Haftom’s Story: Learning & Resilience in Tigray, Ethiopia

Haftom’s Story: Learning & Resilience in Tigray, Ethiopia

As the sun beats down, Haftom looks out over barren fields, watching the wind blow clouds of orange dust across the conflict-marked landscape of Tigray.

Here, in the northern region of Ethiopia, the impacts of war linger.

“Before the war, all the sheep and cattle were safe,” says Haftom. “Now, after the war, they’re not around. It’s a problem. Now we only have meals twice a day, and they’re small.”

War devasted Tigray and disrupted education for millions of children, resulting in over 1.5 million children being shut out of school for three years.

Dust blows across drought-stricken fields near Haftom’s home. Cruel spiked weeds are the only vegitation remaining. (Photo: Mara Chan/Luminos Fund) 

From 2020 to 2022, war devasted Tigray and disrupted education for millions of children, resulting in over 1.5 million children being shut out of school for three years. In the Atsbi district, where Haftom lives, severe drought followed the conflict, creating widespread food insecurity.

“This situation has built up over the past few years: the conflict, people losing their properties and not being able to farm, plus the lack of rain, all adds up to a very dire situation,” reports the Atsbi District Education Head, Gebre Asefa. “It’s hugely impacting the community.”

After a peace agreement was announced, Luminos moved quickly to relaunch our education program in Tigray. Building on our history of operating in Tigray prior to the conflict, we customized the program to meet the unique needs of children in the region. Luminos commissioned a study revealing the war’s impact on children, which showed alarming learning loss and psychological trauma: 62% of children feared being killed and 72% experienced shooting at close range.

In response to the study results, our Tigray program includes trauma-healing, an emphasis on socio-emotional learning, and midday meals to address the significant food insecurity.

Gebre Asefa, Atsbi District Educatino Head. (Photo: Mara Chan/Luminos Fund) 

Haftom completes an assignment during class. “I would like to be a teacher, because if I’m educated, I can teach others. I want to give them my knowledge,” says Haftom.​ (Photo: Mara Chan/Luminos Fund) 

At age 13, Haftom stepped into a brightly decorated Luminos classroom, beginning his education journey for the first time.

“I came to school without any knowledge. I didn’t know if I could learn. But as I kept coming, I continued to learn from the lessons, and that made me very happy to come to school.”

Haftom, Luminos student

“I came to school without any knowledge,” Haftom explains. “I didn’t know if I could learn. But as I kept coming, I continued to learn from the lessons, and that made me very happy to come to school.”

Through the joyful, free Luminos program, Haftom is learning foundational reading, writing, and math skills. “Before I started school, I only knew one letter,” Haftom remembers, “but now I can read and write, and I know all the letters — in English and Tigrinya!”

Haftom’s confidence grew during the school year, and now he excels in math, Tigrinya, and environmental science. “I’m able to help other students who are struggling with writing and all the subjects,” Haftom notes proudly.

Haftom presents with his group in front of the class. “I’m very happy to have this chance for learning,” Haftom says. “It’s important to get an education. If you get knowledge, you can have a better life.” (Photo: Mara Chan/Luminos Fund) 

Tigray continues to face significant challenges. As Haftom notes, “We have a problem. We have a financial problem. My older brother and sister can no longer go to school, and we have a shortage of food. We get breakfast and dinner, but only a small portion. I’m happy to eat lunch at school.”

The midday meals Luminos provides in Tigray are a lifeline for our students, providing critical nutrition and energy to learn and engage.

While the challenges and needs in Tigray are great, Luminos eagerly looks to serve more children like Haftom, with hope for the region’s recovery.

Haftom with his mother, Kahsa, outside Haftom’s classroom. “I was very happy for Haftom to start the program,” says Kahsa. “We couldn’t afford to send him to school before. I was not educated myself, but I’m happy for Haftom to complete his education so he can get employment and lead a modern life. He’s a good student.” (Photo: Mara Chan/Luminos Fund) 

Haftom smiles outside of his classroom. Haftom’s favorite subject is math. “I like all the subjects, but I like math the most,” says Haftom.  (Photo: Mara Chan/Luminos Fund) 

Read this story and others from our various country programs in our 2023 Annual Report!

To learn more about our Ethiopia program, click here.

To read Luminos’ summary report of our commissioned independent study on learning loss, trauma, and resilience amongst primary-school-aged children in Tigray, click here.

Photo credit for this story: Mara Chan

The Power of Writing

The Power of Writing

As Tizta’s fingers curl around a pencil, her words come to life through poetry, showcasing the writing skills that she developed as a recent graduate of the Luminos Fund program in Ethiopia.

One of eight children, Tizta moved from her rural community to live with her aunt and cousin in the eastern city of Dire Dawa when she was ten years old. At the time, she had been out of school for more than two years and had aged out of the mainstream school system. In Dire Dawa, Tizta enrolled in the Luminos program, where she caught up on missed foundational literacy and numeracy skills in ten months, enabling her to transition into grade 4 in a government school this year.


Learning is the key to knowledge

It answers the missing days

In short, when the lesson starts

I know not knowing is the main problem.

A poem by Luminos alum,

Tizta, age 12

When we talk about early childhood literacy, there is a tendency in the international education sector to focus on the critical importance of teaching children to read. This emphasis on reading is reinforced by the widespread use of literacy assessment tools, like the Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA), that test the ability of children to read letters, words, and sentences — but not their ability to write them. Yet true literacy can only be achieved through the combination of reading and writing skills.

A Luminos student in Liberia practices writing the alphabet in the early weeks of the program. (Photo: John Healey for the Luminos Fund) 

Writing unlocks new forms of communication, self-expression, and creativity. There is also extensive evidence that learning to write enhances reading and comprehension skills. [1] As students learn to spell words, they internalize the relationships that exist between letter combinations and sounds, ultimately improving their ability to identify and blend those sounds to read words. At the same time, as students build familiarity with the conventions of writing (how to write letters between the lines in their notebook, how to add spaces between words, how to use punctuation, etc.), they become that much better equipped to navigate text on a page.

Writing unlocks new forms of communication, self-expression, and creativity.

Tizta outside her government school classroom.

Education is very important! If you don’t get an education, you can’t reach where you want to go. It’s important to get an education so that you can achieve your dreams and become what you want to become.” says Tizta. (Photo: Mara Chan/Luminos Fund) 

This is particularly important in the context of Luminos classrooms, where many students have limited prior exposure to print materials. As students progress to reading more complex sentences and stories, writing about those stories is a highly effective way to stretch and test their levels of comprehension and engagement with the core ideas in a text.

For Tizta, learning to read in the Luminos program was transformational, but so too was learning to write. When asked about her proudest accomplishment at school, Tizta shared, “The fact that I’m able to read — and the fact that I can write, because it allows me to write my poems.” Tizta first became interested in poetry after reading a book with a poem about Ethiopia. Now, when she has time, she likes to sit quietly by herself and write her own poetry. “Because I’m able to write,” she explains, “I can put my ideas into my poems.”

“Because I’m able to write, I can put my ideas into my poems.”

Tizta, Luminos alum

Learning to Write in the Luminos Program

In Luminos structured pedagogy programs in Ethiopia, children begin learning to write from day one. Our program is broken into three phases, each corresponding to a grade level in government schools. In Phase 1 (grade 1), children are introduced to new letters – and learn decodable syllables or words that use these letters – each day. [2] 

Through a combination of “I do, we do, you do” activities, our students learn to recognize the sounds of the new letters, to read the letters, and to write the letters. In addition, students learn how to write at least one decodable word each day. In this phase, students practice writing in a variety of fun and engaging ways. They may start by tracing letter shapes in the air and working in groups to form the letters out of bottle caps, stones, or clay, before writing the letters on slate boards or in their notebooks. Students may finish a lesson by creating flashcards that are later used for a variety of interactive reading activities.

In Phases 2 and 3 (equivalent to grades 2 and 3), students are introduced to at least one reading passage a week. To help students read these texts with fluency, teachers focus on five vocabulary words from the passage each day. Students first practice reading the words by blending their component letter sounds together, and then spelling the words through dictation exercises. Finally, they demonstrate their understanding of the meaning of the words by using them in sentences (both orally and in writing).

A Luminos student notebook in Tigray, Ethiopia. (Photo: Noorun Khan/Luminos Fund)

At the beginning of the week, students write the full reading passage in their notebooks. We introduced this routine to ensure every child would have access to the text, even if they did not have their own their own copies of the textbook, and it has proved to be a very effective activity to improve handwriting and familiarity with sentence structure. As the week progresses, students annotate the passages in their notebooks: finding and underlining the vocabulary words of the day and identifying verbs and other grammatical structures. By Phase 3, students are asked to write answers to comprehension questions, including more open-ended inference questions. 

For our students, the writing journey often starts with something as basic as learning how to properly hold a pencil for the first time. Their journey to mastering letters, words, and then complete sentences unlocks the power of writing. Luminos students often share how proud they are to write their names and the names of their family members – a quiet dignity from this hard-earned skill.

At Luminos, we believe that equipping children with foundational literacy and numeracy skills is essential to unlocking their full potential. After her experience in the Luminos program, Tizta has dreams of becoming a doctor or a teacher. Whichever path she chooses, she hopes to continue to write poems and do poetry readings in her spare time. While the education sector tends to measure success by focusing on gains in reading, Tizta’s poetry is a beautiful reminder of the transformative power of writing.

Tizta with her former Luminos teacher, Ms. Saron. Today, Tizta’s poems often feature her teachers and importance of education. When she grows up, Tizta says, “I want to become a teacher after completing university. I want to be a teacher so that I can educate those who haven’t had a chance to get an education.” (Photo: Mara Chan/Luminos Fund)

[1] Graham, S., and Hebert, M. A. (2010). Writing to read: Evidence for how writing can improve reading. A Carnegie Corporation Time to Act Report. Washington, DC: Alliance for Excellent Education. ccny_report_2010_writing.pdf (carnegie.org)

[2] Decodable words are words that include only the letter-sound relationships that students have been explicitly taught. For example, if they have been taught the most common sounds represented by the letters a, c, and t, “cat” would be a decodable word while “can” would not. Learn more in our “Phonics 101” blog here.

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.

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

Education is a Humanitarian Imperative for Children in Tigray, Ethiopia

Education is a Humanitarian Imperative for Children in Tigray, Ethiopia

This blog was originally posted on the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) website and can be viewed here.

On World Humanitarian Day, we turn our focus to the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia, where children have endured devastating consequences of conflict and the upheaval caused by COVID-19. A new independent study commissioned by the Luminos Fund reveals profound learning loss and trauma, reinforcing the urgent need to prioritize education as a humanitarian imperative.

By: Dr. Alemayehu Hailu Gebre (Luminos Fund) and Dr. Belay Hagos (Addis Ababa University)

Civil war in northern Ethiopia affected over 20 million peopleclosed over 7,000 schools and shut almost 1.5 million children out of school. The conflict came directly on the heels of earlier school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

After three years of being out of school and enduring the traumas of war, children now face a challenging journey to catch up on education. However, Luminos’ accelerated education program shows that every child is capable of learning a remarkable amount in a short period of time, if given the chance. We have seen this to be true across all our country programs, including in Ethiopia where Luminos is successfully reaching more than 189,768 out-of-school children. In one school year, our program teaches children to read, write and do math.

Following the historic peace agreement in Ethiopia, Luminos returned to the Tigray region and faced an alarming reality: over 1 million people are currently displaced, and schools are badly damaged. Both government and civil society shared an urgent call to restart the Luminos program.

Recognizing that the core aspects of the program would need to be customized to the unique needs of children in Tigray, we commissioned an independent study examining the levels of learning loss, trauma and resilience in children, parents and teachers.

Dr. Belay, at Addis Ababa University, led a team of senior researchers from Mekelle University in surveying 600 internally displaced children, 450 parents and 400 teachers. The findings offer the first comprehensive view into the harrowing experiences of children, parents and teachers in Tigray since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Key Findings from the Report

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

The survey revealed that 70% of children thought they would die of hunger, and 72% of children experienced shooting at a very close distance. Teachers were also deeply affected as 4 out of 5 reported experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

We also wanted to understand how the context of conflict may also impact learning and foundational skills in primary-school-aged children, as we were already concerned about losses caused by education disruptions due to COVID-19.

Children who were enrolled in Grades 2 and 3 at the time of school closures in March 2020 were assessed using the Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) to measure potential learning loss. The results were benchmarked against the regional averages for Grade 2 and 3 students from the 2018 national EGRA, which was the last national EGRA before the conflict to include students from Tigray.

Study findings indicated that Grade 2 students’ oral reading fluency had declined by almost 13%.

Oral Reading Fluency of Grade 2 Students in 2018 vs. 2023.

Beyond these alarming findings, the loss incurred by children, not only in terms of losing what they had learned prior to the conflict and pandemic, but also missing out on school is possibly the greatest setback.

As the region rebuilds education must be a humanitarian priority, as it can be a lifeline to communities offering hope, resilience and a path toward a better future.

A Luminos student in Ethiopia sits at his desk during class. (Credit: Michael Stulman/Luminos Fund)

A Holistic Strategy for School Re-Opening

Out of almost all children surveyed, 98% expressed their eagerness to return to school.

As Luminos is re-establishing its program in Tigray after 3 years, there are several urgent steps being taken to ensure an effective learning environment that prioritizes trauma healing as an essential component of helping children achieve their full potential.

1. Providing Psychosocial Support Services

At Luminos, we recognize that there is an urgent need for comprehensive psychosocial support services and interventions to address the emotional and psychological needs of children, their families and teachers. These interventions are vital in helping them cope with trauma and creating a conducive learning environment. But we also know that in the context of Tigray, there is a significant shortage of trained professionals capable of delivering such services.

We believe that by equipping community teachers with specialized training and resources, teachers have the potential to serve as a valuable short-term solution in bridging this gap.

2. Mainstreaming Accelerated Learning

Children need and deserve a well-crafted and well-designed accelerated learning program that builds foundational skills within a positive learning environment.

These programs must be customized to the unique needs and context of children to maximize their impact. When we tap into what is culturally relevant for students in a given context and use an activity-based and engaging curriculum, evidence shows that it can boost social-emotional skills.  For example, we are adapting our core approach in Tigray to include traditional music, dance, games, poetry and art, and we will invite parents and community leaders into the classroom to play active roles in children’s learning journeys.

3. Developing Strategic Partnerships

The education crisis in Tigray can be reversed, but only if we act together. As Luminos builds strategic partnerships in Tigray and beyond, our collaboration with educators, parents, community-based organizations, funders and government is essential. Partnerships enable us to shape a program that not only responds to the unique context of each region, but also brings forth strategies for meaningful learning recovery and lasting transformation.

Building Hope and Resilience

Looking ahead, we at the Luminos Fund mark World Humanitarian Day with a commitment to ensuring all children have equal access to joyful foundational learning, especially those shut out of education by crisis, poverty or discrimination.

To read the full report summary, including further data on learning loss, trauma and resilience, click here.


The Luminos Fund (www.luminosfund.org) provides transformative education programs to thousands of out-of-school children, helping them to catch up to grade level, reintegrate into government schools, and prepare for lifelong learning. Working in partnership with community-based organizations, Luminos is scaling up its accelerated learning program 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 218,541 children secure a second chance to learn. A registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit, Luminos is working in Ethiopia, Ghana, Lebanon, Liberia and The Gambia.

Cover Photo: A primary school classroom destroyed during the conflict in the Tigray region in northern Ethiopia. (Credit: Tekalegn Kelemu Abreha)

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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