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As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to challenge communities across the globe, the prospects for the world’s most vulnerable children are somber. We know that one third of schoolchildren globally have not been reached by any remote learning during COVID-19 (UNICEF) and even three-month school closures can cause students to fall one year behind (NWEA). New research predicts that COVID-19 school closures will cost students up to $15 trillion in lost future earnings (IZA Institute of Labor Economics). Other new studies predict that at least seven million children are now at risk of dropping out of school completely (World Bank, Save the Children). And this is on top of the fifty-nine million children of primary-school age who were already out of school worldwide prior to the pandemic.
While this year exacerbates inequality across the globe, the Luminos Fund team is more dedicated than ever to our mission helping girls and boys learn to read and do arithmetic in our joyful classrooms, and continue their studies in their local village schools. Our key focus during this crisis is to keep our students safe and connected to learning. Our team never stopped pushing and, this fall, our classrooms are beginning to reopen. Read more about our efforts and plans in Ethiopia, Liberia, and Lebanon on the next pages.
In Ethiopia, the Luminos Fund is operating micro-classes, supporting distance learning, and partnering with government.
On March 16th, Ethiopia mandated the closure of all schools, impacting more than 26 million learners. Luminos continues to explore all available options for resuming learning safely for our children and understands the need to be agile while adhering to the guidelines laid out by the Ethiopian Ministry of Education (MOE). This year, the MOE’s growing need for proven alternative learning solutions—like Second Chance—is creating an even greater opportunity for the government’s adoption of our model beyond what is underway. There is significant appetite from education stakeholders in Ethiopia for technical expertise from Luminos and its partners on condensing curriculum, teacher training, and improving learning outcomes.
Our 2019-20 cohort of students
When schools closed, Luminos pivoted to supporting students with home-based learning through the distribution of learning resources and the creation of a digital learning portal for Luminos and its partners to share resources across regions. SMS-based contact helped ensure direct communication with families during the pandemic, and from May to July, we ran outdoor micro-classes of 4-6 students. Facilitators received guidance on micro-classes and ongoing virtual training and support from Program Supervisors and Luminos partners. Luminos also supported the MOE’s COVID-19 education response with staff as active participants in the Education Cluster and through one-on-one advising with key MOE officials. We continue to explore MOE partnership opportunities to reach even more children through our Second Chance model. All schools in Ethiopia plan to open by the end of November, and all Ethiopian students—including our 2019-20 cohort—will be promoted to the next grade for the start of the 2020-21 academic year.
Our 2020-21 cohort of students
In the 2020-21 school year, Luminos expects to reach 1,300 children directly through Second Chance education, and thousands more through government adoption. As noted, all schools in Ethiopia plan to open by the end of November. Our staff continues to work extensively with government partners across national, regional, and local levels to finalize plans for the 2020-21 government adoption program, which aims to equip the government to implement Second Chance in conventional government primary schools across Ethiopia.
In Liberia, the Luminos Fund is operating micro-classes (up to seven students and a teacher, physically distanced), supporting distance learning, and partnering with government.
Schools across Liberia closed in March. Luminos continues to explore all available options for resuming learning safely for our children. We understand the need to be flexible to respond to students’ and families’ needs while adhering to guidelines laid out by the Ministry of Education (MOE). The Luminos Fund launched in Liberia in the aftermath of Ebola, when approximately one in four Liberian children did not return to school, and we are keen to apply lessons from that time to the current crisis. Strategies like micro-classes keep children engaged in learning and help ensure they enroll when schools resume. As challenging as it has been to get these classes off the ground and ensure learning is happening, we are encouraged that we have positively engaged our children and kept up their enthusiasm for school.
Our 2019-20 cohort of students
Our primary focus has been the safety and health of our children and communities. Our US team actively participates in weekly MOE, Education in Emergencies Zoom meetings. Given only 12% of the Liberian population has access to electricity, we adopted a low-tech approach to ensure our 2019-20 students remain connected to the learning process by distributing worksheets, English readers, writing materials, and workbooks. Currently, Luminos is running outdoor micro-classes of 6-7 children, covering key foundational literacy and numeracy concepts. We anticipate students will transition to government school for the start of the 2020-21 school year in December. Since March 2020, Luminos has also supported its communities with WASH stations and food supplies. Even procuring basic items such as bags of rice proved challenging as most of the stores had run out of supplies. Our team worked incredibly hard on the ground to source the required permissions to cross county borders during lockdown and complete the necessary distributions.
Our 2020-21 cohort of students
We are planning for the 2020-21 cohort and forecast that we will be able to resume classes, with certain restrictions, in January 2021. Luminos will reach 2,400-2,800 children across Bomi, Montserrado, and Grand Cape Mount counties. We are updating our curriculum for the new school year to include psycho-social support for children, both in school and at home, in response to COVID-19. We anticipate continuing to support students with an element of home-based learning in the 2020-21 academic year.
In Lebanon, the Luminos Fund provides educational programs for Syrian refugees.
This year has been uniquely challenging in Lebanon, between political and economic strife, COVID-19, and the massive explosion that shook Beirut in August. Lebanon is dependent on imports and the destruction of the port has led to widespread shortages of medicines, baby formula, and other essentials. Luminos continues to explore all available options to help our students learn safely. We are working to be flexible and agile to respond to students’ and families’ needs while, at the same time, adhering to guidelines laid out by the Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MEHE).
Our 2019-20 cohort of students
Luminos pivoted to providing e-learning options to children within a few weeks of school closures. Curriculum-aligned educational videos, including lesson explanations, stories, rhymes, and songs, were shared 3-4 times per week. These videos covered the core subjects Science, Math, English, and Arabic. Teachers shared videos with learners through WhatsApp groups and followed up directly with learners through phone calls and WhatsApp messages.
While dealing with the macro-challenges in Lebanon, the team on the ground has been trying to find the best possible means to remain connected with children and their families. Our partners have responded nimbly to the Beirut blast by supporting children with school supplies, volunteering to clear the rubble, and providing emergency relief materials to effected communities. We’re incredibly grateful for their hard work.
Our 2020-21 cohort of students
We are planning for the 2020-21 cohort on the assumption that we will be able to resume classes, with certain restrictions, starting in November. We have invested in more established e-learning platforms to better structure the remote learning process for 2020-21. MEHE published an academic calendar that states that schools will reopen by first week of November for all grades in regions where there is no lockdown. Currently, student registration for the 2020-21 school year is ongoing for both Lebanese and Syrian children in public schools. In the 2020-21 school year, Luminos expects to reach 1,300 children across Mt. Lebanon, Beqaa Valley, and Beirut. We anticipate all students being promoted to further education.
The Luminos Fund’s Second Chance program, an accelerated learning program for out-of-school children also known as Speed School, is one of the world’s leading innovations in K12 education according to Finnish education nonprofit, HundrED. During this week’s HundrED Innovation Summit, Luminos was selected as a member of the HundrED 2021 Global Collection.
The annual Global Collection highlights 100 of the most impactful innovations in K12 education from around the world. HundrED’s goal is to help pedagogically-sound, ambitious innovations spread and adapt to multiple contexts across the globe. While there has been remarkable disruption in global education this year due to COVID-19, we at Luminos are inspired by our fellow education nonprofits across the globe as they have rapidly developed new ways of teaching and learning. This marks the fourthconsecutive year that the Luminos Fund has been honored by HundrED, starting in 2017.
This year’s HundrED Global Collection includes innovations from thirty-eight countries.To make the Global Collection, the HundrED research team compiled a list of over 5,000 innovations from over 110 countries. After this initial survey, 150 Academy Members—consisting of academics, educators, innovators, funders, and leaders from over 50 countries—reviewed a shortlist of innovations. In total, there were 3,404 reviews by the Academy based on each innovation’s impact and scalability that were then evaluated by HundrED’s Research Team to make the final selection.
In the words of Luminos CEO Caitlin Baron, “Over this past year, the hard work and creative problem solving of our staff to ensure children still get a second chance to learn has been truly humbling and inspiring. We are honored to be a part of the HundrED Global Collection for the fourth year running.”
Once again, the Luminos Fund’s program was chosen due to its pioneering status and ability to create a scalable impact. Since 2011, Speed School (known outside of Ethiopia as Second Chance) has worked in partnership with Ethiopian NGOs to enable more than 122,062 children in Ethiopia to get a second chance at education. Over 90% of the children who start the Luminos program transition successfully to their local village school. External evaluations show that graduates of our program complete primary school at twice the rate of their peers. In 2016, the program expanded to Liberia where it reaches thousands more children every year. During COVID-19, Luminos pivoted our programs quickly to support our students learning at home with remote learning resources and through “micro-classes” (small, distanced groups of students). In addition, Luminos is providing relief to vulnerable families and communities and strengthening our collaboration with Ministries of Education.
The Luminos Fund is delighted to publish our 2019 Annual Report. To date, we’ve enabled 136,502 vulnerable children to receive a second chance at education – and this year was unlike any other. Our team is more committed than ever to ensuring children everywhere have the opportunity to learn and thrive, and to helping educators and governments in low-income countries develop the resiliency to weather powerful storms like COVID-19.
With over 1 billion youths out of school globally due to the pandemic, the Luminos Fund’s mission to help children get back to school is more important than ever. Our work was made for the task ahead.
“We’re reaching children who never went to school before and getting them to a level where they want to keep going. That’s humanitarian. So, when an emergency arises like COVID-19, it’s important that we step up and revise. Providing relief during COVID isn’t strange. It’s what we have to do.”
— Abba Karnga Jr., Luminos Program Manager in Liberia
Updated: May 2020
At this time, the Luminos Fund’s classrooms across Ethiopia, Lebanon, and Liberia are on hold due to COVID-19. To help keep our communities and team safe and to mitigate the spread of the virus, all Luminos staff are working remotely and in-country teams are limiting travel to the field (where it is still permitted).
During this challenging time, we are working to support our students and provide relief to families where possible. For example, in Liberia, we are distributing learning materials for students to work on at home, as well as rice, soap, and drums to store water for families. Our team is managing resources closely to leave room to respond in new ways as the crisis evolves: we want to both respond now and plan ahead for the long term.
Luminos is in dialogue with our funders and other education providers on the latest and to share best practices. Where possible, we are working with governments and partners to coordinate our response on the ground.
Educate: A Charity Exhibition at Christie’s New York Benefiting the Luminos Fund
On Friday, February 7, 2020 at 6:30 p.m. EST, an opening reception will be held at Christie’s New York commencing a charity art exhibition benefiting the Luminos Fund.The Luminos Fund is a philanthropic organization which aims to bring the life-changing opportunity of education to the most disadvantaged children around the world. The night will include live performances, complimentary refreshments, and a SPIN New York sponsored ping-pong tournament open to the public.
The reception will inaugurate a group exhibition of global emerging artists of diverse styles, and mediums. Each artist will donate a single work into a silent auction with proceeds fully benefiting the Luminos Fund. Additional works will be available for purchase directly from the participating artists. The silent auction and artist’s exhibition will remain open to the public until Tuesday, February 11, 2020.
The following is a plenary address given by Mubuso Zamchiya, Managing Director of the Luminos Fund, to the International Education Funders Group (IEFG) Bi-Annual Meeting in November 2019 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.The meeting was hosted by the Luminos Fund.
A young Program Officer, working at a large philanthropic institution, pays a visit to his former development studies Professor at Oxford. They greet warmly. And they reminisce about the many “save-the-world” arguments they once had. Spirited debates which rivaled that of Jeffrey Sachs and William Easterly. Disputes softened only by the several pints they tenderly nursed at the Kings Arms, on the corner of Parks Road and Holywell Street.
On this occasion, seeking to recapture the erstwhile glow of the good old days, the Program Officer posits a question, “Professor,” he says, “What must I do to fulfill the objectives of SDG4?”
“Hmm,” the Professor muses. “Well, what does best practice tell you to do? What have you learned from the entire canon of development literature you’ve assimilated all these years?”
The Program Officer, back in student-mode, straightens his frame and most eagerly responds,
“You shall innovate, scale, mainstream, and reform. This, with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind. And you shall engage your partner as yourself.”
The Professor heartily congratulates him, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will succeed.”
But, eager to go deeper and, perhaps, trying match the Professor’s intellect, the Program Officer asks a penetrative follow-up question.
“And so, Professor, please explain. Who exactly is my partner?”
The Professor responds with a brief anecdote.
“There was a certain community in a particular African country – one of the least economically-advanced nations in the world. Its population had been systematically colonized, despotized, and marginalized. Millions of adults were illiterate. And the formal education system was not serving many children well at all. Now by chance, the country was visited by the representatives of three international foundations. The leader of the first cohort was Debbie Deficit.
‘Oh it’s just awful,’ she complained during the site visit. ‘These people have absolutely no clue. What kind of parents stand in the way of their children going to school? And what kind of government fails to provide its citizens with quality education? I don’t see anything happening here, unless we intervene.’
‘I completely agree,’ said her colleague, Sid Savior. ‘We need to make things right. If not us, then who? If not now, then when?’
The second convoy pulled up just as the first one was leaving. Its most vocal member was Pat Paternalist. ‘I mean, what do you expect?’ he said rhetorically. ‘It’s not a sophisticated country. It doesn’t have a lot of resources. Its teachers and education officials don’t have our sort of knowledge and expertise. We’ll just have to show them the way. Help them – whether they like it or not.’
When the third group arrived, Emma Empathy led her team off the bus. She immediately connected with the children. And she also sat down to listen to their parents. She had fruitful meetings with local educators and government officials about their work and their plans. And she constantly asked how her foundation might be of help. ‘We’ll fund what we can,’ Emma concluded. ‘Building, of course, on the remarkable progress you’ve already made.’”
At that point, the Professor squares up the Program Officer “Tell me,” she says. “What do you think? Which one of these groups was a good partner to the community?”
“I suppose, the one led by Emma Empathy,” he replies. “The one that built good relationships.”
And the Professor says to him, “You go, and do likewise.”
Now, some of you will have noticed that my story is a cheeky adaptation of the parable of the good Samaritan. Yes, I remixed it. But, to depict a Professor, who, like the Lord Jesus, cares more that learners cultivate the right sort of relationships, and less that they demonstrate capacity for abstract intellect.
This is a crucial point. Especially in the African context – where having good relationships is both fundamental to the way of life and also forms the basis of how people learn. The connection is well-explained by Jomo Kenyatta (the first head of state of Kenya). In his seminal anthropological book, entitled Facing Mount Kenya, which is a fantastic body of literature, he discusses the structure of African society and the nature of the African mind. And while the subject is the Gikuyu people, the exposition captures the experience of Africans throughout the continent. Chapter five is of particular interest to us, as it examines traditional African education.
Says Kenyatta, “The striking thing in Gikuyu education, and the feature which most sharply distinguishes it from the European system, is the primary place given to personal relationships.” He notes that western education is characterized by five things: (i) the schoolhouse is the source of learning, (ii) freedom of personality is the greatest good, (iii) accumulation of knowledge is the chief objective, (iv) self-actualization is the highest aim, and (v) individuality is the finest ideal. But not so in African education. There, the foremost purpose is to build character for wise and useful living in a collective society. Not merely the acquisition of knowledge. In the African paradigm, relationships give agency to learning, and the homestead, not the schoolhouse, is the cornerstone of wisdom.
In African education, learning begins at birth and ends at death. And parents drive the process. They shape language, inform heritage, and provide apprenticeship. And the three concentric circles of relationship that organize African life – namely family, kinship, and peer group – facilitate the learning journey. Nothing is abstract in this approach. And every lesson – whether philosophical, ethical, or functional – has a specific interactive object to which it relates. Children learn what they practice and practice what they learn, as they emulate adults, and conduct their own experiments. All the time acquiring a mass of useful knowledge and proficiency in both functional and theoretical matters.
Assessment is also different in these two polar systems. Success measures in western education are largely transactional. They are all about value extraction – from the exchange between teacher and student. My inputs, your inputs. My outputs, your outputs. My outcomes, your outcomes. By contrast, progress measures in African education are relational. They involve monitoring the value that is inserted to the communion between family and child, kinspeople and child, and peer group and child. Our love, your love. Our well-being, your well-being. Our fulfillment, your fulfillment. Care is taken to ensure that learning reflects the culture and that the culture informs learning. It is the reason why African languages have words like Harambee in Kenya, Ujamaa in Tanzania, Ubuntu in South Africa, Hunhu in Zimbabwe, and Medemer in Ethiopia.
Now, I am not here to argue that there is no merit at all to western education. And I also am not saying that traditional African education is perfect. But I am suggesting that western education is a cultural import. One that sits very uncomfortably within its host. Moreover, since traditional African education persists within the ties of family, kinship, and peer group, there results a sort of “tale of two cities.” A forging of a complex context within which learners must code-switch daily – as between home and school. And because these two systems are in tension with each other, the souls of African children are very much being stretched dangerously thin. Some, indeed, to the very breaking point, where sense of identity, sense of belonging, and sense of readiness for adult life, are all but torn asunder.
What’s the way forward, then? Well, perhaps we cannot put the genie back into the bottle. But we can apply ourselves to listening. To Jomo Kenyatta, for example, who recommended, almost fifty-five years ago, that we ought to figure out how to connect formal education to the traditional bonds of family, kinship, and peer group. Or, more recently, to Kwame Akyeampong, Professor of International Education at the University of Sussex, who has also called for a reclamation of African education. He argues that we need to fix the deficiencies in our interrogation of education delivery on the continent. We have focused largely on structural and capacity issues, which are important, of course. But this at the expense of deeply investigating fundamental questions related to pedagogy, culture, context, and relevance. And this also at the risk of causing children to become widgets in our production processes as we seek to mold international development outcomes in the image of SDG4.
The truth is, acing standardized tests and acing non-standardized life are dramatically different things. Excel academically or not, the learners who pass through our reformed education systems, must all go back and engage productively with their parents, siblings, kinspeople, and the broader society around them. But how, though, if their education does not prepare them to do so?
Therefore, when it comes to those core tenets of best practice in international development – namely the charges to innovate, scale, mainstream, and reform – I think the plea of Kenyatta and Akyeampong is that we stop throwing the baby out with the bath water. We need to put to death our inner Debbie Deficit, and Sid Savior, and Pat Paternalist. Self-correct when we find ourselves disparaging rural parents for essentially homeschooling their children. Or African teachers for relying on pedagogies that are not scripted in western instructional manuals. Or government officials for not unequivocally adopting the imported interventions of international NGOs. And we need to bring to life our willingness to listen and learn from them. Not to hear a parroting of, “Think, pair, share,” or any other western instructional strategies. And not just to tick the box when the western curriculum is delivered in local languages. But to gain a deep and rich understanding of how African relationships and culture contribute to learning.
Perhaps the greatest contemporary “professor” on African relationships, was none other than the beloved musician, Oliver Mtukudzi. My favorite song from him is Dzoka Uyamwe. You see, Mtukudzi had kinship roots in Dande – a rural community in the Mashonaland region of Zimbabwe. There, and across the country, Mtukudzi was known as Sahwira – which means “close friend” or “good partner,” the kind who tells it like it is. And the song, Dzoka Uyamwe, is the lament of an African who has long been estranged from home and feels alienated in a foreign land. So, Mtukudzi’s lyrics say, “You see my dark skin and you conclude that I’m rotten. But a man’s rottenness is in his heart. And his darkness is in his mind. Because of you, I think of Dande. Of returning to Dande. Because I miss Dande.”
And since Mtukudzi’s music often follows a call-and-response structure, his melodious backup singers deliver the emotional overtones of a mother beseeching her last-born son to return. “Come back, my son. I’m waiting for you. Come back home and be nursed. Dzoka Uyamwe.”
Now, as a Zimbabwean – and as someone working in the field of international education – Dzoka Uyamwe strikes me in a profound way. So, in the mother’s portion of the song, I hear the voice of Africa itself. I hear the continent calling back its children. Children it knows feel alienated in an education system that has gone adrift. Dzoka Uyamwe. “Come back,” it says. “Back to those relational moorings that once nursed you and made you secure, and wise, and vital, and strong.
And since the way back is the way forward, I wonder whether the children of Africa will find good partners to accompany them there. Partners who will work with their parents and with their governments to transform the tale of two cities into a story about the best of both worlds. Both African and western education. It is exactly what the Ethiopian philosophy of Medemer is all about – combining the constituent elements of separate parts into a single or unified whole. This is in fact the crucial next step. Because we cannot secure the future for African children by indiscriminately destroying their past. You see, the blackness of Mtukudzi’s Dande – indeed, the blackness of all of Africa – is beautiful. And so if, in our pursuit of education development, we learn to look, not at the deficits of Dande, but at the fabric of riches which hold it together, then we can be confident that our contributions will be of some good.
Let me end with the words of N’Dri Thérèse Assié-Lumumba, whom Kwame Akyeampong quotes in his Inaugural Professorial Lecture of 2018. Dr. Assié-Lumumba is a Cornell Professor and President of the World Council of Comparative Education Societies. She asks this:
“Which systems of education do we analyze to inform which future? From whose perspectives are learning opportunities seen or ignored? When studying education in the Global South or former colonies, do we tend to see opportunities in their systems of thought, learning, and knowledge? Or do we simply dismiss what already exists in favor of some so-called superior global knowledge?
Now, I know – because I created her –that Emma Empathy, and those like her, are committed to higher levels of reflectiveness and lower levels of dismissiveness in their work in Africa. And I have to believe that this room is full of Emma Empathys. I think that’s why we’re all here. To discuss government adoption, not as an abstract intellectual exercise. But as a pathway to surround children with the right relationships to help them learn. So let’s come together, not matter how different we are. Let’s unlock the light in our own hearts – and in every child. And let it be our love, their love. Our well-being, their well-being. Our fulfillment, their fulfillment. Medemer.