Ethiopia Rising: Exploring Education After COVID-19

Ethiopia Rising: Exploring Education After COVID-19

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.

Closing Thoughts

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.”


Caitlin Baron, CEO, The Luminos Fund
Luminos welcomes new board members: Erin Ganju & George Kronnisanyon Werner

Luminos welcomes new board members: Erin Ganju & George Kronnisanyon Werner

We are delighted to announce that two new members are joining our Board of Directors this month: Erin Ganju and George Kronnisanyon Werner.

Erin Ganju is a Managing Director at Echidna Giving, one of the largest private funders in girls’ education in lower-income countries. Erin joined Echidna Giving from Room to Read, the internationally lauded NGO she co-founded to advance literacy and gender equality. During her tenures as COO and CEO, Room to Read helped over 12 million children in 15 countries pursue a quality education.

George Kronnisanyon Werner is an experienced public-sector leader and innovator who has spearheaded successful national and government-wide reform programs across a range of areas including health and education workforce reforms. George served as Liberia’s Minister of Education from 2015 to 2018. Since leaving public service in March 2018, he has used his first-hand knowledge to assist other African and Asian leaders to implement transformative reform agendas aimed at developing human capital and maximizing demographic dividends for long-term economic growth.

Erin and George are longtime trusted advisors and friends to the Luminos Fund and were recently featured in our Education Leadership through Crisis video series. To get to know them better, we’ve asked Erin and George a few questions about themselves:

At Luminos, we’re working to unlock the light of learning in every child. What do you see as the power of education? Why is education so important to you?

Erin: “I see education as the cornerstone solution that can help solve so many other issues. If you have an educated population, they are able to develop local solutions that can best address health issues, climate change, political participation, peace, justice and so on. As Nelson Mandela so aptly said, ‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.'”

George: “If you want bridges, if you want hospitals to function well—good doctors, good nurses, all of these people—if you want engineers, and good presidents, you ought to invest in children. Right from the beginning of the pipeline to its end. There is a clear moral purpose to this. I think that once people get the message that we have a moral responsibility to our children not to fail them, that we should do whatever it takes so that every child, regardless of disability, regardless of gender, regardless of whether or not they come from low-income families, must have equal access to quality education. It is our moral responsibility to make sure we have citizens who are not just healthy, but literate and numerate and productive to grow the economy and to make sure that we transmit this from one generation to another.”

What excites you most about the Luminos Fund?

Erin: “The work the Luminos Fund is doing to ensure all children, no matter what their circumstances are, have access to a quality education in their local communities is very relevant. I think your Second Chance accelerated learning program is especially relevant as children are reentering school after the COVID-19 pandemic. I am particularly impressed with the approach Luminos Fund takes to collecting and analyzing data to ensure effectiveness of your programs.  

George: “The practice the Luminos Fund has of hiring high potential young people who are often only Grade 10 graduates to become your classroom teachers and providing them with three weeks of intensive training followed by weekly in-classroom coaching. For countries with massively stretched school systems and average class sizes already in the 50+ range, this is an effective, practical auxiliary option to educate children.”

At Luminos, we value each students’ learning journey and emphasize activity-based, joyful learning. Erin, when you were a student, what was your favorite subject? Why?

Erin: “I loved school as a child and feel very fortunate to have been able to attend great public schools filled with dedicated teachers. I can’t remember really disliking any subjects, but, if I had to choose one as my favorite, I would choose world history. I loved learning about different cultures and important world events, and imagining all the great places I would visit when I grew up!”

Another thing we emphasize in our programs is the importance of reading. George, when you were young, what books inspired you?

George: “The first one that really got to me was Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. The second one was Camara Laye’s The African Child. It was the first time I came face to face with somebody talking about the nature of an African village and the culture around African villages.”


To learn more about Erin and George, view their interviews from the Education Leadership through Crisis video series. You can find Erin’s here and George’s here. Welcome Erin and George, we’re honored to have you on our Board of Directors!

Podcast Feature: “How social & emotional learning is transforming education across the globe”

Podcast Feature: “How social & emotional learning is transforming education across the globe”

A special episode of the podcast “Let’s Talk About Skills, Baby” launched Monday, December 7 featuring Caitlin Baron, CEO of the Luminos Fund, and Dominic Regester, Program Director of Salzburg Global Seminar and Founding Member of the Executive Committee for Karanga, The Global Alliance for Social and Emotional Learning and Life Skills. 

Created and hosted by Kelly Ryan Bailey, the “Let’s Talk About Skills, Baby” podcast was developed with the intent of learning what skills make individuals successful, how they developed those skills, and their innovative approaches to improving skills-based hiring and learning around the world. In this episode, Kelly spoke with Caitlin and Dominic about transforming education through social and emotional learning (SEL). 

While talking about Luminos’s SEL efforts, Caitlin noted that in our Second Chance program:

“What we’ve seen is that through a variety of evaluations, as many as six years later, [Second Chance] children are still progressing through school at better rates than their peers, and most importantly, they have sustained greater happiness in the classroom, that they have a strong sense of self-efficacy, and that they have higher aspirations for the future.”  

Karanga, which works to equip and inspire practitioners, policy makers, and researchers from around the world to promote quality and equitable SEL and life skills, is working with Luminos to further strengthen our SEL practice within the Luminos Second Chance program. As Caitlin notes:

“In our program, it’s not like from 10-10:15 we do social and emotional learning—there’s no unit in the days calendar. It’s really baked into the ethos.” 

Luminos is honored to be part of Karanga’s Global Steering Committee, a community of 60+ SEL experts, researchers, policymakers, and practitioners. Karanga is currently hosting a series of online SEL activities which can be joined at https://karanga.org/events

Listen to the full episode here, or via the “Let’s Talk About Skills, Baby” website

HundrED Honors Luminos as a Global Education Innovator for the Fourth Time

HundrED Honors Luminos as a Global Education Innovator for the Fourth Time

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 fourth consecutive 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.

To learn more, view the Luminos Fund 2021 Innovation page on Hundred.org and explore the profiles of our fellow innovators!

Video: The Luminos Fund Innovation

Related Links

The Luminos Fund 2021 Innovation Page on HundrED.org, 2020

HundrED honors Luminos as a Global Education Innovator for the Third Time, The Luminos Fund, 2019

Promoting Equity through Data: Our New Program Dashboard

Promoting Equity through Data: Our New Program Dashboard

Lindsey Wang is a Program Analyst at the Luminos Fund where she is instrumental in program monitoring, evaluation, and reporting. She joined Luminos in 2016 as a Mechanical Engineering graduate of MIT and is currently pursuing a Master in Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School.

Why build a data dashboard?

COVID-19 has interrupted students’ learning all around the world. Now, more than ever, the international education community needs effective tools to analyze data in real time and spur equitable solutions to close learning gaps. As Luminos’ Program Analyst, I ensure that rigorous data collection and analysis are at the foundation of program management and support efficient service delivery because, in the end, each data point represents an individual or a community. With over 1 billion students slowly returning to school due to COVID-19 (UNESCO), we need faster feedback loops to identify and address learning gaps and better meet the needs of every student and family.

One year ago, I set out to develop a tool for program managers to leverage the wealth of data collected from the field to drive program delivery. I sought to capture a real-time snapshot of the state of our Second Chance program by integrating both quantitative and qualitative data into our model, thus ensuring that vital institutional knowledge and first-hand observations could be shared across far-reaching geographies. Our solution: a data dashboard for program management with three simple objectives to help us monitor program results in real-time and deploy program resources more efficiently:

  1. Monitor Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
  2. Capture a holistic view of the program and drill down to granular insights
  3. Identify struggling students and facilitators

With the data dashboard, we can easily contrast how students performed on the Early Grade Reading and Math Assessments at the beginning and end of our program. The vast majority of students enter our program unable to read even a single word. In 2018-19, students graduated from our program reading an average of 40 words per minute, well above the national average.

A dashboard for program management

Given my past experience as an engineer applying user-centered design principles to develop products to support low-resource communities, I believed it critical that we prioritize our intended users (program staff) throughout the dashboard development process to ensure we built a tool that met their needs. To do so, I built iteration and feedback into the design process: at each stage of development, I solicited feedback and co-created elements alongside program staff.

My constant engagement with program staff in Liberia and within the Luminos HQ informed the creation of four distinct dashboard reports:

  • The Program Overview captures an up-to-date snapshot of the program by pairing student enrollment information with internal field reports and spot checks. Program staff can drill down and filter data by program year, region, and implementing partner.
  • The Student Assessments dashboard captures the distribution of scores for literacy, numeracy, and words per minute (WPM) in each phase and allows users to disaggregate data by region, implementing partner, student demographics, or classroom rating.
  • The Classroom Observations dashboard enables users to review a log of classroom observations from field visits conducted by program coordinators. KPIs include facilitator performance and internal measurements of attendance and words read per minute.
  • The Baseline and Endline dashboard compares the results from our external baseline and endline EGRA/EGMA surveys from the program level down to the individual student level.
With the Student Assessments dashboard, we can investigate the distribution of assessment scores across three subjects: literacy, numeracy, and words read per minute (WPM). Our program staff can deep dive all the way to the classroom level to identify struggling students.

Dashboards in practice

The potential applications of the dashboard are vast. Here is a taste of what I hope to achieve once this new tool is implemented:

  1. Diagnose barriers: Imagine we notice a classroom in which most students scored below the program average. The dashboard allows us to examine this datapoint in context. Has there been an economic shock in the community that caused parents to withdraw their students to work? We can compare the performance of the classroom in question against other classrooms in the same or neighboring communities to determine if this is a shared phenomenon. Perhaps the issue lies with the facilitator. We can review the classroom observations logged by program coordinators over the prior weeks to determine if the facilitator is struggling to grasp the principles of Second Chance’s activity-based pedagogy.
  2. Map trends: With data stored in a centralized database, we can combine external baseline and endline data with internal midline and phase-level assessments to create a picture of students’ learning trajectories.
  3. Promote equity: Luminos disaggregates data by region, implementing partner, and student demographic information — such as gender — to promote equity in program delivery. The success of our Second Chance program has always depended on strong partnerships with leaders and advocates in the community who help us localize the program to meet students and families where they are. With this dashboard, we can easily assess how different sub-populations are performing and address their specific barriers to learning.

As Second Chance classes gradually reopen from months of school closures and interim distance learning efforts, our team is committed to supporting our students, classroom facilitators, and communities. I am currently training our program coordinators to use the dashboard to inform their management practices in anticipation of classes resume. We have already begun the orientation process and will dive deeper into each of the dashboard visualizations in the coming months. My hope is that eventually our program staff will bring their own creativity and curiosity to the dashboard and derive unique insights from the data.

The Classroom Observations and Ratings report helps our program coordinators catalog and review their notes from field visits to classrooms.

So, you want to build a data dashboard….

Design is fundamentally an iterative process. Here are some of the lessons we have learned through many rounds of feedback:

  • Build for your end users: Who will use the dashboard, and how will they engage with the tool? User interviews and feedback testing are great ways to make sure you build something your users need rather than what you think they need.
  • Identify KPIs early: It is easy to try and incorporate too much into one dashboard. Enumerating your KPIs early will help avoid scope creep.
  • Address varying levels of data literacy: Make sure to assess the data literacy of your end users and tailor your dashboard to their comfort level with data visualizations.
  • Track your data sources: Especially as you begin to combine datasets, it is critical to track where your data come from, how and by whom they were collected and cleaned, and how often the data are updated.

If you’re interested in learning more about the development of the Luminos dashboard, please contact info@luminosfund.org.

Event Recap: “What the Return to School after Hurricane Katrina and the Ebola Epidemic Can Teach Us in the Current Moment” (Webinar)

Event Recap: “What the Return to School after Hurricane Katrina and the Ebola Epidemic Can Teach Us in the Current Moment” (Webinar)

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.

Neerav Kingsland

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.”

Neerav Kingsland

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 Werner

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.” 

George Werner

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!

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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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