Addressing the Learning Crisis: 3 Takeaways from a Government Learning Exchange

Addressing the Learning Crisis: 3 Takeaways from a Government Learning Exchange

The Luminos Fund builds strong government partnerships based on collaboration and deep trust to scale our impact and promote systemic change.  In each country, Luminos works closely with ministries of education to strengthen education systems, share best practices, and build capacity to bring joyful, transformative learning to millions of vulnerable, out-of-school children.

Leveraging this partnership ethos, Luminos and the Ethiopian Ministry of Education jointly hosted an inter-ministerial exchange visit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in March 2024. The visit convened a range of education leaders and experts from Ethiopia, Ghana, and The Gambia for a series of discussions on advancing foundational learning in Sub-Saharan Africa. The visit also provided an opportunity to forge the new connections necessary to develop bold responses to the challenge before us all—addressing the global learning crisis.

Despite significant progress in expanding access to the classroom in recent years, far too many children fail to learn even the most foundational skills of reading, writing, and basic math. In Sub-Saharan Africa, nearly 90% of children do not learn to read by age 10. Education systems must undergo fundamental shifts to ensure that every child develops the basic skills they need to succeed, and governments need to prioritize foundational learning.

During the inter-ministerial exchange visit, participants discussed the learning crisis in Ethiopia, Ghana, and The Gambia, and identified evidence-informed approaches that improve learning outcomes and ensure learning for all students. Here are three takeaways from the discussion:

1. The learning crisis in Sub-Saharan Africa goes beyond access

Despite commendable efforts in Ethiopia, Ghana, and The Gambia to expand education access, millions of children remain out of school, often due to a variety of socio-economic barriers including poverty, child labor, and displacement. UNESCO research suggests that children and parents’ negative perceptions of the return on investment for attending school play a considerable role in the out-of-school challenge in low-income contexts. While the rates of out-of-school children remain a key concern, the quality of education for children within the school system is equally alarming. Among 10-year-olds in Sub-Saharan Africa, 70% of children are in school but not learning (World Bank).

2. Language of instruction is a complex, but necessary factor to consider for ensuring learning for all students

Mrs. Catherine Appiah Pinkrah, Executive Director of Ghana’s Complementary Education Agency, contributes to the discussion following a presentation on the learning crisis in Ethiopia.

Luminos’ government partners in Ethiopia, Ghana, and The Gambia have each adopted strategies to account for language diversity through the expanded use of mother tongue or area language as the language of instruction. For instance, Ethiopia is an ethnically and linguistically diverse country, with over 80 languages and dialects across its different regions. The language of instruction used in each school is determined by the primary ethnic group present in each community. Students are encouraged to use their mother tongue language in classrooms first, before being introduced to additional languages including national and regional languages. However, factors such as migration and displacement, which have been exacerbated by increased conflict in recent years, further diversify communities and pose key challenges for mother tongue-based multilingual education. Ghana faces a similar challenge where many children, parents, and teachers have relocated to regions or communities where the mother tongue language is different.

3. There is need for greater government investments in foundational learning

In Ghana, the share of the education budget allocated to basic education declined from 39.2% in 2019 to 20% in 2023, with tertiary education receiving the largest proportion of funding among basic, secondary, and tertiary education levels (UNICEF). This trend is similar in Ethiopia and The Gambia. Committing to prioritizing foundational learning in the early years can be a powerful approach to tackling the learning crisis– with long-term benefits for preparing children to obtain higher-level knowledge and competencies in later years.

Dr. Belay Hagos Hailu (center), Associate Professor of Education and Director of the Institute of Educational Research at Addis Ababa University, and Luminos Adivsory Board Member, shakes hands with Dr. Alemayehu Hailu Gebre (right), Luminos Senior Director of Programs in Ethiopia. (Photo by Mekbib Tadesse for the Luminos Fund)

At Luminos, we believe equipping children with foundational learning skills is essential to unlocking a child’s full potential. The Luminos program teaches children to read, write, and do math – to learn how to learn – through a joyful, structured pedagogy that meets children where they are in their learning journey. In just one school year, Liberian children enrolled in the Luminos program learn 90% of what the average Liberian will learn in their lifetime.

If the international development community is to address the urgent learning crisis facing children, effective collaboration and coordination between stakeholders is essential. Through partnerships with governments, Luminos distills effective teaching and learning strategies within education systems, in alignment with the national education priorities in each country. Indeed, a key objective of the African Union’s declaration of 2024 as the Year of Education, under the theme “Educate an African fit for the 21st Century: Building resilient education systems for increased access to inclusive, lifelong, quality, and relevant learning in Africa,” is to galvanize collective action towards achieving Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4) across the continent.

This exchange visit was a timely effort to not only share best practices, but also to advocate for effective and proven solutions to ensure learning for all children.

Five Tips to Build Effective Global-Local Partnerships

Five Tips to Build Effective Global-Local Partnerships

While the international development world is committed to putting more resources in the hands of local partners, the question remains: how does it work best in practice?

Local partners (what Luminos refers to as our “community partners”) have been a core part of the Luminos Fund’s high-impact learning program from the beginning. In our global-local model, our programs are co-created and co-implemented with our community partners. Through many years of experience, we have honed an approach to deliver our transformative education programs efficiently and effectively with and through our community partners, combining international best practices with deep local expertise and creativity.

Here are five tips from the Community Partners element of the Luminos Method for building effective partnerships.

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of community partners reported that Luminos’ approach to capacity building was “great” and that partners’ staffs were providing the technical resources necessary to work more effectively and efficiently

1. Align on Leadership, Mission, and Values

Do: Ensure your partnerships reflect your values just as much as the program itself. For example, we take a joyful learning approach in the classroom and with our partner interactions.

Q

Don’t: Assume that the same leadership or operational style will be suitable for all partnerships, regardless of their specific cultural context or organizational values.

“We chose Luminos because it matched with who we are as an institution. We do things differently around foundational literacy and numeracy, and we want to use data to measure progress. We also want to improve the community. In Luminos, it was the first time we saw a partner that encompassed wholly our interests and approach.”

Benjamin Freeman, Executive Director of LIPACE, a Luminos community partner in Liberia

2. Solve Problems Nimbly and Proactively

Do: Take a quick, proactive problem-solving approach in the face of unexpected challenges during program implementation. Though we have standardized many elements of the program over the years, we must remain nimble and ready to think creatively with our partners in the face of operating challenges.

Q

Don’t: Ignore the insights and problem-solving capabilities of your community partners by adhering rigidly to your processes and overlooking opportunities for mutual learning.

“We came on board having our own processes and opinions about how you go about doing the work. But as we worked alongside Luminos, we saw that they knew what they were doing and that there was so much we could learn in working side by side.”

Kirk Anderson, Executive Director of Link Community Development, a Luminos community partner in Ghana

3. Communicate Often and Quickly

Do: Take a “high-touch” approach to communications through WhatsApp, Slack, by phone, or in person. Whether it is the timely answering of text messages, showing up to important community meetings, or returning phone calls, partner responsiveness is an important value.

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Don’t: Expect successful outcomes without fostering a communication environment that facilitates a swift and collaborative response to changing needs and situations.

“When we are both so closely following the work, it means that most of the time we get to the problem at the right time and have a solution in place before it’s too late to change.”

Hagirso Desta, Executive Director, EECMY-DASSC, a Luminos community partner in Ethiopia

4. Prioritize Learning Outcomes

Do: Use real-time data to help community partners learn and adjust along the way, sharing data with partners via data dashboards or learning sessions to serve as a guide for any classroom adjustments.

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Don’t: Implement data-gathering requirements without explaining their purpose and sharing the results with community partners to invite their input and creative problem-solving.

“All their analysis really helps improve implementation. Each year, this brings to us new and additional knowledge to our approach that makes the work better for the children and the staff.”

Hagirso Desta, Executive Director, EECMY-DASSC, a Luminos community partner in Ethiopia

5. Create a Safe Environment for Candid Feedback

Do: Take the first steps to build a culture of trust and transparency by creating clear and open communication channels, in both directions, on an ongoing basis. This can include multiple formal and informal processes, from surveys and learning sessions to regular check-ins. Commit to being responsive to the feedback received.

Q

Don’t: Create an atmosphere where partners may feel hesitant to share honest feedback due to concerns about jeopardizing the partnership.

“We have to demonstrate that we really mean it when we ask for feedback and that partners can trust us to receive it well.”

Ernesta Orlovaitė, Luminos Fund, Director of Impact​​

Learn more in the Community Partners element of the Luminos Method!

Joyful Learning Webinar: Why Children Everywhere Learn Best When They Are Happy

Joyful Learning Webinar: Why Children Everywhere Learn Best When They Are Happy

On January 30, 2024, Luminos convened leading education experts to explore the power of Joyful Learning to drive better learning outcomes for children. The LinkedIn Live webinar featured insights from Dr. Kwame Akyeampong of the Open University, Dr. Bo Stjerne Thomsen of LEGO Education, and Caitlin Baron from the Luminos Fund. Watch the webinar for valuable reflections and read on for three key recommendations from the discussion.

Speakers:

Dr. Kwame Akyeampong, Professor of International Education and Development, Open University

Dr. Bo Stjerne Thomsen, Head of Educational Impact, LEGO Education

Caitlin Baron, CEO, Luminos Fund

Watch the webinar below:

Key speaker recommendations include:

1) Develop Joyful Learning on the Foundation of a Safe and Inclusive Environment

The well-being of students is paramount for joyful learning. Luminos CEO, Caitlin Baron, emphasizes this, stating, “We always emphasize that…learning of any kind really cannot happen until we can provide children with a safe and inclusive learning environment​​.” Ensuring staff and partners are well-trained, educating students about their rights, and promoting healthy practices are all critical components of ensuring student well-being.

Learn more in the importance of safe, inclusive, and healthy environments in the Joyful Learning element of the Luminos Method!

2) Develop a Meaningful Program of Study

Meeting students where they are with culturally relevant materials is a cornerstone of the Luminos approach. “A meaningful program of study…connects with these children’s interests and background,” says Dr. Kwame Akyeampong, underscoring the need to tailor education to the child’s learning level and cultural context​​.

Caitlin Baron adds that “the lack of resources doesn’t actually need to change the pedagogy, it just needs to change the materials and the modality.” This lesson challenges educators to adapt their teaching methods to the resources available without compromising on the quality of pedagogy.

“A meaningful program of study…connects with these children’s interests and background.”

Dr. Kwame Akyeampong

As a Luminos Board member, Dr. Kwame Akyeampong has observed that Luminos classrooms are “a very rich, stimulating environment. It is something that strikes you immediately.” To promote joyful learning, educators should create spaces that are vibrant and connected to the students’ community and experiences, using materials and resources that resonate with their backgrounds. A classroom where “there is a lot of movement, hand movement, a lot of talking” is one where joyful learning thrives, as described by Dr. Akyeampong.

“The lack of resource doesn’t actually need to change the pedagogy, it just needs to change the materials and the modality.”

Caitlin Baron

3) Employ an Engaging Pedagogy

Luminos uses “a range of fun and engaging teaching methods,” an essential practice for student interaction and empowerment.

Dr. Bo Stjerne Thomsen contributes to this point, saying, “Happiness is fundamental to learning. But the reality is when you are going to prioritize it, it is very difficult when you are faced with a stressed, highly competitive, and often resource-constrained environment​​.” An engaging pedagogy is designed not just for fun, but also to empower students to experience success, voice their opinions, and grow in confidence. By incorporating these principles into teaching strategies, teachers can cultivate an atmosphere where learning is not just an obligation, but a joyful and empowering journey for every learner.

Luminos students in The Gambia use their student workbooks during a literacy lesson.

Students in Ethiopia have fun during writing practice. (Photo: Mekbib Tadesse for the Luminos Fund) 

Dr. Bo Stjerne Thomsen speaks further to the importance of collaborative learning environments, “We know that children learn when they can share ideas, they collaborate, observe each other.”​ A joyful learning environment is one where interaction is encouraged, and everyone—teachers and students alike—contributes to and benefits from shared learning experiences.

“We know that children learn when they can share ideas, they collaborate, observe each other.”

Dr. Bo Stjerne Thomsen

Caitlin Baron adds to this, suggesting that a learning environment which allows children to “thrive is a real foundation for everything that comes after.”​ When students feel heard and are given the chance to succeed, their confidence and enjoyment in learning naturally increase.

To learn more about Luminos’ approach to creating joyful learning environments, download the full Joyful Learning element.

Explore additional elements of the Luminos Method here.

To view the webinar on LinkedIn and read the commentary from event participants, click here.

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

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.  

LEARN MORE: 

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

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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) 

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+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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