On September 24, the Luminos Fund hosted our fourth annual U.N. General Assembly (UNGA) week event. Given the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, this year we went virtual. View the full webinar online here.
Hosted by the Luminos Fund’s Managing Director Mubuso Zamchiya, the webinar featured a diverse panel of education experts including:
Neerav Kingsland, Managing Partner of The City Fund and former CEO of New Schools for New Orleans
George Werner, Former Minister of Education in Liberia
Dr. Rebecca Winthrop, Co-Director of the Center for Universal Education at Brookings Institution
Luminos CEO Caitlin Barron kicked off the event by welcoming everyone into the space and acknowledging that we find ourselves in an unprecedented moment. At the height of the COVID-19 crisis, nine out of ten children around the world were out of school. As she noted, “Our world, and everyone else’s, had been turned upside down.” And yet, education leaders around the world have experienced crises before, from the Ebola epidemic to Hurricane Katrina.
Mubuso led several rounds of questions for the panelists, framing the discussion around three themes from President Nelson Mandela’s 2005 speech at the 46664 Arctic concert in Tromsø, Norway: leadership, vision, and political courage. Below are a few highlights from each speaker.
As the CEO of New Schools for New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, Neerav has witnessed crises first hand. In his experience, the two most important factors that allowed New Orleans schools to become so successful after the hurricane were having adequate political cover and the public will to not go back to the way things were. Hurricane Katrina demonstrated the unique ability of the nonprofit world to work together as a team. When asked whether crises of leadership follow other crises, Neerav noted, “It does create a window when you’re in a moment of crisis—for people to question who and how people should lead. A crisis creates the space for unbelievable leaders to create a new vision, and I think that’s what happened in New Orleans.” His advice to the education world:
“Create systems that allow for innovation, that allow for some failure, and when you see things that start to work, grow them as thoughtfully as you can.”
Dr. Rebecca Winthrop
Painting the larger picture, Rebecca noted that although most children are out of school right now, there is a great deal of remote learning. The big divide lies between which children are able to do remote learning and which are not. As Rebecca said, “When school buildings…shut their doors…it lays bare the inequalities in society.” On a positive note, Rebecca also believes that the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the “dormant, latent capacity of education innovation,” and posited that perhaps this can provide us with a recipe of how to act moving forward. She hopes that some changes, such as the emergence of new allies to support education and the recognition of schools as important institutions, will continue beyond the crisis. Moving forward, Rebecca sees society entering an age were, “values are going to be the name of the game.” Her advice:
“We need to get people to think about, ‘Where do we want to head?’ Keep that north star, that vision in your mind, because that will influence how you reopen and what you will allow, what partnerships you will allow.”
Dr. Rebecca Winthrop
George is no stranger to school closures either. When Ebola hit Liberia, schools across the country closed for nearly six months, forcing him to think outside of the box for solutions. “Like Ebola,” George noted, “I believe COVID-19 has given us another opportunity to think outside the boxes we have been given.” The event left us feeling inspired for the road ahead: to help children and education systems recover stronger than ever. As George Werner said,
“In every crisis, you find a silver lining or two. It’s up to leadership to see it and have the courage to bring others along.”
The webinar also marked the launch of Education Leadership through Crisis, a new video series where diverse education leaders share personal lessons learned on navigating crises. In this COVID-19 moment, these dialogues will shed light on the world’s opportunity to get education delivery right.
Below is a peek into a few of the interviews we will feature in the weeks ahead:
We look forward to continuing the discussion and invite you to contact us by email or on social media. For more information on this series, visit our series landing page and be sure to follow us on social media for the latest interviews. Stay tuned for new interviews every Monday and Wednesday, and check out the interview with Arne Duncan, former U.S. Secretary of Education!
On September 24 at 11 a.m. EDT, please join the Luminos Fund for the launch event of “Education Leadership through Crisis,” a new video series where diverse education leaders share personal lessons on navigating crises. In this COVID-19 moment, these dialogues will shed light on the world’s opportunity to get education delivery right. www.luminosfund.org/leadership-series.
I wonder if you have had the privilege of watching or reading President Nelson Mandela’s stunning 2005 address at the Arctic concert in Tromsø, Norway. If not, I encourage you to stop and watch. To me, the Tromsø speech stands out for its uncanny relevance to our immediate times.
Madiba began by underscoring that our world remains sorely divided. Hope and despair are paradoxically juxtaposed, sitting as closely together as the two sides of a fifty cent coin. One side boasts leapfrog gains in science and technology. The other side laments far too many children dying unnecessarily for lack of medicine and that millions of children are still out of school.
With the July 2005 G8 meetings then in the foreground, Mandela reminded his audience that much of our common future depends on the actions and plans of world’s highest decision makers. “We now need leadership, vision, and political courage,” the former President expounded with the signature raspy gravitas of his indefatigable spirit.
Then, while casting a gentle, fatherly eye across the gathered crowd, Madiba raised a somber question concerning the AIDS pandemic:
“When the history of our times is written, will we be remembered as the generation that turned our backs in a moment of global crisis or will it be recorded that we did the right thing?”
An education crisis of unseen proportions
Today, fifteen years later, in the midst of a global pandemic and catastrophic moment in education, we need not listen hard at all to hear the clear, steady echo of President Mandela’s words from Tromsø. As it did then, his clarion call should prick our consciences, rally our creativity, and mobilize our voices to make the right choices for all children whose learning has been turned upside down by COVID-19.
With over one billion children out of school, education leaders today are experiencing the challenge of a generation. And yet, the novel Coronavirus is not the first calamity to put learning at risk. For education ministers and leaders in disaster-prone regions, the ability to lead through crisis with agility is an active, ongoing skillset.
Powerful lessons can be drawn from recent history to inform today’s pathways to relief, recovery, and resilience in education delivery. And, even the best leadership is lost without funding, and that is where today’s funding leaders like the Global Partnership for Education are truly on the vanguard. The emergency COVID-19 response funding that GPE is making available is exactly the support education leaders need to push through the hard process of returning to school safely and, ultimately, building education back better.
A new video series to learn from proven leaders
What can we learn from education leaders and philanthropists who have not turned their backs in past crises and, instead, navigated successfully through the breach? These are precisely the topics and themes of a forthcoming video interview series, Education Leadership through Crisis, which I have the honor to host.
We launch on Thursday, September 24 with a live webinar that will explore leadership lessons that have emerged from Liberia and New Orleans’ contrasting education recovery journeys where, respectively, the Ebola crisis and Hurricane Katrina disrupted learning for millions of children. Neerav Kingsland, Managing Director, the City Fund and former CEO of New Schools for New Orleans; George Werner, former Minister of Education, Liberia; and Dr. Rebecca Winthrop, Senior Fellow and Co-Director, Center for Universal Education, Brookings Institution will share their personal leadership lessons.
The series will continue in the following weeks, featuring discussions with esteemed global leaders from across government, the private sector and civil society, including luminaries such as Arne Duncan, former U.S. Education Secretary; Dr. Dzingai Mutumbuka, former Minister of Education in Zimbabwe; Fred Swaniker, Founder and CEO of African Leadership Group; and Erin Ganju, Managing Director of Echidna Giving.
Alice Albright wrote in March 2020, as COVID-19 cases spiked around the globe, that “The Global Partnership for Education was created out of a belief that in the face of great challenges, we are stronger together.”
As the COVID-19 crisis is testing the next generation of leaders across education and beyond, I am honored to amplify the voices of those who have triumphed in the face of past crises. Indeed, it is clear at this dark moment that we need to lean on each other’s wisdom if we are to have a fighting chance of providing quality education for all.
With over one billion children out of school, education leaders today are experiencing the challenge of a generation. How can historically slow-moving education systems turn on a dime? What can leaders across the public and private sector do to help children recover from COVID-19 learning loss—and lift children out of learning poverty?
The Coronavirus pandemic is not the first calamity to put learning at risk. Powerful lessons can be drawn from recent history—such as in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina or Liberia after Ebola—to inform today’s pathways to relief, recovery, reform, and resilience in education delivery.
On September 24 at 11 a.m. EDT, please join the Luminos Fund for the launch event of “Education Leadership through Crisis,” a new video series where diverse education leaders share personal lessons learned on navigating crises. In this COVID-19 moment, these dialogues will shed light on the world’s opportunity to get education delivery right. We are honored to launch with this webinar featuring three unique education leaders.
Neerav Kingsland, Managing Partner, The City Fund
George Werner, Former Minister of Education, Liberia
Dr. Rebecca Winthrop, Co-Director of the Center for Universal Education, Brookings Institution
Mubuso Zamchiya, Managing Director, The Luminos Fund
Now in its fourth year, the Luminos Fund’s UN General Assembly (UNGA) week event convenes key funders, thought leaders, implementers, and allies around the subjects of education and international development.
In August, the Luminos Fund was featured in a new report published by Education Above All in partnership with HundrED, highlighting innovations from a select group of education organizations that are effectively supporting marginalized learners during the COVID-19 pandemic. Based in Doha, Qatar, Education Above All (EAA) is a foundation launched in 2012 whose mission is to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education for vulnerable and marginalized people especially in the developing world, as an enabler of human development.
The report, “Beyond School Walls: Inspiration from Disruption,” recognizes that we must ensure learning continuity for all children during a crisis, especially those in underserved and marginalized communities. For many of these children, COVID-19 is just one incident in a series of events disrupting their education. At Luminos, as an organization that exists to support children affected by poverty, crisis, and discrimination, including the most marginalized learners, we could not agree more. The vast majority of marginalized learners we serve are in remote rural communities without access to online learning and were consequently left behind as the world pivoted to distance-learning solutions during COVID-19.
In response to the urgency for learning continuity, “Beyond School Walls” prioritizes the need for a variety of alternative learning systems using a range of infrastructures (from no tech to high tech) designed for unique and challenging contexts. The eleven case studies featured in the report, including Luminos’s Second Chance program, aim to support organizations and implementers globally in ensuring learning continuity for marginalized learners in places where schools remain closed for an extended period. The case studies are organized by several criteria (technological readiness, content availability, personalization, interactivity, cost, preparedness of teachers and parents, effort to replicate, etc.), with the hope of supporting others to adapt the ideas and practices featured to their own unique context.
“To support Luminos children and families during COVID-19 school closures, Luminos provided its communities with handwashing stations and supplies, food relief, and vital health information and guidance regarding COVID-19. Given that only 12% of the population in Liberia has access to electricity, Luminos employed a low-tech approach to ensure that all students/families would be reached. Luminos leveraged its network of facilitators, who live within the same communities as Luminos students, to conduct socially-distanced home visits to check in on student health, nutrition, wellbeing, and learning. Paper-based worksheets, aligned to the program curriculum, were created and distributed to students. Facilitators also held micro-classes with 4-5 children/batch to ensure that students remained engaged in learning through the school closures. Given that 1 in 4 children did not return to school following the Ebola outbreak in Liberia, Luminos’ primary aim through the school closures has been to ensure that children remain safe and connected to learning so that every child returns to school once schools reopen.”
“Beyond School Walls” by Education Above All
Alongside EAA, Luminos looks forward to continuing to ensure that all learners, especially those in underserved and marginalized communities, continue learning despite school closures. We are honored to be featured alongside Amala Education, Dost Education, Ek Tara, iACT, M-Shule, Power99 Foundation, Pratham Education Foundation, Rising Academy Network, The First Assalam School, and the Zakoura Foundation. “Beyond School Walls: Inspiration from Disruption” is available online here.
In a sign of these strange times, my kindergartner had his first math class via Zoom recently. This was the first formal lesson since schools closed and families were eager to make the most of it. Parents hovered behind their children across our screen, talking over one another (and ultimately the teacher) as they implored their children to focus. Despite our good intentions, parental anxiety got the best of us. My son came away with little more than a headache.
For many families during COVID-19, having children out of school and needing to catch up on education is a new, stressful feeling. For millions around the world, being out of school or denied an education is a tragic, multi-generation reality.
I’m the mother of two young children and leader of the Luminos Fund, a non-profit that has educated more than 130,000 children who had been kept out of school by conflict and poverty.
To paraphrase Michele Caracappa of New Leaders: everything has changed due to COVID-19, except children’s capacity to learn.
Here are lessons from my work that I hope will give some peace of mind to fellow parents during these challenging, unprecedented times.
1. When this is over, kids can catch up. Children have a remarkable capacity to absorb new information from the world around them, and to progress quickly through curricula when the learning conditions are right. In Liberia, many Luminos students have no prior schooling and come from illiterate families. It’s estimated that one third of all Liberian children are stunted. Yet, despite these heartbreaking challenges, these girls and boys cover three years of school in just ten months — successfully. It’s alright if you haven’t transformed into a homeschooling pro. It will be challenging, but your children can catch up later.
2. Becoming a self-directed learner is a precious life skill. It’s also accompanied by growing pains. For children and adults alike, learning something new or achieving a goal on one’s own (and not because a teacher or coach is making you), is hard and takes initiative. Remind your kids of the long-term reward that comes from pushing through. It may be messy, but some degree of struggle and frustration for both parents and kids is part of the process. At Luminos, we call this “learning how to learn,” and consider it essential to boost a child’s future ability to thrive. Graduates of our program go on to complete primary school at nearly twice the rate of their peers.
3. Creative arts are important, especially in times of crisis. The weeks ahead will bring a great deal of anxiety for parents and children, and mourning in some families. Creative expression is a valuable, accessible way to help children process grief. Indeed, psycho-social support, like art and music therapy, is a central element of our program for Syrian refugee children in Lebanon, helping them to process the trauma they have experienced. I’m repeatedly amazed by the creativity — sometimes simple and sometimes heart-rending — that children pour onto paper. Create space for creativity.
4. It’s OK to revisit concepts that children have learned already. Reinforcing learning is as essential as covering new materials. At least for children in early grades, it’s not necessary to introduce new concepts while children are at home. At Luminos, we present each concept in multiple ways to help it take root firmly in children’s minds: linking what they learn in class to what they know of life beyond the classroom.
Our work teaches me that children have a remarkable capacity to catch up when given a second chance. It also teaches me that children outside of a privileged bubble don’t bounce back without support.
The reality is, the lives of my kids, and kids who are similarly privileged to my own, will ultimately return to normal. And they will be surrounded by the love and resources to bounce back from this disruption in their learning. My work with children halfway around the world with a fraction of the material support around them proves to me that this is so.
The long term challenge of this crisis then, is not for my family, but for families in parts of Africa and the Middle East whom Luminos is privileged to serve.
There’s an opportunity, and indeed an imperative, for parents living in a similar state of privilege to my own, to use the anxiety, frustration and uncertainty of this moment not just to build a protective wall for our own families, but to cherish the firsthand insight and empathy we now share with parents in the poor majority.
We never thought we’d find ourselves in a situation where these ideas are needed so much closer to home, in this time of solemn uncertainty and pandemic. But I find solace in knowing we’ll try to make the best of it for our children, families, and communities – just like millions of people in other parts of the world have done, and continue to do, every day.