How to Build Effective International Education Programs

How to Build Effective International Education Programs

Across the globe, access to universal education is often seen as a key goal for many international education programs — and it is tempting to think that learning follows a simple pattern: build schools, hire teachers, and children will learn.

Yet the fact that nine out of ten children in low-income countries cannot read by age 10 is proof that delivering effective education, especially in low-resourced settings, is hard.

Teaching children who are often the first in their families to learn to read is an extraordinarily daunting task — especially if doing so in a language they don’t speak at home, with minimally trained teachers, and little to no classroom materials. Adding to these challenges is the fact that many, if not most, of the international education interventions set up to improve school learning fail: currently, three out of five of the largest global funders of basic education have no evidence of impact at scale.

At the Luminos Fund, we know that effective education projects are rooted in iterative design – a process centered on continuous improvement and refinement. In this approach, organizations continuously evaluate their program implementation to assess their impact and make ongoing adjustments accordingly. For education projects and organizations, impact means students are learning, and the depth of that impact is the depth of a student’s learning gains.

Successful education initiatives marry the best of global learning science with local insights and apply an iterative approach to implementation. At Luminos, we have identified six key capabilities needed to create our organizational culture of iterative design:

1. A Deep Commitment to an Ongoing Journey

At Luminos, our iterative process is an ongoing cycle with three key stages: design, learn, adapt. From the moment our program is launched in the classroom, Luminos is iterating on our approach in response to the data we collect. Our learnings inform the nature, extent, and pace of our program adaptations. These adaptations occur across all aspects of our programming, including curriculum design, assessments, service delivery program support, and staffing capacity and structures. Once one cycle ends, the next one begins.

2. A Focus on One Thing — Foundational Learning — and Doing It Well

While the needs of children in the developing world are vast, they cannot all be effectively addressed simultaneously by one international nongovernmental organization. Focusing on what you do best allows you the time and capacity to refine your approach until you reach excellence. At Luminos, we do one thing: provide joyful, foundational learning to marginalized children. Our singular focus enables iteration, allowing us to home in on the adjustments and adaptations needed to achieve maximum impact for our students.

3. Consistent Classroom-Level Implementation

In pursuit of foundational learning and in support of our community teachers, Luminos applies a structured pedagogical approach to our curriculum. Structured pedagogy involves breaking down complex concepts into smaller, manageable units and presenting them in a logical sequence in order to progressively build upon a child’s foundational knowledge. For example, when teaching students to read, we begin our phonics-based approach by ensuring students can identify letters, then the letter sounds, before blending those sounds into words of increasingly greater complexity, eventually progressing to reading individual words and then sentences.

This framework makes it easy for us to track how consistently our curriculum is implemented across classrooms, and whether individual students or whole classrooms are on track with set learning targets. By laying out clear expectations for children’s learning, our structured pedagogy, combined with our classroom observations and other data collection, allows us to know immediately if we are meeting our learning targets or not, and make adjustments accordingly.

4. Data Collection and Analytics

The ability to quickly and accurately collect data, and then process and learn from that data, is crucial to making adaptations. Across all Luminos’ program sites, we collect data through classroom observations made by supervisors and Luminos staff, student assessments, and external program evaluations. This data provides a clear picture of what is and is not working, and it enables us to focus our adjustments accordingly.

5. A Staff Committed to Excellence, and a Staffing Structure to Match

Iterative design is foundational to Luminos and is reflected in our Beliefs and Values. Among other things, staff commit to using research, data, and classroom observations in the tenacious pursuit of excellence to learn what works and take the initiative to problem solve and adjust our programming accordingly.

6. Extensive Communication and Consensus Building with Partners

From start to finish, Luminos works hand in hand with our community partners and government stakeholders to ensure the successful delivery of our programs. An iterative approach is often new for community and government partners. Sharing data on actual student learning levels and inviting collaboration on solutions is critical for bringing partners along on the iterative design journey.

Looking to the Future

While iterative design is a well-known model in other industries, it is rarely practiced among global education reformers. In a world in which 90% of children in low-income countries have not learned to read by age 10, effective interventions are essential to addressing the problem. We believe the way to get to those effective education interventions is by employing an iterative design approach. Education reform through iterative design is a hard journey, but our results in the classroom tell us that it is the only one worth pursuing.

Learning more in the Iterative Design element of the Luminos Method!

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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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