Luminos Welcomes New Members to Board of Directors and Advisory Board

Luminos Welcomes New Members to Board of Directors and Advisory Board

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE  

January 17, 2023 

Boston, Massachusetts – The Luminos Fund, an international nonprofit bringing education opportunities to the world’s most vulnerable children, is delighted to welcome two new board members who will help shape and scale the organization’s mission to ensure all children have equal access to joyful, foundational learning. Dr. Kwame Akyeampong has been appointed to the Luminos Board of Directors, and Dr. Aleesha Taylor is joining the Advisory Board. 

“We are thrilled to expand our boards with two new members who will bring valuable expertise and insights to our work,” said Caitlin Baron, CEO of the Luminos Fund. “Kwame and Aleesha have an enormous amount of experience that will help our programs have an even deeper and more meaningful impact on the lives of the most vulnerable out-of-school children, and I truly look forward to their partnership as our journey continues.” 

Kwame is Professor of International Education and Development at the Open University. He has over 25 years’ experience in education program evaluation, teacher education policy, education access, and equity with a focus on disadvantaged and marginalized groups in Sub-Saharan Africa. Kwame played a leading role in a longitudinal study of the Luminos flagship program in Ethiopia, and served on the Luminos Advisory Board from 2021-2022. 

“According to Sustainable Development Goal 4, we have just about seven years to ensure that all children have access to quality education and prevent the current learning crisis from deepening. However, this goal will not be achieved without paying more attention to the educational needs of out-of-school children. This is why I am particularly excited to be joining the Board at a time when Luminos is expanding its efforts to tackle this challenge,” said Kwame.   

He added, “I look forward to working with my fellow Board members to support Luminos as it continues to extend a second chance for out-of-school children to achieve their educational ambitions. Together we can make this happen.”

Dr. Kwame Akyeampong

Dr. Aleesha Taylor

Aleesha is the Principal of Herald Advisors, a consulting firm she founded to support leaders and organizations to thrive in the intersections of philanthropy, education, and international development. Aleesha previously served as the Deputy Director of the Open Society Foundations’ education program, where she managed a team across five countries to implement a global grant making portfolio that sought to strengthen education systems and civil society. 

Aleesha said, “Joining the Luminos Advisory Board is an exciting way to begin 2023!  Supporting an organization that effectively partners with governments to deliver and scale life-changing learning opportunities for vulnerable children is an opportunity that I do not take lightly. Luminos has created a model that enables education systems to fulfill national and global commitments. I’m grateful for the opportunity to support its continued growth.” 

To learn more about the Luminos boards and read member biographies, click here. 

Reading Wars Won’t Fix the Learning Crisis

Reading Wars Won’t Fix the Learning Crisis

By: Kirsty Newman, PhD, Vice President of Programs 

Luminos is thrilled to welcome Kirsty Newman, PhD, joining the team as Vice President of Programs. In this new role, Kirsty oversees the global programs team to support joyful, foundational learning for children at the margins. Before joining Luminos, Kirsty held senior leadership roles in various bilateral, multi-lateral, and non-governmental development organizations, focusing on education and evidence-informed policy making.

In a new podcast series from American Public Media Reports, Sold a Story: How Teaching Kids to Read Went So Wrong, journalist Emily Hanford highlights one of the longest-running education debates in the U.S. – how do we teach children how to read? 

While this might seem relevant only to education experts in the U.S., there are similarly fierce battles in the global education space, and we can all draw important lessons for education policies and practices. 

Worldwide, most children are not learning to read by age ten. In low-income countries, the proportion of kids who can’t read by the time they are 10 reaches 90%, and most children who cannot read by age ten never become fully literate.  

It is hard to overstate the impact of this learning crisis; every one of the Sustainable Development Goals will be challenging, if not impossible, to achieve if most young people are not even learning to read.  

The learning crisis has resulted from a long track record of underinvestment in education systems along with a tendency to focus more on school attendance than actual learning outcomes. As a result, poor-quality education has become self-perpetuating, with poorly-educated and often untrained teachers unable to provide high-quality teaching to their students.  

The podcast describes how many U.S. education experts position themselves in one of two opposing camps: those who believe in the “science of reading” and those who support “balanced literacy.” The first emphasizes the importance of teaching literacy through a gradual approach starting with letter recognition and then building up to the ability to read whole words and sentences. The other approach relies more on a child’s experience and context to understand texts. 

As set out in the podcast, there is clear evidence that phonics-based approaches are superior in enabling children to become fluent readers. It is necessary that the skills in decoding words become automatic so that cognitive capacity can be used for higher-order skills such as understanding, analyzing, and inferring. However, what shines through in the podcast is that people on both sides of the so-called reading wars have remarkably similar end goals.   

At Luminos, we have found that in education policy debates, it can be incredibly helpful to acknowledge this shared intent. Most people who work in this sector are passionate advocates for children. They want them to be safe from harm, to have the opportunity to experience the joy of learning, and to develop the skills they need to thrive.  

The great news is that Luminos has a track record demonstrating that it is possible to deliver all these things, even in low-resource settings. Our programs: 

  • Prioritize the safety and well-being of children, 
  • Draw on the science of teaching and iterate continually to achieve tangible impacts on foundational learning (particularly literacy and numeracy), and, 
  • Incorporate teaching approaches that are engaging and joyful. 

A Luminos student in Ethiopia completes a writing assignment. (Photo: Mekbib Tadesse for the Luminos Fund)

Our experience at Luminos proves that it is possible to focus on building foundational skills (particularly literacy and numeracy) in a way that also builds the foundations for broader skills, such as critical thinking and socio-emotional learning.  

We have an intensive, child-centered approach that has reached more than 172,957 children in Ethiopia, Ghana, Lebanon, Liberia, and The Gambia. Research shows Luminos students go on to complete primary school at twice the rate of their peers, consistently outperform peers by an average of 10% in English and Math, are happier and more confident, and have higher aspirations for their future. Children are achieving remarkable progress in learning to read, write, and do math during our one-year program. 

Debate and discussion are crucial, but the more we can work together to advance proven strategies for teaching reading skills, the more likely we are to overcome the learning crisis.

Luminos Liberia Students Make Substantial Literacy Gains in 2021-22

Luminos Liberia Students Make Substantial Literacy Gains in 2021-22

Read the full report summary ↑

In 2016, the Luminos Fund launched its accelerated, catch-up learning program in Liberia to help address the country’s urgent education needs – including one of the world’s highest recorded rates of out-of-school children. To date, Luminos has helped 12,650 Liberian children catch up on learning and reintegrate into local government schools. In addition, Luminos has trained 497 young adults on our pedagogy and model, and supported them to deliver the catch-up program in classrooms.

During the 2021-22 school year, the Luminos program increased children’s oral reading fluency (ORF) by 28 correct words per minute (CWPM), with girls progressing 3 CWPM more than boys. Students also made substantial gains in numeracy, with a 28 percentage point improvement in addition and a 20 percentage point improvement in subtraction. Our latest report, “Liberia 2021-22 Endline Evaluation Report,” summarizes results from the 2021-22 Luminos program endline evaluation conducted by Q&A Services. [1]

In 2021-22, the Luminos program ran for 9 months—from November to August— in line with the Ministry of Education’s 2021-22 official academic calendar; this calendar was shifted slightly compared to a standard, September – June calendar due to COVID-19. Luminos students attended class for 7 hours per day from Monday to Friday, with approximately 5 hours per day devoted to reading and 2 hours to numeracy.

Luminos supported 3,150 out-of-school students across 105 classes and five counties (Bomi, Bong, Grand Cape Mount, Margibi, and Montserrado) in Liberia. Every year, Luminos works closely with a small group of community-based partners, each of which manages a cluster of classrooms, to deliver the program.

The results of the evaluation show that the Luminos Fund’s Liberia program positively impacted student reading and math outcomes across all EGRA and EGMA subtasks in the 2021-22 school year. Student improvement in reading was statistically significant. 

Evaluation Overview

The evaluation aimed to demonstrate the impact of the Luminos Liberia program on student literacy, numeracy, and socio-emotional outcomes during the 36-week 2021-22 program. Q&A Services assessed the literacy and numeracy levels of a random sample of students across all Luminos classes in the first two weeks of the program (baseline) and again in the final week of the program (endline). The RTI/USAID-developed Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) and Early Grade Mathematics Assessment (EGMA) tools, adapted for Liberia, were used at both baseline and endline to assess students on a variety of early grade reading and math skills. A socio-emotional learning (SEL) assessment was also conducted with a subset of the student sample using the International Social Emotional Learning Assessment (ISELA) tool. For more details on the evaluation and methods used, please see the full report summary.

Overall Results

The results of the evaluation show that the Luminos program positively impacted student achievement in both reading and math, with a statistically significant impact on the former.

Literacy

On reading, students showed improvement across every EGRA subtask, including an improvement of 50 percentage points on letter identification, 46 percentage points on oral reading fluency (ORF) of Grade 2 level text, 39 percentage points on familiar words, and 33 percentage points on reading comprehension. For ORF, students could read 29 CWPM at endline, compared to 1 CWPM at baseline, an improvement of 28 CWPM.

Numeracy

On numeracy, students again showed improvement across every single EGMA subtask, including an improvement of 35 percentage points on number identification, 33 percentage points on number discrimination, 28 percentage points on addition, 20 percentage points on subtraction, and 22 percentage points on word problems. While the program impacted student achievement on mathematics, improvement was less significant than for literacy. This makes sense given that 5 hours of the Luminos school day (approximately 70% of instructional time) is devoted to literacy and 2 hours each day (30% of instructional time) is devoted to numeracy.

Conclusion

The results of the evaluation show that the Luminos Fund’s Liberia program positively impacted student reading and math outcomes across all EGRA and EGMA subtasks in the 2021-22 school year. Student improvement in reading was statistically significant. Results show that the average student improved by 28 CWPM within the 9-month program, with girls improving 3 CWPM more than boys. These results are incredibly impressive given the short (9-month) timeframe for the Luminos program. Results for the SEL assessment show improvement on self-concept, particularly for girls, suggesting possible impact of the Luminos program on broader student development; however, further research is required. When compared with similar programs in Liberia and globally, year on year the Luminos program is showing strong learning outcomes, particularly on literacy.

To read the full report summary, including additional background on our Liberia program and a more detailed overview of the evaluation and methods used, click here.

References:

  1. Simpson, A. “Luminos Fund Endline Evaluation 2021-22, Liberia,” Q&A Services, December 2022.

The Power of Self-Belief to Accelerate Foundational Learning: Watch the Webinar

The Power of Self-Belief to Accelerate Foundational Learning: Watch the Webinar

Children everywhere learn best when they are happy, but for children who have fallen behind, how do you help them become confident, successful, life-long learners? Watch our webinar below to find the answers, as we dive into the Identity & Self-Belief element of the Luminos Method.

Our speakers discuss how children form beliefs about their own abilities, how this affects their development in school, and strategies to help students build their confidence.

Speakers:

Caitlin Baron

Caitlin Baron

CEO, Luminos Fund

“Part of our work is telling our children they can be successful, telling our teachers that every child can succeed, but actually, an equal part of our work is actually showing them that they can.”

Caitlin Baron, CEO, Luminos Fund

Dr. Alex Eble

Dr. Alex Eble

Assistant Professor of Economics and Education, Teachers College, Columbia University

“The emphasis on confidence building is important because in life, as in school, we come upon challenges, and so bumping up against challenges is a key place in which we need to emphasize the importance of persistence, the importance of identity, the importance that I belong.”

Alex Eble, Assistant Professor of Economics and Education, Teachers College, Columbia University

Emily Joof

Emily Joof

Associate Director of Programs, Luminos Fund; published children’s book author

“Being an out-of-school child means that you likely have not been successful in the classroom, that you possibly do not think of yourself as an individual with potential, with something to give, with the ability to grow… I think we do a lot to empower the child and build that sense of self-belief and self-esteem.”

Emily Joof, Associate Director of Programs, Luminos Fund

This is the first in a series of webinars where we will explore key elements of the Luminos Method. Follow us on social media and subscribe to our Spotlight newsletter to stay updated on details of our next event!

“We are ensuring that learning is fun, that learning is relevant, and most importantly, that a child who opens the pages will see words, places, contexts, ideas that are familiar to themselves. And all those we know are stepping stones to ensure that a child builds their sense of identity and self-belief.”

Emily Joof, Associate Director of Programs, Luminos Fund

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 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, which I politely declined, 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. 

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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