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

Suraiya: A Brilliant Nurse in the Making | Ghana

Suraiya: A Brilliant Nurse in the Making | Ghana

Suraiya’s first reaction upon entering her Luminos classroom was awe — she thought it was beautiful.

The humble building dedicated to learning was a beautiful sight in Suraiya’s eyes because it represented a long-awaited opportunity to join her peers in an environment that had always been out of reach.

“I had never stepped in one before,” Suraiya says wistfully. At age 12, Suraiya had never been to school. In the Ashanti region of Ghana, where Suraiya and her family live, it is all too common for children to miss out on education. Nearly 23,000 primary-school-aged children in Ashanti are out of school.

In 2022, Luminos officially launched in Ghana to give out-of-school children in the Ashanti region a second chance at education. Suraiya was one of 1,500 children enrolled in Luminos’ classrooms.

“She wasn’t able to read at first, but now she is improving. She hadn’t been to school before so she wasn’t able to do math, but now she can.”

Ramatou, Suraiya’s mother

Suraiya and her mother, Ramatou, used to work together on the family’s charcoal farm to make a living — Ramatou did not have the money to send Suraiya to school. Every day, Suraiya would accompany her mother to a plot of land in the forest, cut down wood, and burn it into charcoal to sell.

During a reading lesson, one of Suraiya’s classmates answers a question.

Through the free Luminos program, Suraiya quickly began learning how to read, write, and do math.

English is her favorite subject, but Suraiya also enjoys learning addition and singing along with her teacher, Adams. Suraiya admires Adams and appreciates the way he helps her learn.

“When he teaches, I understand,” says Suraiya. “He has been telling me that I will do well in the future.” With her teacher’s encouragement, Suraiya feels inspired about her learning progress. “I want to be brilliant!” she declares.

Suraiya’s mother also notices her growth.

“She wasn’t able to read at first, but now she is improving. She hadn’t been to school before so she wasn’t able to do math, but now she can,” says Ramatou.

Ramatou is not able to read or write, but she can see Suraiya’s progress as Suraiya brings home materials to practice reading aloud. Suraiya also shares what she learns in the Luminos program with her siblings and the neighborhood children that come to her for help.

Adams leads his class, including Suraiya (third from the left), in a warm-up activity before class begins.

“She helps them to read,” beams Ramatou.

Suraiya was steadfast in her attendance during the school year, believing education will help her become a better person in the future. After completing the Luminos program among the top three students in her class, Suraiya is advancing into the local government school. She dreams of continuing her education all the way through college and becoming a nurse.

“I will become a nurse and bring pride to my parents,” Suraiya declares. “I will come and take care of the sick here.”

“I want to be brilliant!”

Suraiya, Luminos student

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

To learn more about our Ghana program, click here.

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

Photo credit for this story: Mara Chan

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.

Speakers:

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.

Subscribe to keep in touch with Luminos through our quarterly Spotlight newsletter.

Leveraging the Power of Partnership in The Gambia

Leveraging the Power of Partnership in The Gambia

In The Gambia, the Luminos Fund is working hand in hand with the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education (MoBSE) to tackle one of the most pressing education issues today — how to ensure all children have equal access to joyful, foundational learning. Together, we have created and launched an accelerated learning program that brings transformative education to out-of-school children.

The launch of this program marks a major milestone in our partnership with MoBSE. By leveraging the power of partnership, we are reaching the most vulnerable out-of-school children in The Gambia and helping them to catch up to grade level, reintegrate into government schools, and prepare for lifelong learning.

A Timely and Mutually Beneficial Partnership

The Gambia, a small country in West Africa, is home to more than 70,000 out-of-school children. With a population of just over 2.5 million people, the number of out-of-school children presents significant challenges for the country’s efforts to achieve quality education for all. For the most marginalized children, the effects of missed education often extend over a lifetime. As disruptions to learning caused by the global pandemic and other crises increasingly threaten children’s futures, education systems must act now to help the most vulnerable children get back on the path of learning, and strengthen their capacity to adapt to emergent challenges.

The Constitution of The Republic of Gambia acknowledges that basic education is a right to which every child in the country is entitled. While the government has made commendable efforts to increase enrollment rates for primary-school-aged children and provide education services to children outside of the formal school system, ensuring the functional literacy and numeracy of out-of-school children continues to be a challenge.

In 2021, The Gambian government requested Luminos’ expertise and support to develop a new accelerated learning curriculum that provides foundational learning to children who have missed out on basic education in their early years. We are piloting the curriculum in 20 classrooms during the 2022-23 school year, serving children aged 8-14 who have either never enrolled in school, or dropped out two or more years ago. The pilot program is a timely and relevant solution to the out-of-school challenge and aligns with key priorities identified by MoBSE and relevant stakeholders. It is also an opportunity to evaluate the impact of the curriculum and further refine it before scaling the program to reach even more out-of-school children.

The program provides students with foundational literacy and numeracy skills, helping them to catch up on three years of learning in just one school year, then reintegrate into local government schools. We partner closely with community-based organizations to maximize impact and deliver the program using an intensive, child-centered, and activity-based learning approach.

In The Gambia, our classes are taught by community teachers — young adults recommended by the communities we serve, as well as by MoBSE’s Second Chance Programme and the Gambia National Teacher Training College.

Emily Joof, Associate Director of Programs at Luminos notes, “When we began this pilot, the majority of the students could not recognize their letters or their numbers, and as time has progressed, we have noticed marked improvement with children confidently recognizing letters, numbers, and even beginning to read short words. In terms of education, every single child’s success is something to be celebrated. The pilot will allow us to change the lives of each and every student who has enrolled.”

“The pilot will allow us to change the lives of each and every student who has enrolled.”

Emily Joof, Associate Director of Programs, The Luminos Fund

The Journey so Far and a Way Forward

The challenges facing global education systems today cannot be addressed by any one institution, organization, or individual alone. Through innovative partnerships, founded on mutual respect and trust, we can reverse the learning crisis and ensure support for the most marginalized children.

“The issue of education is not something that any one person or organization can address in silos. The experience that these [community] partners will get from this partnership [with Luminos] can scale up when they implement other programs that they have or when they partner with other organizations in the future.”

Mr. Momodou Jeng, Director of Curriculum Research Evaluation and Development Directorate, Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education, The Gambia

At Luminos, our model is powered by innovative partnerships at all levels of society. These partnerships have been integral to our program’s impact and success. In each country of operation, Luminos partners with ministries of education to strengthen education systems by sharing best practices, prioritizing shared goals, building capacity, advising on national education policies, and supporting research.

Since 2021, Luminos has been on this partnership journey with The Gambian government, working jointly to address the out-of-school challenge. Following regular working group discussions to develop the multiple phases of the accelerated learning curriculum, learning exchange visits to the Luminos program in Liberia, and stakeholder consultations with local community partners and research experts, we have developed a practical plan to support out-of-school primary-aged children in The Gambia to receive a second chance at education.

Our experience delivering the Luminos program across Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East shows that to build sustainable and resilient education solutions, you must draw from and amplify local systems and resources. Through our partnerships with government and the communities that we serve, we are able to refine, implement, and scale effective accelerated learning programs that are locally driven and contextualized to align with national priorities and goals.

Luminos is grateful for the expertise, enthusiasm, and commitment of The Gambian government to work collaboratively in addressing the country’s out-of-school children challenge. The road ahead will be long, but our journey has just begun. Luminos looks forward to growing our partnership with MoBSE in the months ahead and bringing thousands of out-of-school children back on the path of learning. By unlocking the light of learning, children can reach their full potential and fulfill their aspirations. Together, we can transform education in The Gambia and take one step closer to our vision of a world where no child is denied an education.

“It’s a good thing to have Luminos coming on board to partner with us in this great endeavor of providing education to all the children living in The Gambia. We value the partnership, and we look forward to a stronger, strengthened relationship and collaboration so that we’ll be able to achieve our goals.”

Honorable Minister Claudiana A Cole, Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education

Ethiopia: Tsigereda’s Journey Into the Light of Learning

Ethiopia: Tsigereda’s Journey Into the Light of Learning

Set in the rolling green hills of southern Ethiopia, Tsigereda’s village is a patchwork quilt of carefully tended fields, forest, and traditional homes made of earth and wood.

Nestled between the fields and the forest is a Luminos classroom full of brightly colored posters, handmade clay letters, and songs. This is where Tsigereda began her first steps towards lifelong learning—but it wasn’t always this way.

Tsigereda had spent earlier years of her life out of school, helping raise younger relatives about 124 miles away in a bustling fishing town called Ziway.

“Since she spent a lot of time in Ziway, it was hard for her to get used to rural life,” says Tsigereda’s teacher, Konjit.

Help children like Tsigereda get a second chance at education

Journey to the Classroom

After the death of her parents, Tsigereda’s grandmother became her caregiver, but with extra children to feed in her household, Adnaech had no money left over to send Tsigereda to school. Instead, she sent Tsigereda to Ziway to look after their relatives’ children. Child labor in Ethiopia can often take innocuous forms like this: caring for the children of relatives, tending to livestock, or simply helping around the home. Yet all of these tasks keep children out of the classroom, pulling them off the path of learning.

Tsigereda with her grandmother, Adnaech

Tsigereda with her grandmother Adnaech outside their home. (Photo: Mekbib Tadesse for the Luminos Fund)

This year, at age 11, Tsigereda’s uncle brought her back to her rural home village to be raised alongside her cousins. Shortly after Tsigereda’s homecoming, her grandmother learned about Luminos’ free catch-up education program for out-of-school children like Tsigereda and enrolled her.

“My favorite activity is learning by songs! Because the songs we sing have a lot of knowledge in them,” says Tsigereda earnestly. Songs in the Luminos program help students internalize lessons on a variety of topics from the sounds vowels make to the importance of learning. These activity-based lessons are core to the Luminos curriculum, allowing formerly out-of-school students to catch up on the content of three years of school in just 10 months.

Emersed in a joyful learning environment, Tsigereda was thriving—and it didn’t take long for her teacher and family to notice. “Tsigereda has shown a lot of change,” says her teacher, Konjit. “Now she enjoys learning and spending time with her friends. She loves to read and lead activities.” For Konjit, seeing students like Tsigereda improve is her favorite part of being a teacher. “I feel like all my work pays off when I see them read and write,” she says.

Tsigereda sings about the importance of school and learning alongside her classmates as they begin the day’s lessons. (Photo: Mekbib Tadesse for the Luminos Fund)

The walls of Tsigereda’s classroom are decorated with colorful posters from past lessons, and handmade teaching materials. (Photo: Mekbib Tadesse for the Luminos Fund)

Outside the classroom, Tsigereda takes a turn reading to her small group, supervised by teacher Konjit. (Photo: Mekbib Tadesse for the Luminos Fund)

In addition to her love of singing, Tsigereda proudly shares that her favorite subject is math: “I like working with numbers—it’s so much fun to add and subtract numbers!”

Tsigereda’s grandmother, Adnaech, observed Tsigereda’s rapid progress with pride saying, “They told me at her school that she is very clever—I have seen her improvement myself. She helps out others as well.” Adnaech is now very intentional about ensuring that Tsigereda has enough time for studying when she gets home. “I love to see her when she is studying, reading, writing, doing her homework at home,” Adnaech notes. “A person can only live a better life if they get an education—education is important for life.”

Tsigereda doing her homework after school. “Education is very important, because without education, you cannot get knowledge,” says Tsigereda. “Getting knowledge will broaden your mind, and you will be able to do good things for your community.” (Photo: Mekbib Tadesse for the Luminos Fund)

Looking to the Future

Tsigereda’s teacher, Konjit, goes one step further in describing the power of education: “Education is what brings you out of darkness and into the light.”

“Education is what brings you out of darkness and into the light.”

Konjit, Luminos teacher in Ethiopia

Konjit, Tsigereda’s teacher in the Luminos program. “I like teacher Konjit because she explains everything very well,” says Tsigereda. “There’s nothing I don’t understand when she teaches us!” (Photo: Mekbib Tadesse for the Luminos Fund)

That light is shining in Tsigereda as she takes the next steps on her learning journey. After gaining the foundation skills in reading, writing, and math through Luminos’ program, Tsigereda recently transitioned into 5th grade at her local government school where her teachers report she’s at the top of her class.

When asked about the future, Tsigereda confidently replies that she wants to continue her education “until I get a degree from a big university.” After that, she is of two minds—on the one hand she would love to become a teacher like Konjit “because I want everyone to learn!” On the other hand, perhaps Tsigereda will go on to become a doctor “because I want to save the lives of people.”

Whatever path she chooses, Tsigereda’s heart for helping those around her is clear and her future is bright.

Walk with Tsigereda on her way home from school!

71 Commercial Street, #232 | Boston, MA 02109 |  USA
+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).

Privacy Policy

We use cookies in order to give you the best possible experience on our website. By continuing to use this site, you agree to our use of cookies.
Accept
Reject