welcoming environment, and of treating Luminos children with the same level of respect the enumerators were treating each other and me. As the day progressed, I demonstrated the behaviours that I observed and wanted to correct, celebrated behaviours I wanted to replicate, told heart-warming stories about our students, and gave passionate elevator pitches on rapport building. I might have overdone it, but that’s a small price to pay if, in return, our children showed off all their skills and had fun while doing so.
Lesson 2: Get access to raw data and analyse it daily
EARC used Tangerine, a mobile data collection tool, to record EGRA/EGMA observations in our classrooms. There are numerous advantages to using tablets in data collection, including a significantly higher data quality. No more fiddling with timers or trying to decipher the overly confusing question skip logic. A wonderful side effect of using digital tools is the opportunity to analyse data daily to identify and immediately address issues in assessment administration.
A wonderful side effect of using digital tools is the opportunity to analyse data daily to identify and immediately address issues in assessment administration.
In fact, raw data can be analysed even before assessments start. With practice at the Bethel Methodist Primary School completed, we walked back to the training venue for the first assessor accuracy test. All 20 enumerators completed the same assessment delivered by the two field coordinators. By the time I reached Accra the next morning, I had everything I needed to perform a quick enumerator accuracy analysis.
After three days of training, our enumerators had an average accuracy rate of 92%. With the 2015 national EGRA/EGMA accuracy goal of 90%, my initial impressions of the experience of the EARC team were confirmed. They were doing well and would do even better by the time training finished.
Digging deeper into the accuracy data, I noticed a few interesting patterns. EGRA, it turns out, is significantly more challenging to administer than EGMA (90% and 97% enumerator accuracy, respectively), with the phonemic awareness subtask, at an appalling 69% accuracy rate, giving everyone a headache. On the other hand, having worked with challenging EGRA/EGMA data before, I was pleased with the highly consistent task timings. If we are to scale the raw non-word reading scores by time-to-completion, we better trust that the time-to-completion metric is accurate – and now I knew we could.
That night, I shared my reflections and the names of the 2-3 enumerators who needed individual support with the EARC team. The next day, my feedback was incorporated into the training.
Once assessments began in our classrooms, I continued analysing the raw data. Rather than trying to gain insights into the baseline learning achievements of our students, I scoured for issues with the data that the EARC team could address right away. As I shared my reflections with field coordinators (“I rather doubt there were 256 boys present in our classroom in Aframso”), they were passing the feedback along to the assessors. We did end up with one more classroom recording the attendance of 207 boys (again, a typo), but I expect we would have seen quite a few more if not for the quick feedback loop.
Lesson 3: Don’t underestimate logistical challenges
As enumerator training finished, my “build rapport” mantra gave way to a fixation on logistics. Our classrooms are very different from a typical primary school in Ashanti. We work in some of the most marginalised communities – many don’t have a phone signal, some can only be reached by a motorbike (and it better not rain!), and few can be found on the map. Visiting 60 remote classrooms in five days is a tall order when merely finding these communities can be a challenge.
Our goal was to ensure that the EARC team completes the assessment in five days. That weekend, Angie Thadani (Luminos Senior Director of Programs) and I sat down and listed all the different ways data collection might go wrong, from enumerators not being able to reach teachers over the phone (definitely happened) to them failing to reach the assigned communities (also definitely happened). For each issue, no matter how outlandish, we identified a solution (or three). By the end of the day, we had a Plan B, a Plan C, and a set of simple mechanisms to improve the chances of Plan A succeeding.
The single most effective solution was connecting people. Nothing beats a phone call (once it finally goes through) in which the supervisor tells the enumerator how to get to the community, where to stop and ask for directions, and what kind of vehicle is needed to traverse the terrain. In low-connectivity contexts, WhatsApp is another must-have tool, great for planning the next day’s classroom visits once everyone’s back at the base.
The single most effective solution was connecting people. Nothing beats a phone call (once it finally goes through) in which the supervisor tells the enumerator how to get to the community, where to stop and ask for directions, and what kind of vehicle is needed to traverse the terrain.
Flexibility is another key ingredient. For example, our teachers and supervisors worked together to start teaching earlier in the day where possible (in Ghana, Luminos classes take place in formal school buildings and thus start in the afternoon once the other students have departed) so that EARC assessors would not have to travel after dark. As assessors became more familiar with the landscape, data collection schedules changed as well – on some days, a single team might assess two classrooms, while on others, reaching a single community could take hours and hours.
Finally, when all else fails, there’s luck. I planned to observe the first day of assessments, arranging to meet EARC assessors in Abotreye at midday. Abotreye is not the hardest-to-reach community we work in. Nevertheless, to get there in time, I had to get up at 3AM, spend hours in a (thankfully air-conditioned) car, and even push it on a particularly bad strip of the road. But I made it to Abotreye in time. The assessors, however, didn’t. Luck came afterwards – I ran into them a few hours later, alone with their backpacks (with no vehicle in sight), seemingly pondering their options. We picked them up, drove them to the nearest classroom, and left a few hours later as they were finishing the day’s work.
Working with such a strong evaluation partner was an incredible experience. The Luminos Fund knew we could trust EARC to deliver high-quality EGRA and EGMA in our classrooms in Ghana. But we also knew that the context we work in is unusual.
Informed by our understanding of the unique features of our classrooms and guided by their extensive experiences of administering learning assessments in Ghana, EARC completed the Luminos EGRA/EGMA baseline in time. We are yet to receive the final dataset and the accompanying report, but the raw data is already telling a story – one that we will share next time.
This month, Luminos expanded our catch-up education programs to Ghana, serving 1,500 formerly out-of-school children in the Ashanti region. In the second installment of the series, “Luminos Leaders,” we are sharing the story of Ghana Country Director, Ethel Sakitey, who led our program launch in Ghana. You can read part one of the series featuring Liberia Country Manager, James Earl Kiawoin, here.
Q: Tell us a bit about your background. Did you grow up in Ghana? What was your own education like?
I grew up here and I’ve had all my education in Ghana. My mother was a teacher, and my father worked for the Ministry of Education—I come from a teaching kind of family. I completed my secondary education and then went on to university. I really love languages. In my first university program, I wanted to study French, Spanish, and then International Relations.
Later, I changed to pursue Social Work and Sociology where I had the opportunity to serve a number of organizations through internships and learnt about supporting underprivileged or marginalized groups. That was how I began working within the not-for-profit/NGO sector. My experience working within the sector has taught me and helped me to understand the fact that people are authors of their own development. People already know what to do to change their situation, but sometimes they just need a little bit of a push. “A little light” can push them forward in life.
My experience working within the [NGO] sector has taught me and helped me to understand the fact that people are authors of their own development. People already know what to do to change their situation, but sometimes they just need a little bit of a push.Ethel Sakitey
Q: The core of our mission at the Luminos Fund is education. Why education is important to you?
For me, education is about transformation. It’s about the development of people. When people become aware of their own situation and their circumstances, they are better able to address them when they have an education. I’ve realized that when people have even a little education, they can take care of themselves better. If we can provide education to all our girls and women, we can reduce the number of maternal deaths and teenage pregnancies. People who get an education can earn better incomes and come back and support their respective communities.
If we can get all our children in school from now on, I believe the next 10 or 20 years will bring a lot of transformation to the way we think about and address so many issues in Ghana; whether it’s nutrition, road safety, child protection, or care for individuals living with disabilities. Education will help us to be more empathetic towards one another and therefore resolve these issues much quicker. Education makes us better people irrespective of who we are or where we are coming from. That’s how I feel about education.
I believe every child in Ghana should be given the opportunity to have an education in line with our Free Compulsory Universal Basic Education (FCUBE) policy. Let’s not forget the marginalized ones and our gifted or talented children who may have dropped out of school because they couldn’t fit into our current system of education. Some of them may have learning differences and other challenges that made them drop out. We need to better understand these children and support them. We all must make it a point to get every child an education. If they get better, Ghana will become even better in the future.
Education makes us better people irrespective of who we are or where we are coming from.Ethel Sakitey
Q: What makes Ghana special? What do you love about the country?
Oh, I love Ghana! I love our culture. I think Ghanaians just love people, we have a good sense of humor and are very peaceful as well. We are very hard working. Ghana is a bit unique because we place a lot of emphasis on our culture. In Ghana, a child doesn’t just belong to their biological parent alone: the child belongs to the community and communities support each other in raising children, although this is changing in modern times. Ghanaians are religious, and I hope we can use our fear of God to transform our communities and eradicate poverty and illiteracy. In Ghana, we love our food, and our visitors love it too. We love fabrics and fashion—and we love to add a lot of color to everything, that is Ghana for you!
Q: Why did you decide to join the Luminos Fund team?
I attended a webinar talking about work that Luminos was doing and the fact they were going to start in Ghana. After that presentation, I decided to read a little bit about the organization. I know we [Ghana] are struggling when it comes to reading and numeracy at the lower grade levels, but it’s even worse for children who have dropped out or who have never been to school.
Looking at all the stages in my career, I have had the opportunity to learn a lot within the education ecosystem (early childhood education, girls’ education, child protection, school health education programs, play-based learning, teacher professional development, etc.), but interventions focused on out-of-school children and children who have never been to school is a new area for me. I wanted to learn a bit more about how these children are supported to get back to school. I believe education can transform the lives of these children and give them a second chance in life. I know education can help them identify their God-given talents and use them effectively for the growth and development of our country. I thought that this is one area that I would like to learn and understand more. How do we help these children? How do we better support them?
I like the approach that Luminos has used while moving into Ghana: trying to understand what Ghana was already doing and not reinventing the wheel. I also like the fact that Luminos started off by partnering with the Ministry of Education at the policy level and engaging with actors on the ground, right down to the villages, to understand what the local needs are. I am glad we are working with the existing system. We are not changing anything; we are only bringing innovations and additional elements that would enrich what Ghana as a country is already doing through the Complementary Basic Education policy and programs.
Q: What’s your favorite part of your role?
I’m looking forward to monitoring classes in the communities! We’ve just launched classes and I’m looking forward to learning how it’s going to go. I want to see how young teachers are supporting learners. I also want to see how best to help the teachers better incorporate play-based learning, social and emotional learning, and a sense of personal and social responsibility in classroom activities. These elements should be incorporated in the learning so that we are not just building an individual with knowledge, but we are also building a complete human being; people who have respect for themselves and for others as well.
I’m also looking forward to engaging with parents to see how they can support these children. I am excited that we are looking at our work using a socio-ecological approach: building an effective ecosystem of support for the child. So, we have teachers, supervisors, coordinators, parents, and community leaders, and then we have other stakeholders—NGOs, etc.—all the influencers working together to support that out-of-school child who is at the center of this ecosystem. All those touchpoints need to intervene collectively so we can have a better impact on the child.
Q: What are you most excited for in the year ahead at the program rolls forward in Ghana?
We have a few reading goals because children enter the Luminos program essentially unable to read. I’m also looking forward to incorporating other elements—parental engagement, formative and regular assessments, and supportive monitoring are all very important to me. And, of course, making sure the children are enjoying and loving their classes.
Q: Can you describe your favorite moment from the Luminos launch events this month?
One of my favorite moments was when the Board Chair of School for Life [one of Luminos’ partners in Ghana] talked about how he was also out of school as a child. It took an intervention—just like Luminos—to help him get back to school. If it had not been for that intervention, he didn’t think he would have had an education, let alone become the Board Chair of School for Life. For me that story is very inspiring.
Q: What else inspires you?
I get inspired when I see people making an effort to improve their lives. Where possible, we should all support one another so we can all continue to learn, grow, and become better people. I get inspired when I put myself in the shoes of others to see how difficult their situation is sometimes, and this urges me to help. I believe that’s what gives me the passion to work for and with disadvantaged and marginalized groups.
I get inspired when I see people making an effort to improve their lives. Where possible, we should all support one another so we can all continue to learn, grow, and become better people.Ethel Sakitey
Q: What inspires you about the Luminos Fund?
A lot inspires me about Luminos. I like the mission in itself: that everybody deserves a second chance at education. I believe God has a purpose for every individual, and we therefore don’t have to give up on any human being. Every individual has something to offer to planet Earth. Everyone has something to contribute if given the opportunity and the chance to learn, to sharpen their skills as well as their God-given talents. Some children are excited to read, and others just want to listen. Others just want to do things with their hands. All these different learning styles should be taken into consideration in order to really support our learners to stay in school and to enjoy learning. God has provided a talent to every child. At Luminos, we bring out the light in that child. It’s a big gift to Ghana.
Everybody has the capability to learn, and they just need a little push. That’s why we are here.
To learn more about Luminos’ work in Ghana, visit our Ghana page.
Last week on March 8, the Luminos Fund launched in Ghana. Our new classrooms serve 1,500 formerly out-of-school children in the Ashanti region and will scale to serve tens of thousands more in the years ahead. Our team is overjoyed. We could not have done this without all our generous supporters and advisors!
Ashanti is home to the second largest population of primary-school-aged out-of-school children in Ghana but has received little support historically. Child labor in the cocoa sector, in addition to other socio-economic factors and COVID-19, has kept many children out of school. Our mission is to ensure that vulnerable children everywhere can experience joyful learning and catch up. In places like Ashanti, this has never been more relevant.
The Luminos program in Ghana marries the Ghanaian Ministry of Education’s Complementary Basic Education curriculum with core Luminos classroom methods to deliver transformative education for children who have been kept out of school. In nine months, our students will learn to read, write, and do math. Luminos will support their transition to continue their education at local government schools.
We look forward to giving Ghana’s out-of-school children a second chance at education. Please follow us along this journey! Thank you for supporting Luminos in our mission to create a world no child is denied the chance to learn.
Highlights from our Ghana launch events:
“It is all the more special that we are launching our program on International Women’s Day. Today we are ensuring that girls, along with boys, have a second chance at education.”
Ethel Sakitey, Ghana Country Director, the Luminos Fund
“There are no greater riches than education. Your land can burn down. But no one can take away your education.”
Community elder in Bosome Freho, Ghana
To learn more about our Ghana program, click here.
To support our programs, click here.
The Luminos Fund is expanding to help more out-of-school children catch up than ever before. Our country leaders are spearheading this effort: a group of dynamic, knowledgeable, and dedicated individuals who live and breathe our mission to ensure all children experience joyful learning. In this new series, “Luminos Leaders,” we will share their stories with you, starting with Liberia Country Manager, James Earl Kiawoin.
Q: Tell us a bit about your background. Did you grow up in Liberia?
I was born in Liberia in the middle of the civil war. Then my family went to the Ivory Coast and Ghana where we were refugees for two years before coming back to Liberia. I started primary school in the Ivory Coast but continued the rest of my education in Liberia where I finished high school at age 14. I was too young to do anything, so I went to the African Leadership Academy (ALA) for another two years. ALA is a pan-African prep school meant to develop the next generation of African leaders. ALA was a real game-changer in terms of what my life could have been and what it became after that. It was the first time that I got access to real, proper education—global education that was preparing me with a skill set and a mindset dedicated to social change and social justice. With ALA, there was a mission around preparing students to go back to their homes and do actual work to advance their communities.
Growing up in Liberia, many of my friends’ parents couldn’t afford to send them to school. Or kids would go to school, and they weren’t interested or motivated and would stop going. As a child, I didn’t understand the gender dynamics, culture factors, or financial issues. I just thought, oh, they don’t want to go to school because school’s boring. Today, I’m able to step back and understand those dynamics: the fact that if the public school systems are not strong, parents will think that their kids are better off staying on the farm. In most of the communities Luminos serves in Liberia, there’s no real no role model effect. Kids don’t see people graduate from high school and so school doesn’t make sense to them because they haven’t seen anyone do it.
Q: What makes Liberia special? What do you love about the country?
When you trace the history of Liberia back to free slaves returning to a place they knew nothing about—there’s this sense of daring and entrepreneurship in the Liberian spirit. That’s one of the things that’s always brought me back to Liberia.
When I was growing up, before attending ALA, I had no idea that I could do anything meaningful for Liberia. It was just: you go to school, you try to survive the war, you just try to eat and live. When I went to ALA, that was the first time that I actually realized that there’s something we can do in this country. We can change the narrative for children who come after me. We can help build the national education system. We can help build systems across all sectors to do good for people!
Q: The core of our mission at the Luminos Fund is education. Tell us more about your own education. Why education is important to you?
After completing the ALA program, I did my undergrad at Colorado College in Political Science. I went back to Liberia to work for two years on the Ebola crisis and then returned to the States for a master’s degree in Public Affairs with a focused on international development from Princeton’s School of Public and International Affairs. I’ve been really, really fortunate with all the places I’ve gone to school.
For me, education opens doors for people to cultivate their own potential and innate talent. For most families in Liberia, there’s no other pathway out of their current situation. The way you pull yourself out of poverty, for the most part, is to go to school and get a job to take care of your family. For the longest parts in Liberia’s history, people have not been able to go to school because of the war or their family didn’t have the resources. It’s really important that we are able to create access to high quality education so that people can do things for their families and in their own communities.
Q: Why did you decide to join the Luminos Fund team?
It was a combination of a personal desire to help Liberia, and also knowing that I could do more at scale, even through a small organization. The Luminos Fund is so different from previous parts of my career that focused on strategy and were far removed from day-to-day implementation. At Luminos, I’m actually in the field once a week; talking to Abba [Luminos Liberia’s Program Manager], talking to parents, and talking to teachers. There was an appeal to being in direct communication with those who are benefitting from the program. It’s a very dynamic job. At Luminos, every day there’s something new from government engagement to people management and trying to ensure the motorbikes run!
Q: What’s your favorite part of your role?
I love being able to see the students in class and learning. The teachers are there, classrooms have the proper materials, and there’s all this chanting going on and active, play-based learning.
At the front of everybody’s mind is that we have to ensure that these children are reading and writing properly, and that they can transition to traditional schools. Whenever you enter Luminos classrooms that’s on the fullest display: everyone is so committed to helping these kids learn how to read and develop the desire to learn.
Q: What inspires you?
The will of individuals to craft big societal change is really inspiring. Whenever I come across those people who are willing to ask hard questions or to put it all on the line to solve hard problems, it’s really inspiring.
Q: What inspires you about the Luminos Fund?
This commitment to excellence. Watching Folley and Emmanuel [Luminos Libera Program Associates] in the field, seeing them coach the teachers, and do the running records, it’s very visible that everyone wants these kids to succeed. Everyone really buys into the vision that every child can learn, and our job is to ensure we teach them how to learn.
At Luminos, everyone’s actions reflect our mission. When we’re collecting receipts to ensure that we’re good stewards of our resources, it’s reflecting that mission because, if we can do more with this money, more children can learn. When we’re tweaking the curriculum based on feedback or driving consistent use of data to improve program outcomes, it’s all geared toward that simple vision that children should be reading; that they should be in school in order to cultivate their potential.
To learn more about Luminos’ work in Liberia, visit our Liberia page.