Ethiopia: the second most populous country in Africa where over 63% of the population is under age 25 and there are more than 40 million school-aged children and adolescents (UIS). In 2000, nearly 60% of primary-school-age students were out of school in Ethiopia, a number that had dropped to 14% as of 2015 due to dramatic government investment (World Bank). Though the country has navigated rising ethnic violence in recent years, such as in the Tigray and Oromia regions, the government has continued to invest deeply in education. Today, the Ethiopian government spends nearly a quarter of its entire budget on education. As H.E. Ato Minister Million Mathewos, State Minister for General Education, puts it, “Ethiopia is rising.”
Recently, the Luminos Fund had the privilege of hosting a discussion on the current and future state of education in Ethiopia as it navigates beyond COVID-19. Guest speakers included Minister Mathewos and Dr. Pauline Rose, Professor of International Education and Director of the Research for Equitable Access and Learning (REAL) Centre, University of Cambridge.
The Current Education Landscape in Ethiopia
The Ethiopian Ministry of Education (MOE) presented the current state of affairs in Ethiopia to frame the discussion, noting that the number of primary schools has increased from 4,000 in 1994 to over 37,000 as of 2018, as has gender parity. While making considerable progress on enrollment, Ethiopia has struggled to keep students in school through graduation. Yohanese Wogasso, Director General of School Improvement noted, “Primary completion rate is a critical area where we are challenged. In 2018-2019 we only had 62% [of students] attend school through 8th grade, meaning 7.6 million students couldn’t complete grade 8.” Minister Mathewos and Yohanese outlined several different priority areas where the MOE is looking to expand its efforts in collaboration with external support: accelerated learning programs (such as the Second Chance program run by Luminos), school feeding programs, secondary school construction, and school improvement including WASH facilities.
Examining the Data
Dr. Pauline Rose noted that one of the incredible strengths of the Ethiopian MOE has been its ability to reflect on both the progress they have made and the challenges ahead saying, “That’s why we see Ethiopia as a leading light on the continent.”
Notwithstanding Ethiopia’s progress, even before COVID-19, the most disadvantaged children in Ethiopia and the rest of sub-Saharan Africa were struggling to complete their primary education. Pulling from her recent research through the Research for Equitable Access and Learning (REAL) Centre, Dr. Rose noted that this is in part because students from poorer rural backgrounds simply don’t have access to the same resources as more affluent, urban students.
COVID-19 is likely to increase dropout rates for the most disadvantaged students in addition to causing large learning losses for students in the early years of schooling. Accelerated learning programs, such as Luminos’ Second Chance program, are among the efforts Dr. Rose hailed as a learning opportunity for other countries, especially post-COVID-19.
Referencing an August 2020 phone survey conducted with the RISE Programme and the Early Learning Partnership, Dr. Rose explored the digital divide between rural and urban households in Ethiopia. According to the survey, only 58% of rural households had access to electricity compared to 92% of urban households. In both urban and rural households, fewer than 60% of those surveyed had access to a radio and barely 2% had access to the internet. Dr. Rose emphasized that this lack of access to technology and basic electricity is something funders interested in Ethiopia should pay particular attention to before pushing for ed tech solutions. To read more about the REAL Centre’s research in collaboration with Addis Ababa University and the Ethiopian Policy Studies Institute, please view the full report here.
In order to build resilient, inclusive education systems, Dr. Rose recommended prioritizing resources to improve primary school standards. This includes adapting the curriculum to focus on the basics and extending the school day. It may also involve providing additional support for those whose family members are unable to support home learning due to illiteracy, poverty, or lack of access to ed tech. She noted that supporting schools and teachers with resources on tackling learning loss, both academic and socio-emotional, will be another critical step to building a resilient, inclusive education system, as will paying particular attention to the most vulnerable students: those in the rural areas, those in poverty, and girls. Finally, to create a safe learning environment, especially during the pandemic, Dr. Rose emphasized the importance of providing basic hygiene in schools as well as masks and hand sanitizer for the poorest students – something Luminos provides in all of our Second Chance classrooms.
At the end of the discussion, a guest asked the speakers to name one key take-away or piece of advice for the donor community. Dr. Rose emphasized that, “The number one thing is bridge programs [like] accelerated learning programs: something that is possible for children to attend in a flexible manner, that allows them to engage in the learning environment and get up to speed. I think they’re going to be even more vital going forward.” Luminos Strategic Advisor in Ethiopia, Dr. Alemayehu Hailu Gebre, reflected on how the current state of the world requires new creativity in education, explaining, “As we all know, COVID-19 coupled with unprecedented disasters has augmented the problems of exclusion in education. Bringing these children to school requires an innovative approach.” Luminos CEO Caitlin Baron closed out the session:
“The Ethiopian government has made an extraordinary commitment to education over the last few years. Luminos looks forward to continuing to partner with the Ethiopian MOE to ensure that the most vulnerable out-of-school children get a second chance to catch up on education after COVID-19.”
In the past year, COVID-19 has highlighted enormous gaps in our understanding of how best to support learners affected by a health emergency, especially the most vulnerable children. What we know from the Ebola epidemic and emerging evidence from COVID-19 suggests that children living through health emergencies face unique risks to their well-being. Given what we know about the importance of psychosocial well-being as a precursor to learning (especially for children impacted by crisis), what specific well-being risks do children in Liberia face? And how can the Luminos Fund best support students to manage these risks?
To explore these questions and support the Liberian Ministry of Education’s COVID-19 response, Luminos worked with the Ministry in the fall of 2020 to conduct a needs assessment to better understand the psychosocial needs of vulnerable children living through COVID-19 in Liberia. The assessment included in-depth interviews (conducted in November during the school closures) with approximately 300 Luminos Second Chance students and 100 parents across 26 communities in three counties (Bomi, Montserrado, Grand Cape Mount). Survey instruments were designed in collaboration with the Ministry of Education to collect data across the three major domains of psychosocial well-being: human capacity, social ecology, and culture and values (INEE, 2016). Given that hunger and malnutrition are threats to well-being in the Liberian context, data on children’s physical health was also collected. Below are a few of our learnings from the assessment.
In Liberia, hunger was a problem before the pandemic. Since COVID-19, the situation has gotten a bit worse.
Prior to COVID-19, an estimated 1.6 million Liberians were food insecure, and nearly 1 in 3 children suffered from chronic malnutrition. Estimates from the World Food Program suggest that food insecurity has risen by over 80% since the start of the pandemic due to compounding effects of COVID-19.
Since the start of the pandemic, 54% of Luminos students in Liberia eat just one meal per day (an increase of 16 percentage points compared to pre-COVID-19).
When we spoke with Luminos parents on the topic, the majority (63%) shared that since COVID-19, their family was eating less food (though the vast majority described the change as small). 22% said their family was eating the same amount of food as before COVID-19. When we probed further, we heard that just 13% of Luminos students ate three meals per day prior to the pandemic, and since COVID-19 this has dropped to 5% (Figure 1). Since the start of the pandemic, 54% of Luminos students in Liberia eat just one meal per day (an increase of 16 percentage points compared to pre-COVID-19). The data suggests that the situation may be slightly worse for boys than girls (more girls appear to eat three meals/day as compared to boys, both before and during COVID-19).
Given that COVID-19 has disrupted school meals programs (including ours in Liberia, during the period of school closures), it makes sense that there is a direct link between being out of school and being hungrier. Moreover, given that household income has contracted (80% of Luminos families say they have lost income during COVID-19), the above data suggesting that our students and their families are a bit hungrier since COVID-19 is, sadly, not surprising. To support families through this challenging period, Luminos provided food support (bags of rice) to our students and their families during the school closures. While by no means comprehensive to tackle the challenge of hunger that our families face, we aimed to support Luminos students’ well-being through the pandemic in lieu of school meals. In the wake of COVID-19, the need for holistic learning models that meet students’ academic and broader needs, like our proven Second Chance program, is greater than ever. School feeding programs will play an important role as well.
Both boys and girls express having felt unsafe during COVID-19 school closures. The data suggest that this manifests differently for boys as compared to girls.
Given that children spent the greater part of the past year at home (as opposed to at school), we were interested to understand student experiences and feelings regarding safety at home and within the community during COVID-19 school closures. When we spoke to Liberian students, 22% reported feeling unsafe at home in the past one month (while schools were closed). Depending on who you spoke to, the degree to which the community was perceived as a safe space for students varied dramatically: nearly all students reported having felt unsafe in the community, while just 20% of parents shared the same view regarding their child’s feeling of safety (nearly 75% of parents said that their child “always felt safe in the community”). This suggests there is a gap between children’s experiences and parental perceptions of safety.
When we asked students why they felt unsafe, 54% shared that it was due to COVID-19 and social distancing. In students’ own words this was expressed as: “Because it’s possible someone has the virus and I don’t know”, and “Most of the time my friends and I are playing, so if they get the Coronavirus, it is possible that I get it too”. Other reasons for feeling unsafe included physical or verbal abuse, traditional and cultural practices in the community (including female genital mutilation, or FGM), and school closures (Figure 2).
It is worth noting that the data suggests that boys’ and girls’ feelings around safety during the school closures do not appear equal. Of the children who answered our question about safety, six boys and one girl reported physical or verbal abuse, which conveys a disproportionate impact on boys’ feelings of safety in the home. On the other hand, six out of seven students who reported feeling unsafe due to traditional and cultural practices in the community were girls. This is consistent with our understanding of the disproportionate impact of such practices on women, children and the poorest, and supports research on the increased prevalence of violence against girls and women during the pandemic, and the increase in teenage pregnancies we saw following Ebola school closures. Given the small sample size, these points of course merit further study. As a side note, while students did not explicitly reference FGM when describing traditional and ritualistic practices, given that Liberia is one of four countries in Africa where FGM remains legal, the data could provide an early proof point for the anticipated increase in cases of FGM as a result of COVID-19.
Despite living through Ebola and now COVID-19, Luminos students have high aspirations for their future selves, which supports their overall well-being despite the adversities they face.
Based on external evidence from the Second Chance program in Ethiopia, we know that the Second Chance pedagogy is effective in building learners’ confidence in their abilities and capacity to learn. Given the importance of self-concept (the ability to express personal preferences, feelings, thoughts and abilities) to social and emotional development and well-being, we were eager to explore students’ aspirations for their future possible selves. When asked to share one thing they hope or wish will happen in their life in the future, nearly every single student was able to share a hope or aspiration (“I want to travel to America so I can live better and support my family”; “I want to be able to help my mom and make her ok”; “I want to be a business woman”; “I want to finish high school and go to college”). Seventy-nine percent of students surveyed named a specific career or profession they aspired to (doctor, teacher, president, pilot, police officer, entrepreneur, etc.), while 21% named other things, the main themes of which were being educated, financial security, helping others (especially one’s parents), and traveling abroad for a better quality of life. Based on student responses, education was often recognized as the means to achieving other things like becoming a nurse or helping one’s community. It is interesting to note, that when we asked parents about their child’s hopes/aspirations for their futures, 69% of parents were able to identify an aspiration (27% were unsure). This may suggest that parents are less optimistic about their child’s future prospects, as compared to children’s own outlooks.
When asked to share one thing they hope or wish will happen in their life in the future, nearly every single student was able to share a hope or aspiration
64% of students (roughly equal number of girls and boys) were able to name a realistic barrier that could stop them from achieving their aspiration. The main barriers identified by students were not going to school or lack of education (62%) and financial barriers (22%). See Figure 3. Of students that named financial barriers, more often than not this was closely linked to the child’s ability to access education, and in particular, the ability to pay school fees (“If there’s no money to send me to school anymore”; “If my parents don’t have money to pay for my school fees”). It is worth pointing out that girls were 9 percentage points more likely to identify financial barriers as prohibitive to achieving their future self (Figure 3). Given that household education spending may fall as incomes contract in the wake of the pandemic, we may see more girls than boys dropping out of school. At Luminos, we are deeply aware of these constraints on families and our Second Chance program remains free for all students. In addition, each program graduate receives a stipend, which supports their transition into the government school system at the end of our program.
During COVID-19 school closures, which ran from March to November 2020 in Liberia, the Luminos team, partners, and facilitators worked hard – through food support, physically-distanced home visits, and micro-classes – to ensure that student well-being was our top priority. Now that schools have reopened and Luminos continues to help the most vulnerable children return to school in Liberia and beyond, ensuring that we meet students’ broader well-being needs will be critical to getting children caught up on learning quickly. Our hope is that the data and insights generated through this assessment are useful not only for Liberia’s Ministry of Education as they navigate the return to learning for the country’s two million learners, but for the broader global education community in responding to COVID-19 and future crises.
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.