What the Average Hides

What the Average Hides

By: James Earl Kiawoin

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

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

James Earl Kiawoin, Luminos Liberia Country Manager

Proving that Every Child Can Learn

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

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

2021-2022 Luminos Liberia reading fluency scores

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

What Impacts Student Learning?

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

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

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

    Providing more frequent and tailored support for new teachers:

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

    Sharing and discussing data with teachers:

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

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

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

    Regrouping students and teachers:

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

    The Results

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Teachers Transforming Education: Five Key Learnings from Luminos’ Event

    Teachers Transforming Education: Five Key Learnings from Luminos’ Event

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    3) Assessment is essential.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Dr. Vongai Nyahunzvi, Teach for All

    5) All children can learn.

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

    Dr. Vongai Nyahunzvi, Teach for All

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

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

    Unlocking the Light

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

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

    Dr. Andrew Cunningham, Aga Khan Foundation

    BBC News Features the Luminos Fund in Ethiopia

    BBC News Features the Luminos Fund in Ethiopia

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

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

    Luminos Awarded 2022 Klaus J. Jacobs Best Practice Prize

    Luminos Awarded 2022 Klaus J. Jacobs Best Practice Prize

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Caitlin Baron, CEO of the Luminos Fund, said:

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

    Klaus J. Jacobs Best Practice Prizes

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

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

    Notes to editors:

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

     

    Media contact:

    Jacobs Foundation

    Alexandra Guentzer, Chief Communications Officer

    alexandra.guentzer@jacobsfoundation.org 

    Tel. + 41 (0) 79 821 74 29

     

    The Luminos Fund

    Michael Stulman, Director of Communications

    michael@luminosfund.org 

    Tel: + 1 667 289 7534

    Transforming Education Systems through Innovative Government Partnerships

    Transforming Education Systems through Innovative Government Partnerships

    By: Kirstin Buchanan

    Today, seven in ten young children in low- and middle-income countries cannot read and understand a simple story.

    The profound learning crisis facing young children today is not one that any single organization or government can address alone. Bringing children back on the path of learning and strengthening education systems to keep them there in the long term will require innovative partnerships built on mutual learning and trust.

    This belief was the impetus for a powerful peer-to-peer exchange between the Ministries of Education in Ethiopia and Ghana, facilitated by the Luminos Fund in July 2022.

    A Holistic Approach

    The Luminos Fund takes a holistic approach to education that works in tandem with all levels of society and is supported by a network of partnerships, including with ministries of education. Though these partnerships vary from country to country, they have common goals: strengthening education systems, sharing best practices, prioritizing mutual goals, and building capacity to bring joyful, transformative learning to millions of vulnerable children.

    In Ethiopia, the government first began adopting the Luminos program into government public schools in 2017 with a small pilot of 35 classrooms. Today, the Ministry of Education (MOE) is implementing our approach across the school system, and as its preferred solution to reach out-of-school children.

    Inside a Luminos classroom in Ethiopia, students work in small groups as their teacher, Tegistu, walks around to support students who need help. (Photo: Mekbib Tadesse for the Luminos Fund)

    To accelerate this process, the Ministry created the Accelerated Learning Unit—to which Luminos provides technical support on curriculum development, strategies, and national education policy—to oversee the delivery of across government schools. Partnerships such as this enable Luminos to deliver quality education at scale while prioritizing an approach that puts the interests and needs of local communities at the center of decision-making. They also serve as a testament to the value of government partnerships in bringing about systems change.

    In each program country, working closely with governments is key to ensuring the long-term sustainability of the Luminos program.

    What Can Ghana and Ethiopia Learn From Each Other?

    In addition to partnering with ministries of education on the delivery of the program, Luminos also convenes governments and other key stakeholders to champion proven education solutions and share best practices for scaling accelerated learning programs that ensure all children have equal access to joyful, foundational learning.

    Luminos Ethiopia Country Director and Regional Strategic Advisor, Dr. Alemayehu Hailu Gebre, greets Mr. Francis Asumadu, Acting Executive Director of the Complementary Education Agency (CEA) for the Ghanaian Ministry of Education. (Photo: Obeng Baah for the Luminos Fund)

    In July 2022, Luminos facilitated a learning visit for members of the Ethiopian MOE to explore our newest country program in Ghana and meet with their peers in Ghana’s Ministry of Education. This learning exchange was a unique opportunity to share best practices from Luminos’ flagship program in Ethiopia and bring visibility to the ongoing work within the education sector in Ghana. The visit included four days of highly productive workshops, meetings, and classroom visits. Here are three key takeaways:

    1. There’s a strong desire for collaboration.

    Both Ministries are keen to find innovative ways of strengthening government-to-government and multistakeholder partnerships, and leveraging these partnerships to provide quality education to out-of-school and marginalized children. Building relationships with other ministries and partners that are providing social services to the most vulnerable families will be critical to ensuring holistic, sustainable support for all learners. The Ghanaian and Ethiopian Ministries of Education are also keen to continue to forge collaborations on key sector issues including improving student retention and strengthening monitoring and evaluation within government schools.

    2. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to program delivery and scaling.

    To develop high-impact and contextually relevant education solutions to the learning crisis, catch-up education programs will need to be adapted based on the needs, capacity, and context of the communities they serve. Building and strengthening engagement with community-based organizations, parents, and other members of the community is key to ensuring the effective delivery of programs.

    3. Accelerated learning programs must be aligned with national strategies, policies, and goals.

    Rather than working in silos, nonprofit organizations and ministries of education must work together within a framework established by government, which can generate impact in both informal and formal education systems.

    What’s Next

    To tackle today’s education crisis, we must act together. Increasingly, our work with governments forms a fundamental piece of the puzzle in scaling our reach and impact. Through these partnerships, we are embedding effective accelerated learning and teaching strategies into the fabric of education systems and creating structures that ensure out-of-school children remain a priority for national education planning. It is only through deep, innovative partnerships with government, local communities, and key education stakeholders that we can truly transform education systems in service of the most vulnerable children.

    Kirstin Buchanan serves as the Development & Communications Associate at the Luminos Fund where she amplifies student voices and program stories, in addition to helping drive content, messaging, and fundraising strategy. She holds a MA in International Affairs and BA in International Relations from Boston University, as well as a certificate in Latin American studies.

    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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