Joyful Learning Webinar: Why Children Everywhere Learn Best When They Are Happy

Joyful Learning Webinar: Why Children Everywhere Learn Best When They Are Happy

On January 30, 2024, Luminos convened leading education experts to explore the power of Joyful Learning to drive better learning outcomes for children. The LinkedIn Live webinar featured insights from Dr. Kwame Akyeampong of the Open University, Dr. Bo Stjerne Thomsen of LEGO Education, and Caitlin Baron from the Luminos Fund. Watch the webinar for valuable reflections and read on for three key recommendations from the discussion.


Dr. Kwame Akyeampong, Professor of International Education and Development, Open University

Dr. Bo Stjerne Thomsen, Head of Educational Impact, LEGO Education

Caitlin Baron, CEO, Luminos Fund

Watch the webinar below:

Key speaker recommendations include:

1) Develop Joyful Learning on the Foundation of a Safe and Inclusive Environment

The well-being of students is paramount for joyful learning. Luminos CEO, Caitlin Baron, emphasizes this, stating, “We always emphasize that…learning of any kind really cannot happen until we can provide children with a safe and inclusive learning environment​​.” Ensuring staff and partners are well-trained, educating students about their rights, and promoting healthy practices are all critical components of ensuring student well-being.

Learn more in the importance of safe, inclusive, and healthy environments in the Joyful Learning element of the Luminos Method!

2) Develop a Meaningful Program of Study

Meeting students where they are with culturally relevant materials is a cornerstone of the Luminos approach. “A meaningful program of study…connects with these children’s interests and background,” says Dr. Kwame Akyeampong, underscoring the need to tailor education to the child’s learning level and cultural context​​.

Caitlin Baron adds that “the lack of resources doesn’t actually need to change the pedagogy, it just needs to change the materials and the modality.” This lesson challenges educators to adapt their teaching methods to the resources available without compromising on the quality of pedagogy.

“A meaningful program of study…connects with these children’s interests and background.”

Dr. Kwame Akyeampong

As a Luminos Board member, Dr. Kwame Akyeampong has observed that Luminos classrooms are “a very rich, stimulating environment. It is something that strikes you immediately.” To promote joyful learning, educators should create spaces that are vibrant and connected to the students’ community and experiences, using materials and resources that resonate with their backgrounds. A classroom where “there is a lot of movement, hand movement, a lot of talking” is one where joyful learning thrives, as described by Dr. Akyeampong.

“The lack of resource doesn’t actually need to change the pedagogy, it just needs to change the materials and the modality.”

Caitlin Baron

3) Employ an Engaging Pedagogy

Luminos uses “a range of fun and engaging teaching methods,” an essential practice for student interaction and empowerment.

Dr. Bo Stjerne Thomsen contributes to this point, saying, “Happiness is fundamental to learning. But the reality is when you are going to prioritize it, it is very difficult when you are faced with a stressed, highly competitive, and often resource-constrained environment​​.” An engaging pedagogy is designed not just for fun, but also to empower students to experience success, voice their opinions, and grow in confidence. By incorporating these principles into teaching strategies, teachers can cultivate an atmosphere where learning is not just an obligation, but a joyful and empowering journey for every learner.

Luminos students in The Gambia use their student workbooks during a literacy lesson.

Students in Ethiopia have fun during writing practice. (Photo: Mekbib Tadesse for the Luminos Fund) 

Dr. Bo Stjerne Thomsen speaks further to the importance of collaborative learning environments, “We know that children learn when they can share ideas, they collaborate, observe each other.”​ A joyful learning environment is one where interaction is encouraged, and everyone—teachers and students alike—contributes to and benefits from shared learning experiences.

“We know that children learn when they can share ideas, they collaborate, observe each other.”

Dr. Bo Stjerne Thomsen

Caitlin Baron adds to this, suggesting that a learning environment which allows children to “thrive is a real foundation for everything that comes after.”​ When students feel heard and are given the chance to succeed, their confidence and enjoyment in learning naturally increase.

To learn more about Luminos’ approach to creating joyful learning environments, download the full Joyful Learning element.

Explore additional elements of the Luminos Method here.

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

Learn more in the Joyful Learning element of the Luminos Method!

Unpacking the Reading Wars and Advocating for Phonics

Unpacking the Reading Wars and Advocating for Phonics

On May 23, the Luminos Fund convened leading education experts to discuss the U.S. reading wars and refocus attention on the crucial task of teaching children how to read. This was the second webinar in the Luminos Method series, which also marked the launch of our latest Luminos Method element: Phonics for First-Generation Readers. This Method element is a user-friendly resource designed for governments and education organizations, combining the latest research on effective phonics instruction with our best practices developed through years of experience in some of the world’s most challenging contexts.


Emily Hanford, Senior Producer and Correspondent, American Public Media

Dr. Benjamin Piper, Director, Global Education Program, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Caitlin Baron, CEO, Luminos Fund

Watch the webinar below:

Journalist Emily Hanford, celebrated for her in-depth, investigative podcast, Sold a Story: How Teaching Kids to Read Went So Wrong, set the scene by providing an overview of the current state of reading instruction in American schools. Dr. Benjamin Piper of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation drew on his extensive experience working in low-income countries, and shed light on the journey of learning to read in such contexts. Of the many valuable lessons they shared, here are five that stood out:

1) We are facing a global learning crisis.

The global learning crisis transcends national boundaries, and the consequences of this crisis are far-reaching, hindering social and economic progress and perpetuating cycles of poverty and inequality. In the U.S. and around the world, far too many children are not learning to read.

“7 in 10 kids worldwide can’t read at the age of grade three, and in Sub-Saharan Africa, that’s 9 in 10 children. 90% of kids can’t read by the end of their third-grade year, age 10… Learning levels in these foundational years have lasting impacts on children’s low learning trajectories and future life prospects overall.”

Dr. Benjamin Piper

2) All children can benefit from a phonics-based approach to reading instruction, especially those in low-income countries.

Research consistently shows that explicit and systematic phonics instruction is an essential part of a comprehensive approach to foundational literacy. This approach promotes inclusivity and equips children with the tools they need to become successful readers. This is especially important for first-generation readers who are growing up in homes without books or parents who can read to them — phonics-based instruction equips them with the tools they need to become independent, confident readers.

“We work with students who are often the first in their family to learn to read, coming from homes that may not have a single book and coming from environments where the printed word is not a familiar thing. Most importantly, many of the students we teach are actually learning to read in the language they don’t speak at home. When you think through all of these extraordinary barriers to learning to read, it starts to become clear why a systematic step-by-step approach to teaching kids to learn to read is all the more essential.”

Caitlin Baron

A Luminos student in Ethiopia practices reading during class.

Luminos students in Ethiopia practice their reading skills using readers with local stories and illustrations. (Photo: Mekbib Tadesse for the Luminos Fund)

3) Partisan political and ideological concerns have highjacked the debate on reading instruction.

The U.S. debate surrounding reading instruction has unfortunately become mired in partisan political and ideological concerns, diverting attention from evidence-based practices. It is crucial to refocus the conversation on research and best practices, ensuring that decisions about reading instruction prioritize the needs of children above all else.

“If you’re a mom of a kid who’s struggling to read, whether you’re a liberal or a conservative, or a Democrat or Republican, you still care about this issue… And I’m hoping that means we will start to get the politics out and just do what we know is best from a lot of scientific research about how to teach kids to read.”

Emily Hanford

4) The key to academic success and social-emotional well-being is grounded in foundational literacy skills.

Foundational literacy skills serve as the cornerstone of academic success and social-emotional well-being for children. These skills not only establish one’s reading abilities but also contribute to broader cognitive development, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills. Moreover, mastering foundational literacy skills empowers children, instilling confidence and a sense of accomplishment which positively impacts their overall well-being and engagement in the classroom. By prioritizing and strengthening foundational literacy skills, educators can set children on a path toward lifelong learning.

“If we put a bright light on the foundational skills and really make sure that kids are mastering those, that allows them to experience success in school.”

Emily Hanford

Learn more about how we grow our student’s sense of self-belief and ensure they are able to experience success in the Identity & Self Belief element of the Luminos Method!

Luminos students in The Gambia use their student workbooks during a literacy lesson.

Luminos students in The Gambia during a literacy lesson. (Photo: Lena Nian for the Luminos Fund)

5) Teaching children how to read is not easy, and teachers need support.

Teaching children how to read is undoubtedly challenging, and explicit phonics instruction can often be new to teachers. They need ongoing coaching and support to help children become successful readers. It involves adapting teaching strategies, providing individualized support, and fostering a joyful classroom environment.

“I’ve spent a lot of time in classrooms in Sub-Saharan Africa and India in the last 16 years having lived here. [In] well-designed programs where teachers are trained and supported to teach these programs that are not only phonics but include phonics, you see the magic of having these kids track with their fingers as their teacher is reading the word, and actually seeing the relationship themselves between the letter sounds and the words.”

Dr. Benjamin Piper

Equitable and Effective Reading Instruction for All 

The webinar served as a platform for educators, policymakers, and advocates to contribute to the global conversation on one of the most critical issues facing education today: how to teach children to read.

The insights shared by our speakers reinforce the urgency of prioritizing evidence-based reading instruction for all children. With continued efforts and collaboration, the global community can strive towards equitable and effective reading instruction for future generations.

To learn more about the Luminos Method, including Phonics for First-Generation Readers, click here.

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

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Webinar: Getting Ghana Back to School

Webinar: Getting Ghana Back to School

Thursday, September 23, 10:00 – 11:00 a.m. New York | 2:00 – 3:00 p.m. Accra | Zoom Webinar

Ghana, a leader in education access on the continent, now struggles with the same challenges as other countries. According to new CGD-IEPA research, over 85% of parents say their children have lost learning during COVID-19 school closures, and grade repetition has tripled. On September 23, please join Ghanaian luminaries, education leaders, and the Luminos Fund to discuss how to unlock Ghana’s full educational potential once again. 


  • Dr. Might Kojo Abreh, Non-Resident Fellow, Center for Global Development; Senior Research Fellow and Head of Grants and Consultancy, Institute for Educational Planning and Administration (IEPA) 
  • Dr. Kwame Akyeampong, Professor of International Education & Development and Director of the Centre for the Study of Global Development, The Open University; Member, Luminos Fund Advisory Board 
  • Patrick G. Awuah Jr., Founder & President, Ashesi University 
  • Corina Gardner, Executive Director, IDP Foundation 
  • Yawa Hansen-Quao, Executive Director, Emerging Public Leaders 

Moderated by: 

  • Caitlin Baron, Chief Executive Officer, Luminos Fund 

Now in its fifth 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. 

71 Commercial Street, #232 | Boston, MA 02109 |  USA
+1 781 333 8317

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

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