Luminos Webinar on Proximate Leadership: Critical in the Fight Against Learning Poverty

Luminos Webinar on Proximate Leadership: Critical in the Fight Against Learning Poverty

On April 2, 2024, the Luminos Fund convened leading education experts to discuss how to build effective global-local partnerships that improve children’s learning outcomes and strengthen the roles of proximate leaders.

The webinar is part of an ongoing series highlighting the Luminos Method–a collection of best practices that are fundamental to the success of our program and equally relevant to organizations and governments helping children achieve foundational learning worldwide.

Speakers:

Dr. Una Osili, Associate Dean for Research and International Programs, Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy

Armando Ali, CEO, PAL Network

LeAnna Marr, Deputy Assistant Administrator and Acting Senior Coordinator of U.S. International Basic Education Assistance, USAID

Caitlin Baron, CEO, Luminos Fund

Watch the webinar for valuable reflections:

Local Leadership and Innovation

“The people closest to the problems are often the ones who have the most innovative and relevant solutions.”

“As funders… building in flexibility is key because, especially in this fast-changing environment, unrestricted giving has enormous advantages as far as innovation and creativity are concerned.”

Dr. Una Osili, Associate Dean for Research and International Programs, Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy

Echoing Dr. Una Osili’s emphasis on the importance of proximate leadership, Luminos prioritizes working with locally rooted, non-governmental organizations (NGOs). In our experience, these community partners approach the challenges of their country’s education system as their own, serving as stewards for the children of their communities. They provide a deep and nuanced understanding of national, regional, and local contexts. 

Community Engagement and Active Participation 

“The PAL Network is a movement of unsatisfied parents, mothers, fathers, and caretakers who started going from household to household, trying to find out if children could read a very simple story… what brings us together is this idea of finding ways to make citizens as active participants in the search for solutions to improve learning outcomes for all our children.

Armando Ali, CEO, PAL Network

Just as Armando Ali describes the PAL Network’s grassroots efforts to identify solutions to improve children’s learning outcomes, the Luminos model is built on active collaboration with community partners. This spans the entire partnership experience and nearly every aspect of the program, combining international best practices with deep local expertise and creativity. In addition, Luminos works alongside our community partners to engage parents and guardians in their children’s education by inviting them inside the classroom to witness their children’s progress and organizing monthly parent engagement group meetings. 

Learn more about how Luminos works with and supports our Community Partners element of the Luminos Method!

Local Leadership in Program Design 

“The first goal is that a quarter of USAID’s funding should be directly awarded to local partners. This is a big shift for us. I did, however, want to emphasize that our localization efforts are about more than just funding, though I know that funding is incredibly important. So the second goal is that at least half of USAID programs will be locally led, which for us means they create space for local actors to exercise leadership over priority setting, activity design, implementation, and defining and measuring results.”

LeAnna Marr, Deputy Assistant Administrator and Acting Senior Coordinator of U.S. International Basic Education Assistance, USAID

In line with USAID funding and program leadership goals, Luminos could not achieve our education mission as effectively, efficiently, and joyfully without the proximate leadership of our community partners. As of 2023, Luminos has helped over a quarter of a million children learn to read, write, and do math using this model, setting children on the path to lifelong learning. 

“The challenge before us is not to bring a local voice into the tent, it is to bring the cacophony of local voices into the tent: government, teachers, parents, and the children themselves who also very much deserve a voice in their education.”

Caitlin Baron, CEO, Luminos Fund

To learn more about how Luminos works with and supports our community-based partners, download the Community Partners element.

Explore additional elements of the Luminos Method here.

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

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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. 

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    The Luminos Fund is a 501(c)(3), tax-exempt charitable organization registered in the United States (EIN 36-4817073).

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