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. 

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 four 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, GEEAP

(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.

New Summary Report: Examining Levels of Learning Loss, Trauma, and Resilience in Children, Parents, and Teachers in Tigray, Ethiopia

New Summary Report: Examining Levels of Learning Loss, Trauma, and Resilience in Children, Parents, and Teachers in Tigray, Ethiopia

The Luminos Fund commissioned an independent study to examine learning loss, trauma, and resilience among primary-school-aged children in Tigray, a region in northern Ethiopia, in the wake of COVID-19 school closures and two years of civil war.

The study, led by Dr. Belay Hagos from the Institute for Education, Health, and Development (IEHD) in collaboration with a team of researchers from Mekelle University, surveyed 600 internally displaced children who were enrolled in Grades 2, 3, and 4 at the time of school closures in 2020. It also included 450 parents and 400 teachers. Due to ongoing security concerns in various parts of Tigray, participants were selected from temporary shelters located in and around Mekelle.

The following findings are deeply alarming, indicating that children have experienced significant learning loss, and there is evidence of substantial psychological trauma affecting children, parents, and teachers. Our latest report, “Examining Levels of Learning Loss, Trauma, and Resilience in Children, Parents, and Teachers in Tigray, Ethiopia,” summarizes the findings of this independent study.

“The findings of our study are a stark reminder of the devastating toll that war takes on children. It’s not just the physical destruction and loss of life – it’s the psychological trauma.”

Dr. Belay Hagos Hailu, Associate Professor of Education and Director of the Institute of Educational Research, Addis Ababa University

Key Findings

Infographic depicting six key findings from the the summary report on learning loss, trauma, and resilience in Tigray, Ethiopia.

Context

Over the past two years, the war between the Ethiopian government and the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) devastated the education of millions of children in Ethiopia. The conflict affected over 20 million people, closed over 7,000 schools, and shut almost 1.5 million children out of school. The World Health Organization’s Director-General, Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus, referred to the war as “the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.” It came directly on the heels of earlier school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Map of Ethiopia depicting the Tigray region in the north of the country.

After the Ethiopian government and TPLF announced a peace agreement, Luminos moved to re-establish our education program in Tigray, in partnership with communities and government. In early 2023, Luminos commissioned this study to inform a variation of our core program model that is customized to the unique needs of children in Tigray.

Key Recommendations

Based on the comprehensive findings of this study, several key recommendations emerge:

  • Provide comprehensive psychosocial support services for children, their families, and teachers to address the emotional and psychological needs resulting from the crisis.
  • Implement an accelerated learning model that targets missed or disrupted learning and embeds Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) approaches, offering tailored interventions to facilitate catch-up and bridge the learning gap.
  • Create and maintain conditions that encourage and support children’s continued attendance and engagement in learning, addressing potential barriers to ensure their sustained participation.
  • Prioritize collaboration between relevant stakeholders, including educators, parents, community-based organizations, and policymakers, to collectively address the challenges and develop effective strategies for educational recovery.

By implementing these recommendations, it is possible to address the critical needs identified in the study and work towards mitigating the impact of the pandemic and war on children’s education and well-being.

To read the full report summary, including further data on learning loss, trauma, and resilience, and a more detailed overview of the evaluation and methods used, click here. The full independent study is available upon request.

Luminos is mobilizing support and making urgent plans to relaunch our accelerated education program in Tigray in autumn 2023. To learn more, please email .

To learn more about our Ethiopia program, click here.

Luminos Liberia Students Make Substantial Literacy Gains in 2021-22

Luminos Liberia Students Make Substantial Literacy Gains in 2021-22

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. [1]

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. 

Evaluation Overview

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.

Overall Results

The results of the evaluation show that the Luminos program positively impacted student achievement in both reading and math.

Literacy

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.

Numeracy

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.

Conclusion

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.

References:

  1. Simpson, A. “Luminos Fund Endline Evaluation 2021-22, Liberia,” Q&A Services, December 2022.

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. 

    Luminos Liberia Students Made Remarkable Progress Despite Pandemic-Shortened School Year

    Luminos Liberia Students Made Remarkable Progress Despite Pandemic-Shortened School Year

    Read the full report summary ↑

    In 2016, the Luminos Fund launched the Second Chance 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 schools. 489 young people have been trained in the Second Chance pedagogy and model.

    Previous external evaluation results show that in just 10 months, Second Chance students in Liberia are reading 39 correct words per minute (CWPM) on average, compared to just under 5 CWPM at the start of the program. [1] Approximately 90% of Luminos students transition to mainstream school at the end of the program.

    During the 2020/21 school year, results show that the Second Chance program increased oral reading fluency by 28.7 CWPM, with girls progressing 4 CWPM more than boys. These results are remarkable on two accounts. First, the 2020/21 school year was a shorter, 7-month program due to the COVID-19 pandemic (in a typical school year, the Second Chance program runs for 10 months). Second, the 2020/21 school year marked the reopening of classes in Liberia for the Luminos Fund after COVID-19 school closures (mid-March through December 2020). Our latest report, “Second Chance Liberia Endline Evaluation Report,” summarizes results from the 2020/21 Second Chance endline evaluation conducted by Q&A Services. [2]

    Evaluation Overview

    The evaluation aimed to demonstrate the impact of the Second Chance Liberia program on student literacy and numeracy outcomes during the 28-week 2020/21 program. The literacy and numeracy levels of a random sample of students across all Second Chance classes were assessed in the first two weeks of the program (baseline) and again in the final week of the program (endline). 345 students (ngirls= 163, nboys 182) across 80 Second Chance classes were assessed at baseline and 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. For more details on the evaluation and methods used, please see the full report summary.

    Overall Results

    Results show that the Second Chance program positively impacted student achievement in both reading and math, with statistically significant impact on reading.

    Literacy

    On reading, students showed improvement across every EGRA subtask, including improvement of 48 percentage points on both letter identification and oral reading fluency of Grade 2 level text, 41 percentage points on familiar words, and 28 percentage points on reading comprehension. In oral reading fluency, students read 31.5 correct words per minute (CWPM) at endline, compared to 2.8 CWPM at baseline. Results show that the Second Chance program increased oral reading fluency by 28.7 CWPM during the 7-month 2020/21 program. See Table 1 below for the full results.

    Numeracy

    On numeracy, students again showed improvement across every single EGMA subtask, including improvement of 35 percentage points in number identification, 32 percentage points in number discrimination, 27 percentage points on addition and 17 percentage points on subtraction. As noted, while Second Chance impacted student achievement on mathematics, improvement was less significant than literacy. This makes sense given that 5 hours of the Second Chance school day (approximately 70% of instructional time) is devoted to literacy and 2 hours each day (30% of instructional time) is devoted to numeracy. See Table 2 below for the full results.

    Conclusion

    Results from the Luminos Fund’s 2020/21 Liberia program show that the program positively impacted student reading and math outcomes across all EGRA and EGMA subtasks. Student improvement in reading was statistically significant. Results show that the average student improved 28.7 CWPM within the 7-month Second Chance program, with girls improving four CWPM more than boys on oral reading fluency. Outcomes were similar across gender, county, and implementing partner. These results are incredibly impressive given the shorter 7-month 2020/21 program, and the challenges of successfully delivering an education program during the COVID-19 pandemic. When compared with similar programs in Liberia and globally, results show that Second Chance is a highly efficient and effective way to help vulnerable children catch up on learning.

    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.


    1. Simpson, A. “Luminos Fund Second Chance Program, Liberia, Endline Evaluation Report 2018-19,” Q&A Services, June 2019.

    2. Simpson, A. “Second Chance Liberia Endline Evaluation 2020-21,” Q&A Services, October 2021.

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