On September 23, the Luminos Fund hosted its fifth annual U.N. General Assembly (UNGA) week event, “Getting Ghana Back to School.” (View the webinar recording online here or below.)
This year’s conversation centered on the education challenges posed by COVID-19 in Ghana, examining powerful new research by the Center for Global Development (CGD) and Institute for Educational Planning and Administration (IEPA), and reflecting on the way forward. Moderated by Caitlin Baron, CEO of the Luminos Fund, the webinar featured a diverse panel of Ghanaian luminaries, education leaders, and experts including:
Dr. Might Kojo Abreh, Non-Resident Fellow, Center for Global Development; Senior Research Fellow and Head of Grants and Consultancy, Institute for Educational Planning and Administration (IEPA)
Dr. Kwame Akyeampong, Professor of International Education & Development and Director of the Centre for the Study of Global Development, The Open University; Member, Luminos Fund Advisory Board
Patrick G. Awuah Jr., Founder & President, Ashesi University
Corina Gardner, Executive Director, IDP Foundation
Yawa Hansen-Quao, Executive Director, Emerging Public Leaders
“It is powerful for us to look to countries and nations that have historically led in education, to guide us on leading our way back from this COVID moment.”
Caitlin Baron, CEO, Luminos Fund
New CGD-IEPA Research
Ghana is a leader in education access on the continent, nevertheless, COVID-19 poses significant education challenges, particularly for Ghana’s most vulnerable children. Dr. Might Kojo Abreh shared highlights from Phase I of the new CGD-IEPA research on the effects of COVID-19 and 2020 COVID-related school closures in African contexts, and offered advice for informed COVID-19 response strategies.
Dr. Abreh identified two key findings of the household survey results in Ghana. First, dropout rates among children remained fairly consistent with pre-COVID school closures dropout rates. Second, grade repetition rates among children have doubled when compared to pre-COVID school closures. The research findings suggest that dropout and repetition rates are disproportionately higher among boys and children from the poorest households.
Dr. Abreh concluded his presentation with a few reflections: household perceptions of emergency response management and mitigation efforts are important, and informed and effective COVID-19 education response strategies must include factors such as location, wealth, and zone disparity as key considerations.
“At the heart of this equation is an issue of equity and social justice. In periods of resilience and progress making in emergencies, we must ensure full recovery in terms of participation in education,” said Dr. Might Kojo Abreh.
A Dynamic Panel Conversation
As Executive Director of Emerging Public Leaders,Yawa Hansen-Quao is uniquely placed to help shape the way forward for Ghana’s education recovery. When asked about the experience of rising bureaucrats in the Ghanaian Ministry of Education during this moment, Yawa noted that it has been an overwhelming period for Ghanaian leadership tasked with troubleshooting this crisis and adequately rising to meet the moment. Yawa noted, “I think the crisis of COVID forced us all to adopt new technologies and I was glad to see the Ministry champion new initiatives like Ghana Learning TV.”
Patrick G. Awuah Jr., Founder and President of Ashesi University, reflected on what this period has meant for Ashesi and the higher education sector in Ghana more broadly. He noted the University’s decision to shift to a completely online model during the height of COVID-related school closures. “One of the things that was really critical was we wanted to make sure no one was left behind,” said Patrick. For Ashesi, this has meant a period of exploration, innovation, and thoughtful recalibration to find learning solutions that support the needs of all students, as innovations in the education sector today must include considerations for the integration of education and technology – and the global challenge of remote learning access.
Another important component of the Ghanaian education ecosystem is the affordable non-state school sector. Yet, Corina Gardner, Executive Director of IDP Foundation, noted that, despite being among some of the first of the population to struggle with income during closures, the non-state school sector is often excluded from broader emergency funding response efforts. “As a funder watching what happened with COVID over the past 18 months, while a lot of organizations understandably diverted funds into health and into COVID emergency response, we really felt that this was the time to double-down on education,” said Corina. Corina believes that the non-state school sector has demonstrated remarkable determination, resilience, and growth.
Dr. Kwame Akyeampong, Professor of International Education and Development at The Open University, rounded out the conversation by focusing on the challenge of out-of-school children in Ghana. Dr. Akyeampong noted, “We have to look at systems, or things that we have done that can guide us forward in addressing the challenges [brought by COVID-19]”. Moving forward, he encourages the global community to think more expansively about engaging local communities as part of the solution. Additionally, he encouraged listeners to expand participatory, foundational education programs for out-of-school children to ensure “a policy of leaving no out-of-school children behind.” As Dr. Akyeampong said, “We need to believe that every child can learn, and if they are not doing so… it is because we need to do a better job at meeting their learning needs.”
“For us at Luminos, the work that we do is often described as accelerated learning,” Caitlin Baron noted. Looking toward the path ahead for education in Ghana, she added, “But I always say what’s important about it is not that it’s fast, but that it’s deep. By going deep into foundational literacy and numeracy, we set children up for a lifetime of learning.”
Today, on International Literacy Day, the Library of Congress Literacy Awards announced the Luminos Fund is the winner of its 2021 International Prize. The International Prize recognizes an organization making significant and measurable contributions to increasing literacy levels outside the United States.
“Luminos is honored to receive this prestigious award from the Library of Congress in recognition of our efforts to advance literacy around the world,” says Luminos CEO, Caitlin Baron. “With an estimated 24 million students predicted to drop out of school as a result of COVID-19 and 617 million children affected by acute learning loss, programs like ours that promote basic, essential literacy while helping children catch up have never been more important.”
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, over half of children in low- and middle-income countries could not read and understand a simple text by age 10. In Sub-Saharan Africa, where Luminos operates classrooms, that number increases to 87% of children. The COVID-19 pandemic has only made the situation more dire.
Reading is a skill that literate people often take for granted, but which has the unique power to transform lives forever. Words and sentences guide you to the correct bus to visit your family, explain how much life-saving medication to take, and inform you about breaking news. The United Nations describes education as the key to escaping poverty, promoting equality, reaching gender equity, and more. For every additional year in school, an individual’s future earnings increase by as much as 10%. For girls, the risk of teen pregnancy decreases, as does the risk of maternal death.
“Literacy is essential to set children up for success in life,” says Phyllis Kurlander Costanza, CEO of UBS Optimus Foundation: a key Luminos funding partner. “Being able to read means having the ability to learn on your own — to pursue knowledge, understand and follow health advice, and navigate and contribute to civil society. Aided by the UBS Optimus Foundation, organizations like the Luminos Fund are critical to helping the hardest-to-reach children learn to read – thereby transforming their lives and their communities.”
The Luminos Fund operates classrooms in Ethiopia, Liberia, and Lebanon to help out-of-school and overaged children get a second chance at education and learn to read. Many of our students are the first in their families to go to school. Without basic literacy and numeracy skills, these children are at risk of being locked out of the education system forever. In our program, we balance a learning-by-doing, play-based approach with a phonics-based model, gently scripted to support first-time teachers in the classroom. Children learn to read with texts that reflect their lived experience, and through games and activities that place students at the center of teaching and learning.
By creating an atmosphere of joyful learning with continuous assessments to tailor instruction, students are excited to learn to read – and achieve remarkable results. In Liberia, Luminos students start the program reading merely five words per minute on average. At the end of the program, our students read an average of 39 words per minute: an achievement few of their peers have attained.
Bertukan and Abenet are two sisters in one of the Luminos Fund’s Ethiopian classrooms and among the first in their family to learn to read. Their father, Elias, is a farmer who wants a better future for his daughters. “I want them to continue learning… to decide their own future and not marry early,” Elias explains. He attributes his difficult life as a farmer to his lack of an education and was eager to send his girls to the free Luminos program to begin their journeys to literacy and a brighter future.
Abenet now helps her parents read documents at home. “Literacy is my favorite subject!” she says. “I was eager to read and write.” Bertukan chimes in that they both like their classroom where “there are lots of posted learning materials. We like to read these materials before and after classes” – an enriching part of education made possible with their new reading skills.
Elias is proud of his girls and excited for their futures. “Education is like a torch which shows you direction – which way to go,” he says.
The Luminos Fund has helped over 152,000 children learn to read and write with the generous support of our funding partners including UBS Optimus Foundation. We are honored to receive the 2021 International Prize from the Library Congress Literacy Awards on International Literacy Day, and look forward to helping thousands more children like Abenet and Bertukan learn to read.
Thursday, September 23, 10:00 – 11:00 a.m. New York | 2:00 – 3:00 p.m. Accra | Zoom Webinar
Ghana, a leader in education access on the continent, now struggles with the same challenges as other countries. According to new CGD-IEPA research, over 85% of parents say their children have lost learning during COVID-19 school closures, and grade repetition has tripled. On September 23, please join Ghanaian luminaries, education leaders, and the Luminos Fund to discuss how to unlock Ghana’s full educational potential once again.
Now in its fifth year, the Luminos Fund’s UN General Assembly (UNGA) week event convenes key funders, thought leaders, implementers, and allies around the subjects of education and international development.
When Mubuso Zamchiya first joined the Luminos Fund in 2017, it was a young organization with fewer than ten full-time staff. Today, Luminos has expanded its team and impact, reaching thousands more children with a second chance at education and transforming the lives of families and communities across Ethiopia, Liberia, and Lebanon. As Managing Director, Mubuso worked on nearly every part of the organization over the years, from overseeing strategic partnerships and advocacy, co-leading fundraising, convening high level discussions and events, and providing overarching leadership support. In 2020, Mubuso hosted our innovative Education Leadership through Crisis video series, interviewing eleven diverse education leaders across government, the private sector, and civil society in the midst of the pandemic.
Throughout it all, Mubuso has always held a profound passion for the transformational power of education in a child’s life. This summer Mubuso decided to continue advancing education around the world through digital learning programs and accepted a role as Managing Director at the Age of Learning Foundation.
“Luminos is one of those bold organizations that recognized a critical gap in education provision and prioritized the learning needs of out-of-school children.”
“We are so grateful for Mubuso’s invaluable support over the last four years,” says Luminos CEO Caitlin Baron. “While it’s a bittersweet moment for us, we are delighted for his new opportunity to continue spreading education opportunities across the globe at the Age of Learning Foundation. We are also thrilled to welcome Mubuso onto our Advisory Board and look forward to continuing to work together.”
The Luminos Advisory Board is comprised of top researchers and thought leaders in international education who advise Luminos on policy, advocacy, and program design. Luminos is greatly looking forward to bringing Mubuso’s wisdom and unique perspective to the Advisory Board, an entity Mubuso helped bring to fruition in 2020.
“Luminos is one of those bold organizations that recognized a critical gap in education provision and prioritized the learning needs of out-of-school children,” says Mubuso. “Luminos did so when few were paying attention. Today, everyone knows what it is like to have children out of school. My time at Luminos was a chance to deeply understand how evidence-based changemaking should happen.
“Joining the Advisory Board is an extension of a meaningful four-and-a-half-year journey as Managing Director. Now, I get to be a part of the formidable collective of thought leaders who have the privilege to contribute to the significant work Caitlin and the team at Luminos are continuing to do.”
The Advisory Board also welcomed two new members this past summer in addition to Mubuso: Professor of International Education & Development at Open University, Dr. Kwame Akyeampong, and Education Practice Manager at the World Bank Group, Dr. Harry Anthony Patrinos. We were delighted to welcome Kwame and Harry and look forward to increasingly rich discussions featuring a diverse set of perspectives.
It has been a tremendous privilege working alongside Mubuso and witnessing his leadership. We are delighted for his new opportunity, and we are especially glad that he will continue to be in close touch with Luminos moving forward as a member of our Advisory Board.
Get to know members of the Luminos Advisory Board here.
At the Luminos Fund, we envision a world where no child is ever denied an education. We believe all children should have the opportunity to learn to read. This vision should not be a bold idea.
On the contrary, every child, whether they are born in Boston, Massachusetts or Awassa, Ethiopia, deserves to experience joyful, rich education—and the power of knowing how to read, write, and do math. However, the tragic global reality is that our vision of basic education for all, no matter their circumstances, is an ambitious goal. Even before COVID-19, millions were denied an education, often due to crisis, poverty, and discrimination. Joyful learning for all has been the Luminos Fund’s sole focus for five years and, today, our education mission is more important and urgent than ever.
2021 marks Luminos’ fifth anniversary, providing us with an opportunity to pause and reflect on just how far we have come, and to look to the future. To date, as highlighted in our new Annual Report, we have served 152,051 students, trained 20,599 teachers, supported 273,573 parents and community members, and partnered with 26 local organizations. We are incredibly proud of these numbers because they represent more than just statics. Each number is an individual life, uniquely supported and encouraged on the path to lifelong learning.
They are students like Maima in Liberia, who used to sell bread to support her family and now loves learning to read thanks to her tireless Second Chance teacher, James. They are teachers like Lominas in Ethiopia, who discovered a love of teaching math and seeing students like nine-year-old Absera master basic skills. They are parents like Sola in Lebanon, who helped her children and other students in Shatila Refugee Camp continue to learn in innovative ways during COVID-19 school closures. We share these stories and more in our 2020 Annual Report, illuminating the Luminos Fund’s expansive impact on a personal level.
Over the past five years, our programs have expanded to three countries: Ethiopia, Lebanon, and Liberia. In addition to managing classrooms directly, we have continued to strengthen our partnerships with governments to build educational capacity at national, regional, and local levels and support Ministries of Education to adopt our model into mainstream government schools. Just this year in Lebanon, we supported the Ministry of Education and Higher Education in the digitization of key social-emotional learning (SEL) materials for national use—materials that will help both students and teachers, especially during COVID-19.
Our programs prove that rich, five-senses learning can be achieved in the poorest corners of the globe. At this critical moment in history, the global community must not narrow its vision of what is possible for educating children. COVID-19 threatens decades of progress in education, with heartbreaking impact on millions of children and families. With scarcely nine years until 2030 and the end of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), will the world rise to meet this moment?
Today calls for bold ambition to revolutionize education.
Luminos is meeting this call, equipped with a proven strategy to transform the way children learn to read and do math. With these essential skills, the door to opportunity opens. We can help millions of children. Thank you for joining us.