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) 

Suraiya: A Brilliant Nurse in the Making | Ghana

Suraiya: A Brilliant Nurse in the Making | Ghana

Suraiya’s first reaction upon entering her Luminos classroom was awe — she thought it was beautiful.

The humble building dedicated to learning was a beautiful sight in Suraiya’s eyes because it represented a long-awaited opportunity to join her peers in an environment that had always been out of reach.

“I had never stepped in one before,” Suraiya says wistfully. At age 12, Suraiya had never been to school. In the Ashanti region of Ghana, where Suraiya and her family live, it is all too common for children to miss out on education. Nearly 23,000 primary-school-aged children in Ashanti are out of school.

In 2022, Luminos officially launched in Ghana to give out-of-school children in the Ashanti region a second chance at education. Suraiya was one of 1,500 children enrolled in Luminos’ classrooms.

“She wasn’t able to read at first, but now she is improving. She hadn’t been to school before so she wasn’t able to do math, but now she can.”

Ramatou, Suraiya’s mother

Suraiya and her mother, Ramatou, used to work together on the family’s charcoal farm to make a living — Ramatou did not have the money to send Suraiya to school. Every day, Suraiya would accompany her mother to a plot of land in the forest, cut down wood, and burn it into charcoal to sell.

During a reading lesson, one of Suraiya’s classmates answers a question.

Through the free Luminos program, Suraiya quickly began learning how to read, write, and do math.

English is her favorite subject, but Suraiya also enjoys learning addition and singing along with her teacher, Adams. Suraiya admires Adams and appreciates the way he helps her learn.

“When he teaches, I understand,” says Suraiya. “He has been telling me that I will do well in the future.” With her teacher’s encouragement, Suraiya feels inspired about her learning progress. “I want to be brilliant!” she declares.

Suraiya’s mother also notices her growth.

“She wasn’t able to read at first, but now she is improving. She hadn’t been to school before so she wasn’t able to do math, but now she can,” says Ramatou.

Ramatou is not able to read or write, but she can see Suraiya’s progress as Suraiya brings home materials to practice reading aloud. Suraiya also shares what she learns in the Luminos program with her siblings and the neighborhood children that come to her for help.

Adams leads his class, including Suraiya (third from the left), in a warm-up activity before class begins.

“She helps them to read,” beams Ramatou.

Suraiya was steadfast in her attendance during the school year, believing education will help her become a better person in the future. After completing the Luminos program among the top three students in her class, Suraiya is advancing into the local government school. She dreams of continuing her education all the way through college and becoming a nurse.

“I will become a nurse and bring pride to my parents,” Suraiya declares. “I will come and take care of the sick here.”

“I want to be brilliant!”

Suraiya, Luminos student

Read this story and others from our various country programs in our 2022 Annual Report!

To learn more about our Ghana program, click here.

The Luminos Fund's 2022 Annual Report spread on a wooden table.

Photo credit for this story: Mara Chan

Test-Learn-Adapt: Lessons from Year 1 in Ghana

Test-Learn-Adapt: Lessons from Year 1 in Ghana

In 2022, when Luminos launched our catch-up education program in Ghana, we drew on our experience working in multiple countries, reaching thousands of out-of-school children aged 8-14. In just one school year, Luminos students progress from not recognizing letters of the alphabet to reading short stories. Luminos prides itself on delivering these impressive learning gains through our methodology, also known as the Luminos Method. Everywhere we operate, about 70% of our program model is the same, while a key 30% is customized to the local context in partnership with community-based organizations and ministries of education.

A test-learn-adapt approach is central to our success, and our program in Ghana, where we have reached 3,500 out-of-school children to date, provides an excellent example of how we put this philosophy into practice.

Testing: Implementing the CBE Curriculum

Luminos collaborated with community-based organizations and the Ministry of Education to implement a 10-month accelerated learning program utilizing the government’s national Complementary Basic Education (CBE) curriculum. The CBE curriculum is widely respected as one of the most effective accelerated learning programs for out-of-school children. We recognized the value of this curriculum and decided to test its effectiveness in the Ashanti region where nearly 23,000 primary-school-aged children are out of school (Ghana 2021 Census).

Learning: Enhancing the Program for Better Outcomes

During Year 1 of the program, we made several enhancements to the CBE curriculum to ensure the best possible outcomes for the children we serve. These enhancements included weekly classroom monitoring and teacher coaching, weekly student assessments, monthly engagements with parents, and more. In the months following our program launch, we collected regular, real-time internal and external program data on student learning. From this data, we were able to triangulate the results and discovered two key findings.

A parent engagement meeting in Ghana.

A monthly parent engagement meeting. (Photo by Obeng Baah for the Luminos Fund)

Adapting: Making Program Improvements Based on Findings

First, we found that the CBE curriculum did not provide a solid foundation in the basics of phonics in the early weeks, resulting in some children being left behind in reading. We also discovered that despite Ghana’s mother tongue education policy, many children in our classrooms did not speak the language of instruction (Asante Twi).

A donut chart breaking down the different languages Luminos students in Ghana speak at home.

With these findings in mind, we adapted the program to better meet the needs of the children by increasing the amount of time spent on phonics instruction and providing additional support to children who were struggling with the language of instruction. By making these program improvements, we were able to ensure that all children had a solid foundation in phonics and were better able to engage with the curriculum. Luminos is now rolling out this updated version of our program to 2,000 out-of-school children during Year 2.

Spotlight on Teacher Training

Another example of our test-learn-adapt approach in Ghana can be found in our teacher training. A core part of the Luminos program is hiring and training community teachers for our classrooms. Community teachers are high-potential young adults who come from the same communities as our students and have, at minimum, a high school diploma.

From classroom observation and data analysis throughout Year 1 in Ghana, we identified three crucial areas that required more attention in Year 2’s teacher training: practical training, closer government partnership, and modeling the teaching we wanted to see.

Teachers practice leading a reading session in front of their peers during Ghana teacher training.

Practical training:

Incorporating generous time for practice teaching was key to building teacher confidence in delivering phonics instruction and reading aloud in Twi, a language many of our community teachers were not native speakers of. Through frequent small group practice sessions and live feedback, teachers became more comfortable with the enhanced curriculum and activity-based learning.

Ghana teacher training.

Closer government partnership:

As we continued to build on the foundation of Ghana’s CBE curriculum, it was important to deepen our partnership with the government. This enabled government education officials to offer their language expertise, deep understanding of CBE, and contextual knowledge of working in rural communities during the Training of Trainers session while we shared our new teaching and learning approaches. Partnering more closely with the government also meant they could help bring teachers onboard with curriculum enhancements, having become convinced of their value.

Luminos staff model the teaching we expect during Ghana teacher training.

Modeling the teaching:

It is hard to do something you have never seen. To demonstrate the teaching we expect in our classrooms, we actively modeled it during our teacher training. By showing teachers that learning can be fun and joyful through group work, activity-based learning, energizer activities, and effective classroom management techniques, we inspired them to replicate these techniques in their own classrooms.

In recent classroom observations, we already see the positive impact of these adaptations: teachers are making learning fun by applying the techniques they practiced. Most importantly, we are seeing students learn the phonics foundations they need to become great readers.

Continuous Iteration for Better Learning Outcomes

The core features of the Luminos Method, such as using phonics to build literacy, providing strong support for teachers, and creating a safe and joyful learning environment, can be found across our country programs. However, our work also demonstrates that success does not come from perfecting a single model that can be replicated unchanged in every context. Instead, we embrace a test-learn-adapt approach, working closely with government and community-based organization partners in each program country to develop a program that fits the local context, gathering data from day one to inform ongoing program improvements.

By utilizing a data-driven approach and optimizing our methodology to ensure children reach the key threshold of literacy, we develop a model that draws on global evidence and is adapted to the unique needs of each community. Furthermore, our way of working gradually builds the capacity and political will of stakeholders throughout the system, from teachers to politicians, setting up the conditions for future scaling and sustained impact.

At Luminos, we are committed to continuously testing, learning, and adapting our approach to achieve the best possible learning outcomes for the children we serve. We believe that our iterative approach is key to our success in delivering impressive learning gains and creating sustainable impact in the communities where we work.

Transforming Education Systems through Innovative Government Partnerships

Transforming Education Systems through Innovative Government Partnerships

By: Kirstin Buchanan

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

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

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

A Holistic Approach

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

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

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

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

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

What Can Ghana and Ethiopia Learn From Each Other?

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

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

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

1. There’s a strong desire for collaboration.

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

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

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

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

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

What’s Next

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

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

Adams: A Community Leader Embraces Teaching to Change Children’s Lives

Adams: A Community Leader Embraces Teaching to Change Children’s Lives

The classroom where Adams teaches in Mossipanin, a rural community in southern Ghana, is surrounded by small farms and rough roads.

Hours from Ghana’s second-largest city, Kumasi, most of Mossipanin’s residents are farmers. Each day, they walk to their plots of land to grow yams, corn, and beans to feed their families and sell at the market.

Adams came to Mossipanin years ago from a nearby town to complete his national service for the government. Adams was happy and, when his service finished, decided he would stay.

“I started helping the community as their secretary,” Adams says. As secretary, Adams keeps the community up to date on what is happening, takes notes for villagers who do not know how to read, and generally serves as a link between Mossipanin and the rest of the world. When Luminos began recruiting young adults to train as teachers for our new Ghana program, Mossipanin’s village chief immediately put Adams’ name forward.

Luminos signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Ghana’s national Ministry of Education in the autumn of 2021 and officially launched our Ghana program serving 1,500 formerly out-of-school children in the Ashanti region where Mossipanin is located.

With the second highest number of primary-school-aged out-of-school children in Ghana and little support historically, Ashanti has a deep need for a catch-up education program to help children build foundational reading, writing, and math skills. Data shows that the majority of children entered Luminos’ program unable to read a single word.

In Adams’ classroom today, students eagerly join in learning songs and dances, reading and writing, and solving basic math equations.

Mignot with her mother, Alemitu.

Adams has just as much fun as his students while leading short energizing activities like this one where students sing and dance.

“I love mathematics,” says Adams, noting that he always strives to involve his students in learning activities and the teaching process itself to help them internalize lessons. His enthusiasm is infectious: students from Adams’ class usually name math as their favorite subject!

“My favorite thing to learn is math,” says eight-year-old Bele, one of Adams’ students. “I feel happy when I study it. I especially like doing subtraction!”

Bele loves when Adams leads the class in an activity called Number Line where Adams draws a line on the floor in chalk, labeling it with numbers such as 1-10. Students practice addition and subtraction by taking steps forward and backward on the line.

Adams cares deeply about his students—Bele shares that Adams once made the long journey into town to buy sandals for him when he had none.

Bele, one of Adams' students, loves math.

Bele, one of Adams’ students, loves math.

“Teaching is my passion! I like teaching because I want to make a better future.”

Adams, Luminos teacher in Ghana

Adams has big dreams for his students and himself. He says, “I want my students to become a better person than I. Education is the key to success in everything. I would be proud seeing my kids having a better future; a better life through education.”

Adams’ love for learning extends beyond his classroom: he is pursuing a degree in Business Management in Education in Kumasi and one day hopes to get his master’s degree.

Today, Adams proudly declares, “Teaching is my passion! I like teaching because I want to make a better future.”

With teachers like Adams, the future for Ghana’s children is bright.

Luminos teacher Adams leads his students in warm up song-and-dance.

Adams (bottom left) leads his students in a song-and-dance activity to get them energized and ready to focus on the next lesson.

“I want my students to become a better person than I. Education is the key to success in everything. I would be proud seeing my kids having a better future; a better life through education.”

Adams, Luminos teacher in Ghana

Read this story and others from our various country programs in our 2021 Annual Report!

To learn more about our Ghana program, click here.

Photo credit for this story: Mara Chan

Showing Up, Raw Data, and Logistics: 3 Lessons on Conducting a Successful Baseline Evaluation in Ghana

Showing Up, Raw Data, and Logistics: 3 Lessons on Conducting a Successful Baseline Evaluation in Ghana

Ernesta Orlovaitė is Associate Director of Programs at the Luminos Fund. Ernesta oversees the design and delivery of Luminos’ program in Ghana, collaborating closely with the government and local implementing partners. She also guides Luminos’ efforts to strengthen its capacity for data-based decision-making and drive better outcomes for our students. Previously, Ernesta worked as a Product Manager at Google, leading product design and development teams in Switzerland and Japan. 

Launching an education program in a new country is an unforgettable experience. As a seemingly endless list of tasks gets shorter, emails and calls give way to something much more tangible: printing primers, delivering teacher training, and, finally, ushering excited children to the classrooms for their first lesson. The first day in class is the singular focus in the weeks and months before program launch – getting everything ready just in time is a monumental undertaking.

Yet at the same time, the first day is just that – the first day in a long journey of learning to read, write, and do basic maths; of learning to learn; and of falling in love with it. In that journey, every day matters. It’s that journey, joyful and child-centered, that transports Luminos students from zero to functional literacy and numeracy in just one school year.

On March 8, 2022, as dusk fell over the hills of Ashanti, Ghana, where we celebrated the launch of the Luminos program to 1,500 out-of-school children, we were already thinking about our next big goal: an external evaluation of our first year in Ghana.

Kicking off an independent program evaluation in Ghana

In Ghana, we are lucky to be working with an experienced local partner, Educational Assessment and Research Centre (EARC). In 2015, EARC, together with Ghana Education Service and RTI International, administered the national Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) and Early Grade Mathematics Assessment (EGMA) to more than 7,000 Primary 2 pupils in twelve languages across all ten regions of the country.

We knew we’d want to use the national assessment instruments to evaluate our program. These instruments have been extensively tested and translated to Asante Twi: the language of instruction in Luminos classrooms this year. Using them would also allow us to compare our student progress against learning achievements in formal schools. But we also knew that Luminos classrooms are, in several important ways, different from government schools, making assessment delivery significantly more challenging. So, we got involved – and here’s what we learned.

Lesson 1: Attend enumerator training and provide rapid feedback

EARC ran a five-day enumerator training in Kumasi, the capital of Ashanti, the week before data collection started. Under the guidance of field coordinators, enumerators visit classrooms to administer EGRA/EGMA and record student responses.

Enumerator training is a critical component of the data collection process, so the day after our program officially launched, I arrived at the Bethel Methodist Primary School to observe a practice EGRA/EGMA delivery to Grade 2 students. After the first round, I had several pages worth of feedback and so did the two field coordinators from EARC. Huddling together in an empty classroom, we discussed our reflections from that first attempt.

Enumerator training in Kumasi.

Some mistakes the enumerators made were mundane and would go away with further practice. For example, with students facing enumerators, several indicated the wrong direction of reading – from right to left. In the second attempt, not a single enumerator repeated the mistake.

A more serious issue – and one that’s difficult to catch when you don’t speak the language of assessment – was not sticking to the assessment script. With the two field coordinators fluent in Asante Twi, however, we identified and addressed the problem right away. As one of the coordinators emphatically put it while pointing at the enumerator manual, “Read this, and you will go to heaven.”

Knowing that EARC is an experienced partner, and seeing most enumerators administer EGRA/EGMA with fluency and precision, I wasn’t too concerned about the technical aspects of the evaluation. What worried me was how our students would experience the assessment.

Luminos works with some of the most vulnerable children in Ashanti. A typical student enrolled in our program would be an 11-year-old who is unable to read even the simplest of words. She might have been kept out of school because her family could not afford a school uniform. She might be tired because that morning she had been working on the family farm. She might be distracted because she hadn’t had lunch before coming to class. The experiences of Luminos children are very different from those of 11-year-olds at the Bethel Methodist Primary School. Few children enjoy assessments. I was worried our students would hate them and fail to demonstrate the extent of their true knowledge.

As the day progressed, I demonstrated the behaviours that I observed and wanted to correct, celebrated behaviours I wanted to replicate, told heart-warming stories about our students, and gave passionate elevator pitches on rapport building. I might have overdone it, but that’s a small price to pay if, in return, our children showed off all their skills and had fun while doing so.

As I continued observing enumerators, I kept bringing it up – the importance of building rapport with the student, of making the assessment feel like a (granted, rather boring) game, of creating a welcoming environment, and of treating Luminos children with the same level of respect the enumerators were treating each other and me. As the day progressed, I demonstrated the behaviours that I observed and wanted to correct, celebrated behaviours I wanted to replicate, told heart-warming stories about our students, and gave passionate elevator pitches on rapport building. I might have overdone it, but that’s a small price to pay if, in return, our children showed off all their skills and had fun while doing so.

Traveling to Hamidu to observe EGRA/EGMA data collection.

Lesson 2: Get access to raw data and analyse it daily

EARC used Tangerine, a mobile data collection tool, to record EGRA/EGMA observations in our classrooms. There are numerous advantages to using tablets in data collection, including a significantly higher data quality. No more fiddling with timers or trying to decipher the overly confusing question skip logic. A wonderful side effect of using digital tools is the opportunity to analyse data daily to identify and immediately address issues in assessment administration.

A wonderful side effect of using digital tools is the opportunity to analyse data daily to identify and immediately address issues in assessment administration.

An enumerator uses a tablet during training.

In fact, raw data can be analysed even before assessments start. With practice at the Bethel Methodist Primary School completed, we walked back to the training venue for the first assessor accuracy test. All 20 enumerators completed the same assessment delivered by the two field coordinators. By the time I reached Accra the next morning, I had everything I needed to perform a quick enumerator accuracy analysis.

After three days of training, our enumerators had an average accuracy rate of 92%. With the 2015 national EGRA/EGMA accuracy goal of 90%, my initial impressions of the experience of the EARC team were confirmed. They were doing well and would do even better by the time training finished.

Digging deeper into the accuracy data, I noticed a few interesting patterns. EGRA, it turns out, is significantly more challenging to administer than EGMA (90% and 97% enumerator accuracy, respectively), with the phonemic awareness subtask, at an appalling 69% accuracy rate, giving everyone a headache. On the other hand, having worked with challenging EGRA/EGMA data before, I was pleased with the highly consistent task timings. If we are to scale the raw non-word reading scores by time-to-completion, we better trust that the time-to-completion metric is accurate – and now I knew we could.

That night, I shared my reflections and the names of the 2-3 enumerators who needed individual support with the EARC team. The next day, my feedback was incorporated into the training.

Once assessments began in our classrooms, I continued analysing the raw data. Rather than trying to gain insights into the baseline learning achievements of our students, I scoured for issues with the data that the EARC team could address right away. As I shared my reflections with field coordinators (“I rather doubt there were 256 boys present in our classroom in Aframso”), they were passing the feedback along to the assessors. We did end up with one more classroom recording the attendance of 207 boys (again, a typo), but I expect we would have seen quite a few more if not for the quick feedback loop.

Lesson 3: Don’t underestimate logistical challenges

As enumerator training finished, my “build rapport” mantra gave way to a fixation on logistics. Our classrooms are very different from a typical primary school in Ashanti. We work in some of the most marginalised communities – many don’t have a phone signal, some can only be reached by a motorbike (and it better not rain!), and few can be found on the map. Visiting 60 remote classrooms in five days is a tall order when merely finding these communities can be a challenge.

School surroundings in Hamidu, one of the remote communities our classrooms operate in.

Our goal was to ensure that the EARC team completes the assessment in five days. That weekend, Angie Thadani (Luminos Senior Director of Programs) and I sat down and listed all the different ways data collection might go wrong, from enumerators not being able to reach teachers over the phone (definitely happened) to them failing to reach the assigned communities (also definitely happened). For each issue, no matter how outlandish, we identified a solution (or three). By the end of the day, we had a Plan B, a Plan C, and a set of simple mechanisms to improve the chances of Plan A succeeding.

The single most effective solution was connecting people. Nothing beats a phone call (once it finally goes through) in which the supervisor tells the enumerator how to get to the community, where to stop and ask for directions, and what kind of vehicle is needed to traverse the terrain. In low-connectivity contexts, WhatsApp is another must-have tool, great for planning the next day’s classroom visits once everyone’s back at the base.

The single most effective solution was connecting people. Nothing beats a phone call (once it finally goes through) in which the supervisor tells the enumerator how to get to the community, where to stop and ask for directions, and what kind of vehicle is needed to traverse the terrain.

Flexibility is another key ingredient. For example, our teachers and supervisors worked together to start teaching earlier in the day where possible (in Ghana, Luminos classes take place in formal school buildings and thus start in the afternoon once the other students have departed) so that EARC assessors would not have to travel after dark. As assessors became more familiar with the landscape, data collection schedules changed as well – on some days, a single team might assess two classrooms, while on others, reaching a single community could take hours and hours.

Finally, when all else fails, there’s luck. I planned to observe the first day of assessments, arranging to meet EARC assessors in Abotreye at midday. Abotreye is not the hardest-to-reach community we work in. Nevertheless, to get there in time, I had to get up at 3AM, spend hours in a (thankfully air-conditioned) car, and even push it on a particularly bad strip of the road. But I made it to Abotreye in time. The assessors, however, didn’t. Luck came afterwards – I ran into them a few hours later, alone with their backpacks (with no vehicle in sight), seemingly pondering their options. We picked them up, drove them to the nearest classroom, and left a few hours later as they were finishing the day’s work.

On the road to Abotreye we came across a particularly bad strip of road.

What’s next

Working with such a strong evaluation partner was an incredible experience. The Luminos Fund knew we could trust EARC to deliver high-quality EGRA and EGMA in our classrooms in Ghana. But we also knew that the context we work in is unusual.

Informed by our understanding of the unique features of our classrooms and guided by their extensive experiences of administering learning assessments in Ghana, EARC completed the Luminos EGRA/EGMA baseline in time. We are yet to receive the final dataset and the accompanying report, but the raw data is already telling a story – one that we will share next time.

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