Annie’s Story: Transformative Learning in Liberia

Annie’s Story: Transformative Learning in Liberia

In a quiet community near the banks of the Farmington River in Liberia, 10-year-old Annie lives just minutes from her local government school. Sadly, when her mother could no longer afford the modest fees, Annie dropped out of school, fell behind on her education, and needed help catching up.

When the free Luminos program launched in her community, Annie suddenly had the opportunity to learn to read, write, and do math in just one school year.

“I was excited to come back to school. I was happy because I got a second chance to learn,” says Annie.

“I was excited to come back to school. I was happy because I got a second chance to learn”

Annie, Luminos student in Liberia

The same year that Annie attended the Luminos program, IDinsight, a global research and advisory organization, conducted a randomized controlled trial (RCT) of the Luminos program in Liberia, which proved that Luminos students learn a remarkable amount. The results show that Liberian children enrolled in the one-year Luminos program learn 90% of what the average Liberian will learn in their lifetime.

Annie with her mother, Mary, outside their home. (Photo: Mara Chan/Luminos Fund) 

Annie admits it was challenging at the beginning.

“The math was hard for me.” She pauses, then smiles. “But I learned the times table.”

“I didn’t know how to read before, but now I can read,” Annie adds with confidence. By the end of the program, Annie’s Luminos teacher described her as a “super reader.”

The Luminos program goes beyond teaching children to read, write, and do math. The classroom instills confidence in children, most of whom have never experienced how it feels to be successful at school.

Annie now takes initiative, is eager to read in front of her peers, and participates in classroom activities.

“I feel happy to go to the school,” she says.

Annie’s Remarkable Reading Progress (words per minute):

By the end of the Luminos program, Annie was reading over 100 words per minute and successfully transitioned into grade 4 in her local government school.

Annie’s aspirations are as bright as her smile when she speaks of her future: “I want to continue my education. I want to go to college. I want to be a nurse when I get older.”

New RCT Shows Huge Learning Gains in Luminos Liberia Program

In 1 year, a Luminos student learns

%

of what the average Liberian will learn in their entire life*

*Based on Learning Adjusted Years of Schooling

Results of a new IDinsight RCT of the Luminos program in Liberia prove that, with the right support, children can learn a remarkable amount in a short period of time.

At the end of the 2022-23 school year, Luminos students read four times as many words per minute and completed two times as many addition and subtraction problems as children in control communities.

Effects were similar in size for girls and boys, younger and older children, children who were previously enrolled in school and dropouts, and children who started with lower baseline learning levels compared to higher baseline learning levels.

Compared with government school children in the same communities, children in the Luminos program started the school year with much lower literacy and numeracy scores, but ended the school year with similar numeracy scores and substantially higher literacy scores than their peers in school.

No other externally evaluated program in Liberia has come close to the learning gains that IDinsight documented through the RCT of the Luminos program. Learn more in this summary of the RCT.

“The Luminos Fund is demonstrating that there is a way to reach the most marginalized children and to run an accelerated program that, within 10 months, can give them the building blocks that will prepare them to transition to and succeed in the mainstream education system.”

Jeffery McManus, Senior Economist at IDinsight

Read this story and others from our various country programs in our 2023 Annual Report!

To learn more about our Liberia program, click here.

Photo credit for this story: Mara Chan and Derrick Michael

Transforming Liberia’s Education: A Journey from the Classroom to the Ministry of Education

Transforming Liberia’s Education: A Journey from the Classroom to the Ministry of Education

Hailing from rural Grand Bassa County, Liberia, Abba G. Karnga Jr. was destined to be an educator. From a young age, Abba’s father instilled in him a deep passion for learning and a commitment to shaping Liberia’s future through education.

With over a decade of service to the education sector, including seven years at the Luminos Fund, Abba has soared to new heights in his mission to improve Liberia’s education system: on April 2nd, Abba was confirmed as the new Assistant Minister of Basic Education at the Liberian Ministry of Education.

This milestone marks a significant achievement for Abba and highlights his inspiring journey from the classroom to becoming a key figure in Liberia’s education system. His story is not just one of personal accomplishment but also a testament to the transformative power of education.

Following in His Father’s Footsteps

Growing up, Abba’s father had never been to school, which was not uncommon for indigenous Liberians. After the country’s founding in 1822, political tensions led to the marginalization and systematic exclusion of indigenous Liberians from political, economic, and social life. Through determined persistence, and with the support of American missionaries, Abba’s father graduated high school and pursued higher education in the United States.

Abba encourages a Luminos student during the reading portion of an assessment. (Photo by Mara Chan/Luminos Fund)

Following in his father’s footsteps, Abba was determined to go to school, but his path to education was not easy. Liberia’s prolonged political instability and civil wars, ending in 2003, caused the deaths of an estimated 250,000 people – mostly civilians. The country’s education system was yet another casualty of the conflict. Thousands of Liberians, including Abba, had their education disrupted and many students dropped out of school altogether.

During the First Liberian Civil War (1989-1997), Abba and his family were forced to flee their home and seek refuge in Cote d’Ivoire when Abba was just 11 years old. As a refugee, education provided a much-needed sense of stability and hope. Over time, Abba built not only his foundational literacy and numeracy skills, but also his deep love for learning.

When his family returned to Liberia, Abba entered grade 9 in an education system with severe teacher shortages, resulting in overcrowded classrooms and poor-quality teaching. Despite these challenges, Abba graduated high school, and enrolled at Cuttington University in Liberia to study Education. However, the Second Liberian Civil War (1999-2003) disrupted his schooling yet again. When peace prevailed, Abba returned to school, graduated in 2007, and began his career as a school principal, starting his journey to reform Liberia’s education.

“High-quality education ensures the human capacity needed to drive the development and well-being of any nation, no matter where it is situated,” says Abba. “To transform Liberia, we must prioritize education for our people.”

“High-quality education ensures the human capacity needed to drive the development and well-being of any nation, no matter where it is situated. To transform Liberia, we must prioritize education for our people.”

Abba G. Karnga Jr., Assistant Minister of Basic Education, Liberian Ministry of Education

During a coaching session, Abba provides feedback to Luminos-trained teacher Matthew, who was recruited by community partner LIPACE. (Photo by Mara Chan/Luminos Fund)

Liberia’s Education Landscape

Liberia is a beautiful, inspiring, and very challenging context for raising children to fulfill their true potential. With a population of 5.3 million people, more than half of Liberians live in poverty. Furthermore, 44% of children of primary school age are out of school. Malnutrition and lack of access to basic technology further complicate learning. The Ebola outbreak in 2014, and more recently COVID-19, pushed thousands more children out of school.

During an interactive math lesson, Abba supports a group of students playing a learning game with flashcards. (Photo by Mara Chan/Luminos Fund)

“When schools reopened after Ebola, many families did not have the money to send their children back to school, which contributed to the out-of-school problem we see today in Liberia,” says Abba. This reality motivated him to help bring children back on the path to education.

In 2016, the Luminos Fund expanded our accelerated learning program from Ethiopia to Liberia as part of the country’s recovery journey post-Ebola. Abba joined Luminos in 2017 as a Program Manager and played a key role in shaping the program, helping double its size and strengthening partnerships with parents, community partners, and the Ministry of Education.

“I have always been inspired by programs that give hope to the less fortunate and vulnerable children of Liberia. The idea that a child in the most challenged parts of the country, who had never had the opportunity to learn the alphabet, can learn to read and write over the course of 10 months through the Luminos program — that was mind-blowing to me, and I knew that I had to be part of such magic,” reflects Abba.

“I have always been inspired by programs that give hope to the less fortunate and vulnerable children of Liberia. The idea that a child in the most challenged parts of the country, who had never had the opportunity to learn the alphabet, can learn to read and write over the course of 10 months through the Luminos program — that was mind-blowing to me, and I knew that I had to be part of such magic.”

Abba G. Karnga Jr., Assistant Minister of Basic Education, Liberian Ministry of Education

Each week, Abba would visit Luminos classrooms, providing regular mentoring and coaching for teachers and Luminos community partners.

“Abba worked tirelessly to improve every aspect of the Liberia program. He has an eye for identifying great teachers and played a major role in developing our training content and approaches to training teachers,” says James Earl Kiawoin, Luminos Country Manager in Liberia. “Several of our most outstanding supervisors got their training from Abba and learned by observing how he inspired students, coached facilitators, led trainings, and was laser focused on improving learning outcomes.”

Above all, Abba always encouraged students, serving as true exemplar of leading with passion. He never passed on an opportunity to share with students his belief in their capabilities, or give an impassioned speech on the importance of education.

“My time at Luminos was the most valuable phase of my career as an educator so far,” says Abba. “I witnessed and influenced a lot of transformations. I saw children who started the program not knowing even a single letter progress to reading above 50 words per minute. I also saw young high school graduates with limited teaching experience enter the program and become great teachers – some even became program supervisors.”

A New Journey Begins

Today, sitting at his desk at the Ministry of Education in Liberia, Abba draws inspiration from the words that are plastered on the hallway: “Children are Born Ready to Learn.” In his new role as Assistant Minister of Basic Education, Abba is responsible for developing and implementing programs that support the improvement of basic and secondary schools in Liberia and strengthening partnerships with development partners to ensure alignment with the Ministry’s priorities.

Throughout his youth and career, Abba never gave up on his pursuit of an education despite the challenges before him, much like his father. Abba has since devoted his life to expanding educational opportunities for other Liberians, to ensure that no child is denied the chance to learn.

“This new role gives me the opportunity to bring the commitment and skills that I have exhibited in various organizations over the last thirteen years at the national level,” says Abba.

Abba tests Luminos student Princess on her reading fluency. (Photo by John Healey for the Luminos Fund)

“I am passionate about seeing Liberian students compete with other students globally, and I am committed to ensuring that our students have all the resources necessary for success.”

Amid Global Learning Crisis, New RCT Shows Dramatic Learning Gains for Luminos Students in Liberia 

Amid Global Learning Crisis, New RCT Shows Dramatic Learning Gains for Luminos Students in Liberia 

A new randomized controlled trial (RCT) shows children in the Luminos catch-up education program in Liberia achieve dramatic learning gains: a country where more than one in three children are out of school. In just one school year, Liberian children enrolled in the Luminos program learn 90% of what the average Liberian will learn in their lifetime. 

Boston, Massachusetts – The Luminos Fund, an international nonprofit organization dedicated to providing education opportunities to the world’s most vulnerable out-of-school children, is pleased to announce new results from a randomized controlled trial (RCT), confirming dramatic learning gains among children in the Luminos catch-up education program.  

In just one school year, Liberian children enrolled in the Luminos program learn 90% of what the average Liberian will learn in their lifetime. Read the full report and executive summary here.

“In the midst of a global learning crisis, with millions of children either out of school or attending without gaining foundational reading skills, there is an urgent need to make quality education a reality for every child,” said Caitlin Baron, CEO of the Luminos Fund. “The RCT results prove that children can learn a remarkable amount in a short period of time with the right support. Luminos students go from not recognizing all the letters in the alphabet at the start of the program to reading short stories by the end. This is truly transformative and establishes a solid foundation for lifelong learning.”  

IDinsight, a global research and advisory organization, conducted the RCT during the 2022-23 school year in Liberia. The data shows Luminos students progressed from reading an average of 4 words per minute (WPM) at the start of the program to 29 WPM by the end, compared to 7 WPM for children in the control group.

Jeffery McManus, Senior Economist at IDinsight, said, “The Luminos Fund is demonstrating that there is a way to reach the most marginalized children and to run an accelerated program that, within 10 months, can give them the building blocks that will prepare them to transition to and succeed in the mainstream education system.” 

In a review of external evaluations conducted in the global education sector, forty percent show no effect on student learning. Among the programs showing an impact, the Luminos program stands out as both transformational and cost-effective for children’s learning.  

LEARN MORE: 

For media inquiries, please contact Michael Stulman at michael@luminosfund.org or via WhatsApp at +1-667-289-7534.  

### 

About the Luminos Fund: The Luminos Fund runs catch-up education programs for some of the most vulnerable and hardest-to-reach children in parts of Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East. In just one school year, out-of-school children learn how to read, write, and do math – to learn how to learn – through a joyful, activity-based curriculum. As an international education nonprofit, our mission is to ensure all children have equal access to joyful, foundational learning, especially those shut out of education by crisis, poverty, or discrimination. To date, Luminos has helped over 277,541 children secure a second chance to learn. 

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) 

Emmanuel: A Family Steps on the Path to Education in Liberia 

Emmanuel: A Family Steps on the Path to Education in Liberia 

On a bustling government school campus in Liberia, students on their lunch break fill the air with loud and lively conversation.

Tucked away from the midday sun under the cool shade of a corridor, a Luminos alum named Emmanuel shares his story. At 15 years old, Emmanuel has achieved something remarkable: he’s made it to the eighth grade after being out of school for nearly a decade. And he has no plans of stopping.

“I’d like to go and continue my education past high school — go to college, and get a degree in medicine,” he says.

These big dreams and achievements are possible because Emmanuel attended Luminos’ catch-up education program four years ago. Inside a joyful, interactive classroom, Emmanuel learned how to read, write, and do math for the first time.

“I’m proud to be in school and learning because they teach us, and we can learn, and then take it home to our parents.”

Emmanuel, Luminos alum

“I like school because education is a powerful tool and the key to everything,” he explains.

Emmanuel’s mother, Josephine, marveled at the pace at which he was learning.

“They were learning really fast,” she says. “And he’s still progressing. The program helped him a lot. I’m proud that he can read and write.”

Emmanuel and his fellow Luminos alum, Princess, stand with their former Luminos teacher, Varney.

Josephine, who had to drop out of school after first grade, saw the Luminos program as an opportunity to ensure Emmanuel’s future would be different from her own.

When Josephine learned about Luminos’ free catch-up education program, she knew it was a second chance to help her son learn, grow, and gain the tools he needed to succeed — and the first step for their family into the world of education.

In the Luminos classroom, Emmanuel discovered his passion for math, which quickly became his favorite subject.

“Everything in math is my favorite — subtraction, percentages, addition,” Emmanuel says.

When Emmanuel completed the Luminos program, he was equipped with strong foundational learning skills and transitioned into fourth grade at his local government school.

One of Emmanuel’s current teachers, Robert, was amazed at the differences between Luminos alumni like Emmanuel and other students. Luminos students were better behaved, able to concentrate for longer periods, could pronounce words correctly, and were much more likely to volunteer — especially to read in front of the class.

“They were learning really fast. And he’s still progressing. The program helped him a lot. I’m proud that he can read and write.”

Josephine, mother of Luminos alum Emmanuel

“Emmanuel is especially good at math,” Robert notes, observing that while other students will count using their fingers, Emmanuel is able to do mental math quickly. Robert says that, even during breaks, Emmanuel can often be found in the classroom running his friends through math problems on the blackboard.

“It helped me,” says Emmanuel of the Luminos program. “Before I didn’t know math, and now I know math and I’m on the Middle School Academic Team!” As a member of his school’s Academic Team, Emmanuel participates in quiz competitions where he excels at answering math questions.

“I’m proud to be in school and learning,” says Emmanuel, “because they teach us, and we can learn, and then take it home to our parents.”

In addition to bringing knowledge home to his family, Emmanuel dreams of improving his community.

“I want to see my community get better. I want to see water pumps and a market every day. I want to be a doctor because a doctor helps other people.”

Meet Emmanuel’s Former Luminos Teacher: Varney

Varney, now a supervisor of Luminos classrooms, was Emmanuel’s teacher in 2019 when Emmanuel attended the Luminos program.

“Emmanuel was very smart,” Varney recalls. Varney is not surprised by Emmanuel’s continued love of math, noting that Emmanuel helped as his teacher’s assistant in mathematics. Varney still comes to check on his former Luminos students on their government school campus.

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

To learn more about our Liberia program, click here.

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

Photo credit for this story: Mara Chan

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+1 781 333 8317   info@luminosfund.org

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

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