Amid Global Learning Crisis, New RCT Shows Dramatic Learning Gains for Luminos Students in Liberia 

Amid Global Learning Crisis, New RCT Shows Dramatic Learning Gains for Luminos Students in Liberia 

A new randomized controlled trial (RCT) shows children in the Luminos catch-up education program in Liberia achieve dramatic learning gains: a country where more than one in three children are out of school. In just one school year, Liberian children enrolled in the Luminos program learn 90% of what the average Liberian will learn in their lifetime. 

Boston, Massachusetts – The Luminos Fund, an international nonprofit organization dedicated to providing education opportunities to the world’s most vulnerable out-of-school children, is pleased to announce new results from a randomized controlled trial (RCT), confirming dramatic learning gains among children in the Luminos catch-up education program.  

In just one school year, Liberian children enrolled in the Luminos program learn 90% of what the average Liberian will learn in their lifetime. Read the full report and executive summary here.

“In the midst of a global learning crisis, with millions of children either out of school or attending without gaining foundational reading skills, there is an urgent need to make quality education a reality for every child,” said Caitlin Baron, CEO of the Luminos Fund. “The RCT results prove that children can learn a remarkable amount in a short period of time with the right support. Luminos students go from not recognizing all the letters in the alphabet at the start of the program to reading short stories by the end. This is truly transformative and establishes a solid foundation for lifelong learning.”  

IDinsight, a global research and advisory organization, conducted the RCT during the 2022-23 school year in Liberia. The data shows Luminos students progressed from reading an average of 4 words per minute (WPM) at the start of the program to 29 WPM by the end, compared to 7 WPM for children in the control group.

Jeffery McManus, Senior Economist at IDinsight, said, “The Luminos Fund is demonstrating that there is a way to reach the most marginalized children and to run an accelerated program that, within 10 months, can give them the building blocks that will prepare them to transition to and succeed in the mainstream education system.” 

In a review of external evaluations conducted in the global education sector, forty percent show no effect on student learning. Among the programs showing an impact, the Luminos program stands out as both transformational and cost-effective for children’s learning.  


For media inquiries, please contact Michael Stulman at or via WhatsApp at +1-667-289-7534.  


About the Luminos Fund: The Luminos Fund runs catch-up education programs for some of the most vulnerable and hardest-to-reach children in parts of Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East. In just one school year, out-of-school children learn how to read, write, and do math – to learn how to learn – through a joyful, activity-based curriculum. As an international education nonprofit, our mission is to ensure all children have equal access to joyful, foundational learning, especially those shut out of education by crisis, poverty, or discrimination. To date, Luminos has helped over 277,541 children secure a second chance to learn. 

Students’ Welfare in the Center: Creating Safe, Inclusive, and Healthy Environments

Students’ Welfare in the Center: Creating Safe, Inclusive, and Healthy Environments

In a Luminos classroom in Ghana, students gather in a circle around the Luminos Program Coordinator, Suwaida Aziz. Students eagerly raise their hands to answer questions as Suwaida leads the class through “Your Promise,” a story for Luminos students to help them understand their rights and what to do if they have any concerns. Today, students listen to the story of Alpha, a child who has learning difficulties and sometimes mixes up his numbers.

“Can we learn if we have trouble writing?” Suwaida asks the class, prompting a series of hands to fly in the air. This short story about Alpha emphasizes inclusive learning and celebrating children’s unique differences.

At Luminos, we have the privilege of supporting vulnerable children every day through our catch-up education programs in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East. In just one year, the Luminos program helps formerly out-of-school children learn how to read, write, and do math through a joyful, activity-based curriculum. At the heart of our mission is a firm commitment to protect children from harm. In the Luminos program, we have a zero tolerance policy for abuse of any kind. Students’ well-being is a top priority. Not only is it a fundamental right of all children, but it also helps them to learn effectively.

Topics Covered in “Your Promise,” a Story for Luminos Students About Safeguarding

Corina Wornee leads a session for students on their rights. (Photo: Mara Chan/Luminos Fund) 

“We not only teach and support students, but we also train and engage teachers, parents, and community members to ensure all students have a safe and inclusive environment and experience joyful learning,” says Corina Wornee, Luminos Global Safeguarding Lead and Liberia Senior Program Manager.

“By including the entire community, we ensure that everyone is more mindful of the well-being of their children. And Luminos is ensuring that learning is happening in a safe, joyful, and welcoming environment.”

Luminos takes a three-fold approach to ensure our student’s well-being: 1) safeguarding students’ welfare through extensive child protection training, 2) creating inclusive classrooms, and 3) supporting students’ health.

1. Safeguarding Student’s Welfare

We prioritize the well-being of our students by ensuring that staff are well-trained, students are educated about their rights, and there is a well-defined process to address any concerns. In all Luminos program locations, staff and teachers receive child protection and safeguarding training created by local and international specialists.

In these training sessions, we thoroughly review the Luminos Child Protection and Safeguarding Policy, covering topics such as child rights, classroom management, types of abuse, inclusive and gender-responsive teaching, and safeguarding with parents and the community. These sessions are designed to be interactive, providing teachers with frequent opportunities to apply new knowledge through case studies and role plays.

We also involve parents and community members as a holistic part of our child safeguarding strategy. Relevant topics are addressed in initial meetings with parent engagement groups before the school year starts and are woven into monthly meetings that teachers hold with parents throughout the year. Luminos strives to ensure all parents have a clear understanding of our safeguarding policy and their roles, and that they feel that the Luminos team respects their culture and rights to guide their child.

Finally, we make sure our students are educated about their rights so that they can build the confidence and skills to help protect themselves and their peers. Lessons are delivered throughout the year through a narrative format, using “Your Promise.”  Lessons are reinforced throughout the year.

2. Inclusive Classrooms

All children learn best when they are happy. Ensuring all students feel included and able to fully participate in class is essential for providing a joyful learning experience. To that end, we prioritize inclusion in every facet of the Luminos program, from teacher recruiting and training to classroom instruction. Reinforcing the belief that all children are capable of learning is critical. We also train teachers in gender-responsive teaching and work with parents to support girls’ learning by addressing gender-related topics in our parent engagement meetings. Our pedagogy intentionally includes using multiple techniques to engage students and present information in a variety of ways, maximizing learning for all students, regardless of background and learning needs.

Luminos students in Konso, Ethiopia, enjoying their hot lunch. (Photo: Michael Stulman/Luminos Fund) 

3. Healthy Students

We recognize that good health supports students in having enjoyable and successful learning experiences. Health information is often limited in the communities where we work, so Luminos integrates some health education into our daily curriculum. Topics include common diseases, hygiene, nutrition, the human body, and substance abuse, among others. In places where there is significant food insecurity, Luminos also provides a free hot lunch to our students, helping them stay healthy, concentrate better on their lessons, and serving as an additional incentive for enrollment and attendance.

Through this three-fold approach, we prioritize our students’ safety and well-being, allowing them to fully engage in our classrooms and experience joyful learning firsthand.

“Placing student welfare at the center of everything we do is part of Luminos’ DNA,” Corina notes. “It is only after ensuring students feel safe and included that joyful learning can occur, allowing students to build foundational reading, writing, and math skills.”

To learn more about Luminos’ approach to making learning joyful in our classrooms, explore the full Joyful Learning element of the Luminos Method!

“Placing student welfare at the center of everything we do is part of Luminos’ DNA. It is only after ensuring students feel safe and included that joyful learning can occur, allowing students to build foundational reading, writing, and math skills.”

Corina Wornee, Luminos Global Safeguarding Lead and Liberia Senior Program Manager

Melvina, a Luminos student in Liberia, chants along with her peers during a lesson on child rights using an early version of “Your Promise.” (Photo: Mara Chan/Luminos Fund) 

Supporting Children’s Psychosocial Well-Being in Ethiopia

Supporting Children’s Psychosocial Well-Being in Ethiopia

Amidst years of conflict, displacement, and compounding socio-economic challenges that threaten children’s well-being, Luminos classrooms in Ethiopia provide a haven for students—a space for healing to begin.

Since late 2020, inter-communal conflict in the Konso Zone of the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region (SNNPR) of Ethiopia has displaced more than 200,000 people. As a result, thousands of children have had their lives uprooted and their education disrupted. Compounding these challenges, recent years of drought and food insecurity have exacerbated tensions and increased barriers to education, forcing many parents to make difficult decisions about how many children they can afford to send to school.

In addition to delivering urgent humanitarian aid, ensuring children’s psychosocial well-being is imperative. With limited access to basic services, far too often, these children are denied the social and emotional support needed to ensure their success.

With cornerstone support from the LEGO Foundation, Luminos expanded to Konso in the 2022-23 school year, placing children’s psychosocial well-being at the center. The Luminos program helps out-of-school children catch-up on the first three grades of school, building foundational reading, writing, and math skills in a safe, inclusive, and joyful learning environment. This emphasis on a joyful and activity-based pedagogy has been proven to support the development of important Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) skills.

In contexts like Konso, where food insecurity creates significant barriers to learning, providing a safe and nurturing learning environment for children is critical to ensuring that no child is left behind. Luminos students in Konso receive free midday meals as part of their participation in the program. (Photo: Michael Stulman/Luminos Fund) 

In Konso, the Luminos curriculum includes an explicit emphasis on SEL, which is incorporated into daily classroom instruction alongside our core model that focuses on foundational reading, writing, and math skills. Each day, Luminos teachers lead dedicated lessons that engage students on topics like building self-awareness, managing emotions, dealing with disappointment, promoting confidence towards reaching goals, creating empathy, and respecting differences. These sessions are participatory and collaborative, and students are encouraged to share, learn from each other, and use their experiences to develop solutions and new ways of thinking. 

The SEL components of the curriculum were developed in close collaboration with our community partner in Konso, SIL Ethiopia, who are experts in SEL and supporting children experiencing trauma.

Luminos classrooms use a wide range of activity-based teaching methods that are interactive and engaging, collaborative, physical, and build students’ skills and confidence. These methods include group work, role play, physical and tactile activities, and the use of local songs, dances, and handicrafts among others. (Photo: Michael Stulman/Luminos Fund) 

Recognizing the diverse needs of each child, our program in Konso provides Luminos teachers with training and materials on understanding trauma and its impacts on children, as well as the use of therapeutic skills such as effective listening, music and art therapy, and sharing stories to facilitate healing. Equipped with these basic tools, our teachers are able to better support children exhibiting more serious signs of trauma or distress by providing children with counsel and a safe space to share their own experiences, process their emotions, and reflect using positive coping mechanisms.

At the end of the 2022-23 school year, teachers and parents noted significant improvements in communication and collaboration among students, as well as an increase in students’ self-confidence. Nearly 90% of students qualified to transition into Grade 4 to continue their education at the local government school with peers. Despite the trauma they experienced, students remain hopeful and proudly express their aspirations for their futures and careers.

Luminos students in Konso engaged in a lesson. (Photo: Michael Stulman/Luminos Fund) 

In the 2023-24 school year, we are reaching over 700 out-of-school children in Konso with transformative education. We are also scaling our program to Tigray, Ethiopia, where children have been out of school for three years due to COVID-19 and conflict, and where findings from a Luminos-commissioned study revealed that children have experienced significant learning loss and psychological trauma. The Luminos program in Tigray is informed by learnings from Konso and includes a structured pedagogy, comprehensive trauma healing training for teachers, daily SEL sessions, and an emphasis on play-based learning.

Luminos recognizes the profound impact a classroom can have in providing a sense of stability, hope, and community for children displaced by conflict and experiencing trauma. For many of our students, Luminos classrooms provide a much-needed space for joy and healing.

“There is no doubt that this work is important. For the children we serve in Tigray, life is not back to normal and there is a lot of work to be done,” says Luminos Ethiopia Education Program Manager, Lula Yibaleh. “My hope for students is that they overcome the psychological burdens they face and become positive agents of change in their communities. I hope that these children’s hopes and dreams are restored through the power of transformative education programs, such as the Luminos program.”

“There is no doubt that this work is important.”

Lula Yibaleh, Luminos Education Program Manager, Ethiopia

Joyful Learning in the Classroom: 5 Techniques for an Engaging Pedagogy

Joyful Learning in the Classroom: 5 Techniques for an Engaging Pedagogy

We know that children everywhere learn best when they’re happy. At the Luminos Fund, we are dedicated to creating safe and inclusive environments where students can feel comfortable and enjoy learning.

To ensure children experience joyful learning, we develop meaningful and engaging lessons that meet students where they are. Most students joining the Luminos program have never been to school before, or have very limited exposure to education. As a result, we meet students at the beginning of their learning journeys and focus on the basics: foundational reading, writing, and math skills.

In addition to meeting students where they are, we ensure lessons are culturally relevant by using locally created reading materials in our literacy lessons, featuring familiar characters, settings, and activities to make stories relatable for students. Traditional games and songs, along with locally sourced materials, are integrated into lessons to help create a more familiar space for children.

Here are five techniques from the Joyful Learning element of the Luminos Method for creating an engaging pedagogy.

1. Make Lessons Interactive

In Luminos classrooms, we use a wide range of teaching methods that span from structured, explicit instruction to more student-driven projects, depending on the topic being covered and the students’ level of understanding. However, a key feature of all lessons is that they are interactive, with plenty of opportunities for students to apply and practice what they are learning.

1. Make Lessons Interactive

For example, in phonics lessons, Luminos teachers provide students with frequent opportunities to practice saying the target sound aloud, reading the new letter in words and passages — both as a group and in pairs — and writing. During a full class session, students might be asked to indicate with their thumbs up if they hear the target sound in a list of words.

2. Learning Should be Social and Collaborative

2. Learning Should be Social and Collaborative

By encouraging students to work collaboratively in groups and pairs, we provide students with opportunities to practice skills, explore new concepts, and build confidence in a non-threatening way. This is especially important for learners who are shy or apprehensive about speaking in front of the class. Examples of collaborative work in pairs include making sentences with a new vocabulary word, summarizing the main idea of a lesson, or identifying the nouns in a short story before sharing them with the class.

In Ethiopia, students in the Luminos program sit in five groups: handicrafts, games, music, stories, and flashcards. Our teachers often assign different tasks to each group, leading them to practice the same content in different ways.

We believe that the social elements of the Luminos program also have an impact on students’ happiness at school and overall enjoyment in learning. Research on school climate has shown that when students feel more connected to each other, they feel more positive about school, providing an optimal environment for learning.

3. Incorporate Playful Activities and Games

Playful activities and games are an important feature in the Luminos classroom, serving to engage students, keep their attention, and increase their enjoyment of lessons. Whether played as a whole class or in small groups, they help alleviate the feeling of the school day being long, particularly for those who are new to it. Importantly, these games are always connected to the lesson’s objectives and reinforce the concepts or skills being taught.

Examples of playful activities include role play to act out a story to improve reading comprehension and practice new vocabulary, using a pretend market stall to buy and sell and apply addition and subtraction skills, and doing a word scramble with letters on flashcards to make words, apply phonics knowledge, and practicing spelling.

4. Use Physical and Multi-Modal Methods

Lessons in the Luminos program are multi-modal, meaning that they use tactile and kinesthetic methods alongside visual and auditory approaches. Our classes include frequent opportunities for students to move as they learn. Activities might involve jumping, running, stretching, dancing, and clapping, or the use of objects for interactive learning.

A tactile approach is especially useful for math lessons, where using physical objects helps students build their conceptual understanding as they can physically add or take away objects to solve a math problem. Once students have grasped a new concept using physical objects, they can transition to pictorial representation before moving on to using mathematical symbols. Teachers often take students outside for activities like throwing a ball to practice counting skills (for example, counting by twos, threes, or tens).

5. Empower Students

All our teaching methods aim to empower students in and by their learning. There are frequent opportunities for students to lead activities. In literacy and numeracy lessons, for example, students have opportunities to come to the front of the class and lead the class in a familiar routine like calling letter sounds for the class to blend, or numbers for calculations. 

We also aim to build students’ sense of confidence by giving them specific responsibilities. Students are assigned specific roles which they perform on behalf of the class, such as being a teacher’s assistant, attendance monitor, and punctuality monitor. These responsibilities keep students engaged and develop a sense that the classroom is a shared space, while also creating a sense of pride in their work.

Our engaging and meaningful lessons provide students with knowledge and skills through a process that empowers them. By using these methods, we change students’ perception of education to something that is joyful, resulting in better learning outcomes and equipping them with a love of learning that will continue to benefit them throughout their lives.

Learn more in the Joyful Learning element of the Luminos Method!

Measuring Transformative Learning Gains: Key Findings from the IDinsight RCT of Luminos’ Liberia Program

Measuring Transformative Learning Gains: Key Findings from the IDinsight RCT of Luminos’ Liberia Program

Since 2016, the Luminos Fund’s one-year catch-up education program in Liberia has reached more than 17,660 out-of-school children. Luminos is always laser-focused on data to measure our program’s impact on children’s learning and, today, we are delighted to share the excellent results of a new IDinsight randomized controlled trial (RCT) of our Liberia program.

The RCT confirms that children make dramatic learning gains during our program. In the 2022-23 school year, Luminos students read three times more words per minute (WPM) and showed a two-times increase in addition and numeracy skills by the end of our one-year program, compared to the control group. Data from the RCT also shows that the Luminos program is one of only three education programs that is both transformational for children’s learning and cost-effective. Our team is immensely proud of these findings, which are a testament to our tireless focus on helping the most vulnerable children learn.

The Luminos Fund presented key findings from the RCT during our seventh annual U.N. General Assembly (UNGA) week luncheon in New York on September 19, 2023.

1. Luminos students achieve substantial learning gains year over year, even as the program reach has doubled in scale.

During the 2022-23 school year in Liberia, Luminos students progressed from reading an average of 4 WPM at the start of the program to 29 WPM by the end of the program. This remarkable increase is 21 WPM more than students in the control group gained. This finding mirrors external evaluation data from our two prior program years in Liberia when children achieved similar results. In this same three-year period, our program doubled from serving 2,400 students in the 2020-21 school year to 5,010 students in the 2022-23 school year. The RCT also finds that Luminos students achieve substantial gains in numeracy skills compared to the control group.

2. In one year, a child in the Luminos Liberia program learns 90% of what the average Liberian will learn in their lifetime.

The learning that Luminos students achieve in just one school year is almost as much as the average Liberian achieves over their entire life. No other externally evaluated program in Liberia has come close to the learning gains that IDinsight documented through the RCT of the Luminos program. [1]

This statistic not only highlights the remarkable impact of the Luminos program but also underscores the significant challenges facing the education system in Liberia. Luminos is honored to have such a strong presence in Liberia, including our partnership with government, to help more children achieve similarly remarkable results in the years ahead.

3. Uniquely, the Luminos program is both transformational and cost-effective.

The RCT results confirm that the Luminos program is one of only three education programs that have been shown to be both transformational for children’s learning and cost-effective. This is measured using data from the 2020 Global Education Evidence Advisory Panel “Smart Buys” report on learning gains and USAID cost-effectiveness metrics.

Why these two variables? An intervention’s cost is vitally important: even the most transformative education program may have limited ability to scale if the cost per child is extremely expensive. Equally, the total amount of learning achieved in a given intervention is vitally important. Foundational literacy interventions only become catalytic if they enable children to reach the threshold of fluent reading. A program that moves children from 3 to 6 WPM could appear cost-effective if it was delivered for a low cost, but would not have any deep or meaningful impact on that child. Thus, we mapped interventions by how they performed on these two variables.

The Luminos program is one of only three education programs that has been shown to be both transformational for children’s learning and cost-effective. Source: USAID, Early Grade Reading Barometer

(A grim side note that makes us all the more proud of the rarified results Luminos is achieving: A staggering 40% of evaluations in the education sector show no effect on student learning. Lots of work remains in the global community’s quest to ensure every child is receiving a high-quality education.)

Looking Ahead: Expanding Our Reach

The Luminos Fund’s impact on children’s learning is only possible thanks to the generosity of our supporters, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Dubai Cares, Echidna Giving, Legatum, The LEGO Foundation, Mulago Foundation, Pousaz Philanthropies, UBS Optimus Foundation, USAID, and others. Luminos is scaling our model as broadly as possible, funding permitting, advancing our unwavering mission to ensure all children have equal access to joyful, foundational learning, especially those shut out of education by crisis, poverty, or discrimination. We are grateful to our global community of supporters, partners, and advisors for joining us on this important journey.

Read the full IDinsight RCT report.

Learn more about the Luminos program in Liberia.

[1] The Learning Adjusted Years of School expresses learning in comparison to what would be achieved in a high-quality education system within a year. This enables the comparison of learning outcomes across different contexts.

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A new randomized controlled trial (RCT) of the Luminos program shows dramatic learning gains for students.

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