Mar 1, 2023 | Luminos Fund | The Gambia
In The Gambia, the Luminos Fund is working hand in hand with the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education (MoBSE) to tackle one of the most pressing education issues today — how to ensure all children have equal access to joyful, foundational learning. Together, we have created and launched an accelerated learning program that brings transformative education to out-of-school children.
The launch of this program marks a major milestone in our partnership with MoBSE. By leveraging the power of partnership, we are reaching the most vulnerable out-of-school children in The Gambia and helping them to catch up to grade level, reintegrate into government schools, and prepare for lifelong learning.
A Timely and Mutually Beneficial Partnership
The Gambia, a small country in West Africa, is home to more than 70,000 out-of-school children. With a population of just over 2.5 million people, the number of out-of-school children presents significant challenges for the country’s efforts to achieve quality education for all. For the most marginalized children, the effects of missed education often extend over a lifetime. As disruptions to learning caused by the global pandemic and other crises increasingly threaten children’s futures, education systems must act now to help the most vulnerable children get back on the path of learning, and strengthen their capacity to adapt to emergent challenges.
The Constitution of The Republic of Gambia acknowledges that basic education is a right to which every child in the country is entitled. While the government has made commendable efforts to increase enrollment rates for primary-school-aged children and provide education services to children outside of the formal school system, ensuring the functional literacy and numeracy of out-of-school children continues to be a challenge.
In 2021, The Gambian government requested Luminos’ expertise and support to develop a new accelerated learning curriculum that provides foundational learning to children who have missed out on basic education in their early years. We are piloting the curriculum in 20 classrooms during the 2022-23 school year, serving children aged 8-14 who have either never enrolled in school, or dropped out two or more years ago. The pilot program is a timely and relevant solution to the out-of-school challenge and aligns with key priorities identified by MoBSE and relevant stakeholders. It is also an opportunity to evaluate the impact of the curriculum and further refine it before scaling the program to reach even more out-of-school children.
The program provides students with foundational literacy and numeracy skills, helping them to catch up on three years of learning in just one school year, then reintegrate into local government schools. We partner closely with community-based organizations to maximize impact and deliver the program using an intensive, child-centered, and activity-based learning approach.
In The Gambia, our classes are taught by community teachers — young adults recommended by the communities we serve, as well as by MoBSE’s Second Chance Programme and the Gambia National Teacher Training College.
Emily Joof, Associate Director of Programs at Luminos notes, “When we began this pilot, the majority of the students could not recognize their letters or their numbers, and as time has progressed, we have noticed marked improvement with children confidently recognizing letters, numbers, and even beginning to read short words. In terms of education, every single child’s success is something to be celebrated. The pilot will allow us to change the lives of each and every student who has enrolled.”
“The pilot will allow us to change the lives of each and every student who has enrolled.”
Emily Joof, Associate Director of Programs, The Luminos Fund
The Journey so Far and a Way Forward
The challenges facing global education systems today cannot be addressed by any one institution, organization, or individual alone. Through innovative partnerships, founded on mutual respect and trust, we can reverse the learning crisis and ensure support for the most marginalized children.
“The issue of education is not something that any one person or organization can address in silos. The experience that these [community] partners will get from this partnership [with Luminos] can scale up when they implement other programs that they have or when they partner with other organizations in the future.”
Mr. Momodou Jeng, Director of Curriculum Research Evaluation and Development Directorate, Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education, The Gambia
At Luminos, our model is powered by innovative partnerships at all levels of society. These partnerships have been integral to our program’s impact and success. In each country of operation, Luminos partners with ministries of education to strengthen education systems by sharing best practices, prioritizing shared goals, building capacity, advising on national education policies, and supporting research.
Since 2021, Luminos has been on this partnership journey with The Gambian government, working jointly to address the out-of-school challenge. Following regular working group discussions to develop the multiple phases of the accelerated learning curriculum, learning exchange visits to the Luminos program in Liberia, and stakeholder consultations with local community partners and research experts, we have developed a practical plan to support out-of-school primary-aged children in The Gambia to receive a second chance at education.
Our experience delivering the Luminos program across Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East shows that to build sustainable and resilient education solutions, you must draw from and amplify local systems and resources. Through our partnerships with government and the communities that we serve, we are able to refine, implement, and scale effective accelerated learning programs that are locally driven and contextualized to align with national priorities and goals.
Luminos is grateful for the expertise, enthusiasm, and commitment of The Gambian government to work collaboratively in addressing the country’s out-of-school children challenge. The road ahead will be long, but our journey has just begun. Luminos looks forward to growing our partnership with MoBSE in the months ahead and bringing thousands of out-of-school children back on the path of learning. By unlocking the light of learning, children can reach their full potential and fulfill their aspirations. Together, we can transform education in The Gambia and take one step closer to our vision of a world where no child is denied an education.
“It’s a good thing to have Luminos coming on board to partner with us in this great endeavor of providing education to all the children living in The Gambia. We value the partnership, and we look forward to a stronger, strengthened relationship and collaboration so that we’ll be able to achieve our goals.”
Honorable Minister Claudiana A Cole, Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education
Feb 16, 2023 | Luminos Fund | In the News
In recent years, there has been a surge in policy discussions centered around the importance of foundational skills, in particular literacy and numeracy. For example, multiple organizations including funders, governments, and nonprofits endorsed a Commitment to Action, promising to prioritize efforts toward improving foundational learning.
Perhaps because of this increased attention, we are often asked if foundational learning is now receiving too much focus compared to other education priorities.
Our response is simple: the increased policy attention is welcome, but the real work has only just begun. The world is facing a learning crisis with the majority of children in low- and middle-income countries not learning even the basics of literacy and numeracy. Solving this will require a radical change in strategy by governments and supporting organizations. It is time to translate the encouraging rhetoric into action. And if we want to see significant improvement in learning outcomes, these efforts will require focus and determination which will need to be sustained for years to come.
Dr. Kirsty Newman, Luminos Vice President of Programs
The world is facing a learning crisis with the majority of children in low- and middle-income countries not learning even the basics of literacy and numeracy. Solving this will require a radical change in strategy by governments and supporting organizations. It is time to translate the encouraging rhetoric into action.
The learning crisis is real, and it is getting worse, not better
It is easy to become numb to the steady stream of disheartening statistics, but the picture is clear: the learning crisis is real, and it is getting worse, not better.
The UNESCO Global Education Monitoring (GEM) report – in collaboration with the RISE research programme – has developed this powerful tool to visualize the proportion of children with basic literacy skills at different ages in various countries. Figure 1 shows the learning trajectories in five African countries, illustrating literacy levels of children from ages 7 to 14.
Figure 1: Learning trajectories across C.A.R., D.R. Congo, Malawi, The Gambia, and Ghana
These learning trajectories show that the crisis is not merely that children learn slowly, in many cases, they never learn.
These learning trajectories show that the crisis is not merely that children learn slowly, in many cases, they never learn.
The Lost Potential Tracker illustrates the gravity of the situation by showing how, with each passing moment, more and more children reach age 10 without learning to read. Children who do not meet this milestone are very unlikely to ever achieve literacy.
Unfortunately, learning levels are getting even worse across low- and middle-income countries. In recent years, this has been accelerated by COVID-related school closures, but in fact, the average learning levels for children completing primary school have been falling for decades.
Without foundational literacy and numeracy, millions of people are at a huge disadvantage in their ability to learn other skills and face exclusion from many life opportunities. For example, this review article highlights the difficulty of improving employability without first mastering foundational skills.
Very little funding is going to programs that succeed in building foundational skills
The majority of funding for education in low- and middle-income countries comes from national governments, and the amount of government funding going towards primary school education is far lower per child than funding per young person in secondary school or higher education. This pattern of funding disproportionately benefits wealthier families and those who already have the most education.
Official development assistance from donor governments for education is slightly more skewed towards earlier years compared to national government spending, but the total amount spent on basic primary and early secondary education is still only around 40% (see Figure 2), and this amount covers a vast range of interventions like school building, conditional cash transfers, ed-tech, textbook provision, teacher training, and school feeding.
Figure 2: Share of aid by the level of education
Only a small fraction of funding goes towards projects aimed at developing foundational skills. And, unfortunately, even these limited funds are primarily allocated to programs that are not proven to be effective in improving literacy at a population level. In fact, a study by CGD/RTI International discovered that the majority of major education funders could not identify a single program that was successfully improving literacy on a large scale.
We owe it to children to support foundational learning
We acknowledge that achieving learning for all is difficult – but it is also completely necessary to achieve the future we all hope for. At Luminos, we firmly believe that the goal of foundational learning for all children is too crucial to abandon. Literacy and numeracy are critical skills that unlock a child’s potential and set them on a path to lifelong learning.
Furthermore, Luminos has proven that donor-funded programs can significantly improve learning outcomes even for the most marginalized children. In Liberia, for example, previous external results show our catch-up education program moved children from reading 5 words per minute (WPM) to 39 WPM in merely 10 months.
Importantly, our work to build foundational learning places child welfare at the center. We prioritize child protection and promote a joyful approach to learning. In addition, we are working closely with governments so that over time, they increase their ability to deliver quality learning to children.
But there is still much to be done. The international education sector needs to transform words into action and tackle the learning crisis head-on. Donors have a critical part to play in supporting this journey. With their help and determination, we can work together towards a future where all children have equal access to joyful, foundational learning.
At Luminos, we firmly believe that the goal of foundational learning for all children is too crucial to abandon. Literacy and numeracy are critical skills that unlock a child’s potential and set them on a path to lifelong learning.
Dr. Kirsty Newman is the Vice President of Programs at the Luminos Fund where she 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. Kirsty trained initially as a scientist (she has a PhD in Microbiology and Immunology) and has worked throughout her career to enable local research and evidence networks to support decision-making.
Jan 17, 2023 | Luminos Fund | In the News, Press Release
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.”
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.
Jan 12, 2023 | Luminos Fund | In the News
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 the learning crisis.
Jan 11, 2023 | Luminos Fund | Data, In the News, Liberia
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. 
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.
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.
The results of the evaluation show that the Luminos program positively impacted student achievement in both reading and math.
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.
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.
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. 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.
- Simpson, A. “Luminos Fund Endline Evaluation 2021-22, Liberia,” Q&A Services, December 2022.