Africa Day: A New Dawn

Africa Day: A New Dawn

By: Kirstin Buchanan

Each year on May 25, Africans and others around the globe celebrate Africa Day. The day commemorates the 1963 founding of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), known today as the African Union, which was Africa’s first post-independence continental institution. For Africans on the continent and in the diaspora, Africa Day signifies unity, pride in being African, and an opportunity to celebrate the continent’s progress while reflecting on the common challenges yet to overcome.

Dr. Dzingai Mutumbuka,
Former Minister of Education, Zimbabwe

In honor of Africa Day, we are sharing the story of a true African visionary and luminary in the education sector: Dr. Dzingai Mutumbuka. Dzingai served as the first Minister of Education and Culture for Zimbabwe upon its Independence from Britain from 1980 to 1988, and as Minister of Higher Education from 1988 to 1989. He currently serves on the Governing Board of several institutions and is also a member of the Luminos Fund’s Advisory Board.

When the charter that created the OAU was signed in May 1963, several African states had not yet won their independence. This was the case in Zimbabwe (then Southern Rhodesia), the home of Dr. Dzingai Mutumbuka. Dzingai, who grew up against the backdrop of colonialism and racial segregation, describes his childhood as very challenging. He was raised by his maternal grandmother in a very poor household and credits his success to the core values she instilled in him: values that remain with him today.

“She would say to me: it doesn’t matter how poor you are or what your stage in life is. If you are hardworking and determined, you can achieve anything,” Dzingai says.

Although he was just a teenager at the time, Dzingai recalls the great significance 25 May 1963 held for Africans everywhere and for ushering in a tide of change across the continent and beyond. The formation of the OAU called for unity among African countries that transcends ethnic and national differences. Additionally, the OAU promoted cooperation in pursuit of a shared goal to rid the continent of colonialism and apartheid and create a world where Africans control their own destiny.

“The idea of uniting was to make sure that never again would Africa be colonized. The idea was that slavery came because Africans were divided. Colonialism came because Africans were divided. If we were to maintain our newfound freedom, it was important that Africans fight as one.”

– Dr. Dzingai Mutumbuka

Since ending colonialism and apartheid in Africa, there has been significant progress with governance, economic growth and inclusiveness, infrastructure development, health, and education across the continent. For instance, Africa has made steady progress in increasing life expectancy at birth over the last 60 years and improved infant mortality by around 30% over the past 20 years (AFDB). Furthermore, the continent has made considerable progress in boosting primary and lower secondary school enrollment (World Bank).

There is much to celebrate, but also still much to overcome. As power and wealth still largely remain concentrated in the hands of a few, deep structural and systemic inequalities continue to beset African societies.

“I think the link between decolonization and economic wellbeing was a stretch, and it remains a stretch today in Africa,” says Dzingai. “This is an important frontier for us, and it immediately leads to the question of education. Because, as Mandela once said, education is the most important tool with which you can change society.”

Dzingai’s journey is a testament to this. Unlike so many other boys and girls across the continent, he was given an opportunity: thanks to an anonymous donor, Dzingai was able to complete his secondary education when his family could no longer afford to send him to school. In spite of the inevitable roadblocks presented by a segregated education system, Dzingai excelled in school, earning scholarships and awards that enabled him to go on to pursue higher education. These experiences would later inspire his work as Zimbabwe’s first Minister of Education.

“When I became Minister of Education at independence, I wanted Zimbabwe to be different. I wanted the quality of education in Zimbabwe to be different. I did not want the average child growing up in Zimbabwe to go through what I went through. I wanted every child to have access to the best education that was possible.”

– Dr. Dzingai Mutumbuka

When inheriting a system built on structural inequality, transformative action is required to achieve greater equity for all.

“The system needed radical reform and radical change in order to prepare young people for a healthy and productive future to end the crisis that Africa faces today,” says Dzingai.

Regrettably, the continent has struggled to ensure quality and universal education for all.  Without urgent action, the situation will likely worsen as the region faces a rising demand for education due to a still-growing school-age population (UNESCO).

But there is hope—Africa has overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges and continues to demonstrate resounding resilience and strength. There is incredible power in unity and committing to invest in the region’s collective future, and with the right African leadership, Africa’s future is bright.

When we come together on May 25 to celebrate solidarity and Africa’s collective progress, let us also remember this as an opportunity to unite to solve the common challenges that the continent still faces in a global environment. For Dzingai, Africa’s most transformational progress is yet to come. The potential for transformation hinges on its youth and future leaders, and importantly, the willingness of current leaders to prioritize investments in their people, especially young people and their education.

“If these young people are given space to really implement some of their wild ideas,” Dzingai says, “it will not take time before we see changes in Africa that we never thought were possible.”

To hear more from Dzingai, visit his page from Luminos’ “Education Leadership through Crisis” series.

Kirstin Buchanan serves as the Development & Communications Associate at the Luminos Fund where she amplifies student voices and program stories, in addition to helping drive content, messaging, and fundraising strategy. She holds a MA in International Affairs and BA in International Relations from Boston University, as well as a certificate in Latin American studies.

Luminos Launches in Ghana

Luminos Launches in Ghana

Last week on March 8, the Luminos Fund launched in Ghana. Our new classrooms serve 1,500 formerly out-of-school children in the Ashanti region and will scale to serve tens of thousands more in the years ahead. Our team is overjoyed. We could not have done this without all our generous supporters and advisors!

 “A catch-up program just like this changed my life as a young boy and it will change yours, too. Among you are future nurses, doctors, and teachers.”
Fungal Naa Abdulai Alhassan, Board Chair of School for Life

Ashanti is home to the second largest population of primary-school-aged out-of-school children in Ghana but has received little support historically. Child labor in the cocoa sector, in addition to other socio-economic factors and COVID-19, has kept many children out of school. Our mission is to ensure that vulnerable children everywhere can experience joyful learning and catch up. In places like Ashanti, this has never been more relevant. 

The Luminos program in Ghana marries the Ghanaian Ministry of Education’s Complementary Basic Education curriculum with core Luminos classroom methods to deliver transformative education for children who have been kept out of school. In nine months, our students will learn to read, write, and do math. Luminos will support their transition to continue their education at local government schools.

We look forward to giving Ghana’s out-of-school children a second chance at education. Please follow us along this journey! Thank you for supporting Luminos in our mission to create a world no child is denied the chance to learn.

Highlights from our Ghana launch events:

“It is all the more special that we are launching our program on International Women’s Day. Today we are ensuring that girls, along with boys, have a second chance at education.”

Ethel Sakitey, Ghana Country Director, the Luminos Fund

“Luminos is honored to partner with Ghana’s Ministry of Education and outstanding local organizations, while leveraging our team’s expertise in international best practice in education, to deliver transformational results for children in Ghana.”

Caitlin Baron, CEO, the Luminos Fund

“There are no greater riches than education. Your land can burn down. But no one can take away your education.”

Community elder in Bosome Freho, Ghana

To learn more about our Ghana program, click here.

To support our programs, click here.

Event Recap: “Getting Ghana Back to School”

Event Recap: “Getting Ghana Back to School”

On September 23, the Luminos Fund hosted its fifth annual U.N. General Assembly (UNGA) week event, “Getting Ghana Back to School.” (View the webinar recording online here or below.)

This year’s conversation centered on the education challenges posed by COVID-19 in Ghana, examining powerful new research by the Center for Global Development (CGD) and Institute for Educational Planning and Administration (IEPA), and reflecting on the way forward. Moderated by Caitlin Baron, CEO of the Luminos Fund, the webinar featured a diverse panel of Ghanaian luminaries, education leaders, and experts including:

  • Dr. Might Kojo Abreh, Non-Resident Fellow, Center for Global Development; Senior Research Fellow and Head of Grants and Consultancy, Institute for Educational Planning and Administration (IEPA)
  • Dr. Kwame Akyeampong, Professor of International Education & Development and Director of the Centre for the Study of Global Development, The Open University; Member, Luminos Fund Advisory Board
  • Patrick G. Awuah Jr., Founder & President, Ashesi University
  • Corina Gardner, Executive Director, IDP Foundation
  • Yawa Hansen-Quao, Executive Director, Emerging Public Leaders

“It is powerful for us to look to countries and nations that have historically led in education, to guide us on leading our way back from this COVID moment.”

Caitlin Baron, CEO, Luminos Fund

New CGD-IEPA Research

Ghana is a leader in education access on the continent, nevertheless, COVID-19 poses significant education challenges, particularly for Ghana’s most vulnerable children. Dr. Might Kojo Abreh shared highlights from Phase I of the new CGD-IEPA research on the effects of COVID-19 and 2020 COVID-related school closures in African contexts, and offered advice for informed COVID-19 response strategies.

Dr. Abreh identified two key findings of the household survey results in Ghana. First, dropout rates among children remained fairly consistent with pre-COVID school closures dropout rates. Second, grade repetition rates among children have doubled when compared to pre-COVID school closures. The research findings suggest that dropout and repetition rates are disproportionately higher among boys and children from the poorest households.

Dr. Abreh concluded his presentation with a few reflections: household perceptions of emergency response management and mitigation efforts are important, and informed and effective COVID-19 education response strategies must include factors such as location, wealth, and zone disparity as key considerations.

“At the heart of this equation is an issue of equity and social justice. In periods of resilience and progress making in emergencies, we must ensure full recovery in terms of participation in education,” said Dr. Might Kojo Abreh.

A Dynamic Panel Conversation

As Executive Director of Emerging Public Leaders, Yawa Hansen-Quao is uniquely placed to help shape the way forward for Ghana’s education recovery. When asked about the experience of rising bureaucrats in the Ghanaian Ministry of Education during this moment, Yawa noted that it has been an overwhelming period for Ghanaian leadership tasked with troubleshooting this crisis and adequately rising to meet the moment. Yawa noted, “I think the crisis of COVID forced us all to adopt new technologies and I was glad to see the Ministry champion new initiatives like Ghana Learning TV.”

Patrick G. Awuah Jr., Founder and President of Ashesi University, reflected on what this period has meant for Ashesi and the higher education sector in Ghana more broadly. He noted the University’s decision to shift to a completely online model during the height of COVID-related school closures. “One of the things that was really critical was we wanted to make sure no one was left behind,” said Patrick. For Ashesi, this has meant a period of exploration, innovation, and thoughtful recalibration to find learning solutions that support the needs of all students, as innovations in the education sector today must include considerations for the integration of education and technology – and the global challenge of remote learning access.

Another important component of the Ghanaian education ecosystem is the affordable non-state school sector. Yet, Corina Gardner, Executive Director of IDP Foundation, noted that, despite being among some of the first of the population to struggle with income during closures, the non-state school sector is often excluded from broader emergency funding response efforts. “As a funder watching what happened with COVID over the past 18 months, while a lot of organizations understandably diverted funds into health and into COVID emergency response, we really felt that this was the time to double-down on education,” said Corina. Corina believes that the non-state school sector has demonstrated remarkable determination, resilience, and growth.

Dr. Kwame Akyeampong, Professor of International Education and Development at The Open University, rounded out the conversation by focusing on the challenge of out-of-school children in Ghana. Dr. Akyeampong noted, “We have to look at systems, or things that we have done that can guide us forward in addressing the challenges [brought by COVID-19]”. Moving forward, he encourages the global community to think more expansively about engaging local communities as part of the solution. Additionally, he encouraged listeners to expand participatory, foundational education programs for out-of-school children to ensure “a policy of leaving no out-of-school children behind.” As Dr. Akyeampong said, “We need to believe that every child can learn, and if they are not doing so… it is because we need to do a better job at meeting their learning needs.”

“For us at Luminos, the work that we do is often described as accelerated learning,” Caitlin Baron noted. Looking toward the path ahead for education in Ghana, she added, “But I always say what’s important about it is not that it’s fast, but that it’s deep. By going deep into foundational literacy and numeracy, we set children up for a lifetime of learning.”

Further reading and resources:

“Getting Ghana Back to School” Luminos Fund event recording

Abreh, M. K., Agbevanu, W. K., Jangu Alhassan, A., Ansah, F., Bosu, R. S., Crawfurd, L., Araba Mills, C., Minardi, A. L., & Nyame, G. (2021, July 6). What happened to dropout rates after COVID-19 school closures in Ghana? (CGD-IEPA).

Abreh, M. K., Agbevanu, W. K., Jangu Alhassan, A., Ansah, F., Bosu, R. S., Crawfurd, L., Araba Mills, C., Minardi , A. L., & Nyame, G. (2021, August 11). How did students recover learning loss during COVID-19 school closures in Ghana? (CGD-IEPA).

McManus , J., Njogu-Ndongwe, F., Caballero , E., & Mously Fall , S. (2021, July 21). Challenges and opportunities as students return to school in West Africa. (IDinsight).

Shotland , M., Caballero, E., Thunde, J., Nzomo, K., & Mtambo, D. (2021, June 24). Distance Learning Evidence Review Report. (IDinsight).

Please email for further information or questions.

Celebrating Literacy: Luminos Wins Library of Congress 2021 International Literacy Prize

Celebrating Literacy: Luminos Wins Library of Congress 2021 International Literacy Prize

Today, on International Literacy Day, the Library of Congress Literacy Awards announced the Luminos Fund is the winner of its 2021 International Prize. The International Prize recognizes an organization making significant and measurable contributions to increasing literacy levels outside the United States.

“Luminos is honored to receive this prestigious award from the Library of Congress in recognition of our efforts to advance literacy around the world,” says Luminos CEO, Caitlin Baron. “With an estimated 24 million students predicted to drop out of school as a result of COVID-19 and 617 million children affected by acute learning loss, programs like ours that promote basic, essential literacy while helping children catch up have never been more important.”

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, over half of children in low- and middle-income countries could not read and understand a simple text by age 10. In Sub-Saharan Africa, where Luminos operates classrooms, that number increases to 87% of children. The COVID-19 pandemic has only made the situation more dire.

Reading is a skill that literate people often take for granted, but which has the unique power to transform lives forever. Words and sentences guide you to the correct bus to visit your family, explain how much life-saving medication to take, and inform you about breaking news. The United Nations describes education as the key to escaping poverty, promoting equality, reaching gender equity, and more. For every additional year in school, an individual’s future earnings increase by as much as 10%. For girls, the risk of teen pregnancy decreases, as does the risk of maternal death.

“Literacy is essential to set children up for success in life,” says Phyllis Kurlander Costanza, CEO of UBS Optimus Foundation: a key Luminos funding partner. “Being able to read means having the ability to learn on your own — to pursue knowledge, understand and follow health advice, and navigate and contribute to civil society. Aided by the UBS Optimus Foundation, organizations like the Luminos Fund are critical to helping the hardest-to-reach children learn to read – thereby transforming their lives and their communities.”

The Luminos Fund operates classrooms in Ethiopia, Liberia, and Lebanon to help out-of-school and overaged children get a second chance at education and learn to read. Many of our students are the first in their families to go to school. Without basic literacy and numeracy skills, these children are at risk of being locked out of the education system forever. In our program, we balance a learning-by-doing, play-based approach with a phonics-based model, gently scripted to support first-time teachers in the classroom. Children learn to read with texts that reflect their lived experience, and through games and activities that place students at the center of teaching and learning.

By creating an atmosphere of joyful learning with continuous assessments to tailor instruction, students are excited to learn to read – and achieve remarkable results. In Liberia, Luminos students start the program reading merely five words per minute on average. At the end of the program, our students read an average of 39 words per minute: an achievement few of their peers have attained.

Bertukan and Abenet are two sisters in one of the Luminos Fund’s Ethiopian classrooms and among the first in their family to learn to read. Their father, Elias, is a farmer who wants a better future for his daughters. “I want them to continue learning… to decide their own future and not marry early,” Elias explains. He attributes his difficult life as a farmer to his lack of an education and was eager to send his girls to the free Luminos program to begin their journeys to literacy and a brighter future.

Elias with his daughters Bertukan (age nine, left) and Abenet (age eleven, right).

Abenet now helps her parents read documents at home. “Literacy is my favorite subject!” she says. “I was eager to read and write.” Bertukan chimes in that they both like their classroom where “there are lots of posted learning materials. We like to read these materials before and after classes” – an enriching part of education made possible with their new reading skills.

Elias is proud of his girls and excited for their futures. “Education is like a torch which shows you direction – which way to go,” he says. 

The Luminos Fund has helped over 152,000 children learn to read and write with the generous support of our funding partners including UBS Optimus Foundation. We are honored to receive the 2021 International Prize from the Library Congress Literacy Awards on International Literacy Day, and look forward to helping thousands more children like Abenet and Bertukan learn to read.

Webinar: Getting Ghana Back to School

Webinar: Getting Ghana Back to School

Thursday, September 23, 10:00 – 11:00 a.m. New York | 2:00 – 3:00 p.m. Accra | Zoom Webinar

Ghana, a leader in education access on the continent, now struggles with the same challenges as other countries. According to new CGD-IEPA research, over 85% of parents say their children have lost learning during COVID-19 school closures, and grade repetition has tripled. On September 23, please join Ghanaian luminaries, education leaders, and the Luminos Fund to discuss how to unlock Ghana’s full educational potential once again. 


  • Dr. Might Kojo Abreh, Non-Resident Fellow, Center for Global Development; Senior Research Fellow and Head of Grants and Consultancy, Institute for Educational Planning and Administration (IEPA) 
  • Dr. Kwame Akyeampong, Professor of International Education & Development and Director of the Centre for the Study of Global Development, The Open University; Member, Luminos Fund Advisory Board 
  • Patrick G. Awuah Jr., Founder & President, Ashesi University 
  • Corina Gardner, Executive Director, IDP Foundation 
  • Yawa Hansen-Quao, Executive Director, Emerging Public Leaders 

Moderated by: 

  • Caitlin Baron, Chief Executive Officer, Luminos Fund 

Now in its fifth 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. 

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

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