Denver: When a child falls behind in school, it can be very difficult for him or her to ever catch up. It’s made that much harder if they fall a couple of years behind, and it is next to impossible if that child happens to be from the developing world. But there is a remarkable innovation in education that is allowing children to close a three-year gap in just a single year. And here to tell us about it, it’s a pleasure to have with us Caitlin Baron, the CEO of The Luminos Fund.
Good evening, Caitlin, and welcome to The Business of Giving!
Caitlin: Good evening. Thank you for having me.
Denver: Tell us the mission of The Luminos Fund and the founding story of the organization.
Caitlin: Fantastic. Even today, there are still 250 million children around the world who never learned to read and write; 60 million of those kids don’t even get the chance to try because they’re denied the chance to go to school. Luminos was created to give those children a second chance.
We were founded as a stand-alone organization in 2016 after six long years of experimentation and program development in the far reaches of rural Ethiopia. We found we had a truly unique model of working in some of the poorest communities to deliver rich quality education to children who hadn’t had the chance to study up until then.
Denver: What is the reason that many of these children have not had the chance to study up until then? What changes where they’re able to go to one of your schools?
Caitlin: The two biggest reasons children are kept out of school in the developing world are poverty and conflict. So, in many of the communities we operate, even free education is too expensive when children are needed at home to work on a farm or to care for their siblings. What happens is that families put off schooling – a year, another year, another year. I can’t tell you how many mothers I’ve met who’ve told me, “I promised my son: Next year, you can study.” And what happens is too much time goes on and, ultimately, the child has really missed the window to begin their schooling, and they live in an environment where there’s simply no second on-ramp or a second opportunity to catch up when you’ve lost out.
Denver: Do you think, Caitlin, that in the international community, that we, by and large, have set the bar too low? That these kids have not had a chance for any kind of schooling and whatever we give them, no matter how minimal, is better than nothing?
Caitlin: I think that that is such an important point, Denver. One of the aspects of our work that I find the most, ultimately exciting and rewarding, which is that we work with children who have literally never been to school, and in 10 months, they become functionally literate and numerate. They’re able to read. They’re essentially covering three years of school in one year.
This is incredibly important because, first and foremost, we don’t have a lot of time to get these kids back on track. But even beyond that, I think one of the things that excites me the most about the work is that we’re proving what’s possible. We’re proving that children, even from some of the poorest families in the world, can learn an extraordinary amount in a really short period of time. We’re proving that teachers – who are essentially young people with minimal qualifications, who are drawn from these same poor communities – can actually be empowered to deliver rich five senses education, even in a classroom lacking in electricity, lacking in an internet signal. I think the thing we take away from the work– that I think is a lesson for education globally– is that we’ve all thought too small about what’s possible.
Denver: Right. Okay. I’m 10 years old, I’m three years behind in school, and I’m going to go to one of your Second Chance programs. How in the world in 10 months are you going to have me catch up to my peers and be able to enter into a government school?
Caitlin: There are a number of things we do differently – some are fairly tactical, and some are a little bit magical. So, for starters, we work with a much smaller classroom than you would typically find in these types of environments. So, we never have more than 25 children in a class.
Denver: That’s about half the size, isn’t it?
Caitlin: That’s about half the size, or even less, of a typical classroom. And then, the children and teachers in our program work incredibly hard. So we have them for a full day, Monday through Friday; in some places, we actually do a half-day on Saturday as well.
Denver: Is that longer than the normal school day?
Caitlin: We calculate that children in our program spend four times as many hours on reading as children would in a normal school. And so, some of it is, quite frankly, more one-on-one attention and a longer day.
But then there’s the magical element. What we’ve found… Look, think about how your own children learned to read. They learned not just through sitting in front of a text, not just through sitting at a desk and engaging in choral recitation. They engage with an alphabet all around them. They had the luxury of growing up in a text-rich environment. The children we work with don’t have those luxuries, so we have to bring that tactile learning environment into the classroom.
When we first introduce the alphabet to children, we have them make an enormous bowl of mud and roll out long tubes of sort of clay-like earth that one finds in the places we work. We have them form those tubes into each letter in the alphabet and have that dry in the sun. So, their first introduction to the alphabet is very much fingers in mud, forming these letters themselves. We work exclusively with texts that have stories set in their context, with characters who have names like the names of the children in their village. On the numeracy side, we have the children set up small shops in the classroom and engage in the kind of easy sort of back-and-forth mental math that actually they themselves are already doing in the marketplace every day.
So, I think if I can identify two things that I think we do really differently, one is that we look and listen really closely for: What does the child already know? And how can I build from there? The second is: We look and listen really closely to the surrounding environment. Rather than focusing on what our classes don’t have, we focus on what they do have, which is a richness of experience, natural resources around them, and if you have the chance to visit one of our classrooms, you’ll find a fairly simple structure; usually the walls are mud; there’ll be a tin roof; there’ll be a single window that lets in light, no electricity. But you’ll find every single surface in the classroom is covered with the children’s artwork and handmade learning materials, and elements that use the natural resources around the environment to learn.
Denver: And listening carefully to you, Caitlin, it sounds like you try to make it fun.
Caitlin: Children everywhere learn best when they’re happy. That’s just the bottom line, and that is no less true in the poorest corners of the world than it is in the classrooms that your kids and mine attend. And so, we place an enormous premium on what we call joyful learning – recognizing that this classroom needs to be a celebration of the learning process. And that is really different from the environment that most of these kids would have otherwise been learning in.
If you think about the typical school in the developing world, you have a teacher who’s minimally qualified, who has almost no materials, books, et cetera, that she can use with her students. She’s under enormous pressure to deliver results, and she’s standing in front of a class of 80 or more children, trying to teach kids who are, in essence, what we think of as first-generation readers. These are not kids who are learning to read at home.
So, in the context of all that pressure, the net result, for good or for ill, is that it’s often school is not a very happy place. And so, we tried to just fundamentally rethink what that learning environment is because, quite frankly, we believe that children can’t learn – we know they can’t learn quickly unless they’re having fun.
Denver: Let’s talk a little bit more about those teachers because as you said, they are minimally trained. I would presume you have some kind of a training program for them, but they’re really a key element to all this. How are you able to get them from 0 to 60 in such a fashion that they can be as effective as they have been?
Caitlin: It’s a great question. So, we are blessed in the communities we work with a large number of reasonably capable, high potential, young people who, quite frankly, have a limited range of opportunities before them. And so, the profile we target for teachers are young people who have at least a 10th grade education. That’s not the level you’d need to be at in order to be a teacher in a public school in these countries, but it’s far enough along that you definitely know the first three years of the curriculum.
And so, what we can focus on in our program is actually, rather than teaching the “what” of what we’ll be teaching children, in teaching our teachers the “how.” So we do an intensive three-week training program at the beginning of the year. We do two other trainings during the year. But the real magic is that we actually have a coach in each classroom every single week.
Denver: Oh, coaching makes all the difference!
Caitlin: Teaching is not a theoretical endeavor. There’s actually only so much of it you can teach in a classroom, and it’s really in the act of the doing, and doing alongside the teachers, that we really transfer that skill. Then obviously, as the years go on, and the program has been in place for a number of years, those coaches are drawn from the very best of the teaching talent from the previous year.
Denver: And we’ve talked about the communities you’re in, so we should probably discuss: what countries do you operate in?
Caitlin: Our first program was founded and created in rural Ethiopia; that’s still one of our largest programs. We have also launched programs in Liberia in West Africa. Liberia has one of the highest rates of out-of-school children in the world; literally 60% of primary school-aged kids are kept out of school. And then, most recently we have launched a program in Lebanon where we support Syrian refugees who’ve been out of school, sometimes for many years, simply because they’ve been displaced from their homes.
Denver: I know a key element to the success of this program is to get a buy-in from the local communities, and that can be very difficult for a nonprofit, or any organization. What are some of the keys that you found in getting that kind of buy-in?
Caitlin: That’s a great question. First and foremost, we believe really strongly in working through local organizations. And so, our team designs the curriculum, the pedagogy – what is taught and the way it’s taught. We train teachers; then we monitor in the classroom, and we evaluate. But we actually fund local nonprofits to deliver the classes and the work.
There are at least two important reasons why. One, first and foremost, for that buy-in you’re talking about. In Ethiopia, we run the program in four different languages. If we were trying to do that centrally, that just wouldn’t make sense. We have to work through local organizations. But the other reason is that we want to be building capacity in the countries we work for the long-term, and so building up a huge team of our own really doesn’t make sense. We’re really focused on building the capacity of organizations there.
Denver: I know you can’t just replicate something that works in one place and then paste it on to another and think it’s going to work. So, let’s take two of the countries where you’ve been in the longest, those being Ethiopia and Liberia. What would be the difference in those two programs?
Caitlin: It’s a great question. We like to say that replication is about sort of 70% duplication and 30% mission-critical customization.
Denver: That’s a good ratio.
Caitlin: There’s a core element that is very much the same, but there are some critical things we had to change when we moved to Liberia. One is, first and foremost… It’s interesting. For those of us in the US, when we think about Ethiopia – prior to last week’s wonderful news of the Nobel Prize – the most ready image in folks’ heads might still be the famine of the 1980s. And as horrible as that time was, actually, it’s been a really fantastic set of decades since then for Ethiopia; Ethiopia has come a long way. And so what we find with our students there is that most of them have started school, learned something, and been pulled out. What that means for us is that our task is to figure out what those kids know and build forward from there.
In Liberia – a country that survived a 20-year civil war, where the school system was literally entirely shut down, where it was most recently shut down for an entire year once again during the Ebola crisis – we’re just dealing with a different entry point. We found that the kids coming into our program had literally not been acquainted with the alphabet, and so our entry point just needed to be quite different. We’ve taken a much more step-by-step phonics-based approach to learning in Liberia, which is just… it’s just an example of the kind of thing one has to do all the time. Good teaching is not a lecture; it’s a relationship. It’s listening for what the child knows and doesn’t know, calibrating accordingly –
Denver: Meeting them where they are.
Caitlin: Meeting them where they are. And so that’s really core to our philosophy, and so, inevitably, there’s a fair amount of customization as we move from place to place.
Denver: As someone who has crammed for a test or two in my time, I know firsthand that a lot of information that is quickly inputted is not always retained. Now, I know you’ve done some longitudinal studies in concert with the Centre for International Education at the University of Sussex: what has been the impact of this program, and especially a number of years later?
Caitlin: It’s a great question, Denver. A wonderful thing that we know, year in and year out with our program… because we test kids on their way in, and we test them on their way out, is we know, at the end of their 10 months with us, they know an enormous amount. We know that they know more than other children who’ve been in school continuously since then. And that’s a relatively easy thing for us to test year in and year out.
What’s hard as a delivery organization is to ever really know what happens in the long term. And so we were gifted with an enormous investment from our board a few years back with this amazing evaluation partnership with University of Sussex, where they were able to take a long-term look at what happens for our kids. They followed graduates of our program six years and up.
Denver: That’s a long time.
Caitlin: What they found really blew us away. We found that even six years later, children still had a sustained academic improvement relative to their peers in government school. We found that students were, quite frankly, happier and had higher ambitions for what they wanted to do with their lives. Most importantly, we found that graduates of our program were completing primary school at twice the rate of other children.
Caitlin: We’ve tried to stop and think about… because it just makes common sense, like a one-year program, how long can the effect of that last? We really put it to our evaluators: What do you think is the essence of the success here? One of the things they’ve really emphasized to us is the importance of the way in which we work on teaching children to learn how to learn. We teach them to lead their own learning process. And so what that means is that even when they transition back into really cash-strapped, local public schools where, quite frankly, the learning environment is less than ideal, that they have that intrinsic wherewithal to drive forward their own learning.
The other thing I’d say on that is that we know that learning to read is a gatekeeping event in the education process; really, the child can’t actually direct their own learning until they themselves can read. And so, that is a critical, game-changing first benchmark. I think the fact that we can get children there before they head off into the school system is one of the key reasons why we’ve seen a long-term success.
Denver: You teach them how to learn. They then learn how to learn, and that is so valuable.
I’ve had the pleasure to meet a couple of your key partners, corporate partners. Tell our listeners about them.
Caitlin: Luminos is funded by a really wonderful group of corporate and private philanthropists who, I think, have come together around our cause quite simply because I think if you ask any successful person in the world what made them who they are, nobody is going to get through their top three without talking about their education and how much that meant to them. And so I think one of the real points of resonance that we found between our mission and our supporters has been just that appreciation of: None of us got where we are without education; so why not make that possible for others?
Our first major supporter is a New Zealand entrepreneur called Christopher Chandler, founder of the Legatum Foundation.
Denver: Great foundation.
Caitlin: He and his team are the ones who really got this work started. And since that time, we’ve been blessed to see a number of other supporters come on board: the UBS Bank and their clients are major supporters; Cartier Philanthropy is a major supporter; and a number of high net worth individuals who have contributed to us very generously.
Denver: You run a very lean organization; as you say, you work a lot with local partners. But what are some of the outstanding characteristics of your workplace culture that you think sets it apart from other similar organizations?
Caitlin: When I founded Luminos four years ago, I had already been doing this kind of work for a number of years. One of the things I have just come to believe very strongly is that: You can’t do international work well without an international team. And so, one of my priorities in building the organization was to make sure from day one, we had global folks in the senior leadership of the headquarters office. Of course, all of our teams in-country are drawn from those countries, but that it be essential that, up and down the chain, our organization was led by a global team.
I’ve just been so grateful to the degree to which we’ve really been able to live that and honor that. I think that it means that we have an organization that has a different level of wisdom about the work it does. It means that our team is seen as partners to everyone we work with. And it means that our work is as much about celebrating the extraordinary aspects of the globe as it is remedying the shortcomings. So that’s been a key piece of the puzzle.
The other interesting element is whether we intended to or not, pretty much all of us in the senior leadership team spent at least a number of years in the private sector before jumping into the social sector. I think you absolutely need depth on both sides, but we continue to leverage our private sector background in how we think about measuring performance and impact. When we’re able to bring that together with our understanding of what it really means to mobilize a community to change, I think is a really powerful opportunity to bring those two sides together.
Denver: Those are some interesting observations. I don’t think people fully appreciate the way you start an organization so often is the culture of that organization, that founding story. People think they can do it later on. Get the founding right, and if you do that, you’ll save yourself a lot of heartaches.
I’m curious about this: Do you think the Second Chance program could work here in the United States for kids who are several years behind?
Caitlin: It’s a great question. One of the things I would say, first and foremost, is that part of what motivates us to deliver second chances is actually recognizing the degree to which… For all the shortcomings in the US system, one of the things our system does really well is actually provide kids with second chances; so whether you’ve failed out of high school and are now getting a GED, or you’re not able to get into a four-year college, but you can get into a two-year college.
Actually, relative to, for example, Europe and other places, I think in the US context, we actually do a much better job than many other countries in providing children with second chances. Quite honestly, that’s a real point of inspiration for us in our work. In the communities that we work in overseas; there is no “do-over.” You have but one shot. I think as Americans, we know how wasteful that is not to give young people the chance to try again. And so, I think that’s a big part of what inspires us to do this work.
Denver: Let me close with this, Caitlin. Has there been any thought given about continuing the Second Chance program for kids who’ve been through it? Here you’ve done three years in one, you’ve gotten in there with your peers… that program seems like it would serve us well if we were to continue that program. I also wonder how the kids feel who’ve been to this intensive school day, have learned so quickly, and then go back to the old traditional way of going to school.
Caitlin: What’s amazing about our graduates is how incredibly resilient they are, and the degree to which they push through in an admittedly imperfect learning environment. But that being said, the lasting solution would be to empower teachers in public schools in all the countries we work in to teach with the same joyful learning approach that we employ. And so, we have been thrilled in the last two years to actually take the first steps on that journey.
So, in Ethiopia where we’ve worked the longest, we’re now partnering with government to train their teachers to not exactly duplicate our classroom, but pull through those same creative five senses learning techniques in their own setting and in their own way. I think that when we look ahead to the future, the opportunities we’re most excited about, I think we couldn’t be more thrilled to really lean into that opportunity to use our teachers as essentially the coaches for the system as a whole.
Denver: The ambassadors.
Denver: Well, Caitlin Baron, the CEO of The Luminos Fund, I want to thank you so much for being here this evening. Where can listeners learn more about this work, or help financially support it if they should be so inclined?
The Luminos Fund’s Speed School initiative, an accelerated learning program for out-of-school children also known as Second Chance, is one of the world’s leading innovations in K-12 education according to Finnish non-profit, HundrED. HundrED recently released its third global innovation collection, HundrED 2020, highlighting one hundred of the brightest innovations in K-12 education.
This is the third consecutive year that the Luminos Fund has been honored by HundrED. Luminos was also awarded in HundrED’s 2018 and 2019 global collections.
The HundrED 2020 collection includes innovations spanning thirty-eight countries. Each innovation was evaluated on its impact and scalability, and submissions were reviewed by teachers, students, leaders, innovators, as well as HundrED Academy Members and community members.
Caitlin Baron, Chief Executive Officer at the Luminos Fund said: “We are thrilled to be recognized again by HundrED in its 2020 collection. This honor is such an affirmation of our ongoing work helping children. Our team couldn’t be happier to continue being part of this community of global education innovators and changemakers. Thank you, HundrED.”
The Speed School initiative was chosen due to its pioneering status and ability to create a scalable impact. Since 2011, Speed School has worked in partnership with Ethiopian NGOs to enable more than 113,000 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. (The Luminos Fund also provides accelerated education to Syrian refugees in Lebanon, though that program is not under the Second Chance/Speed School umbrella.)
Saku Tuominen, Chairman & Creative Director of HundrED, said: “Spreading innovations such as Speed School across borders can be a gamechanger for education, worldwide. We will continue to encourage as many stakeholders as possible including schools, educators, administrators, students and organizations to get involved so that we can work towards a positive future.”
On September 26 during U.N. General Assembly (UNGA) week, the Luminos Fund hosted “Dynamic Philanthropy: A Remedy for the Global Learning Crisis,” an intimate conversation featuring Phyllis Kurlander Costanza, Head, UBS Philanthropy and CEO, UBS Optimus Foundation; Pascale de la Frégonnière, Executive Director, Cartier Philanthropy; His Excellency Dr. Tariq Al Gurg, Chief Executive Officer, Dubai Cares; and Alan McCormick, Managing Director, Legatum Group. Caitlin Baron, CEO of the Luminos Fund, moderated.
In the last fifteen years, enormous progress has been made in global education, such as a 40% decrease in the number of children out of school, a doubling of the school system in Africa, and the emergence of near parity in girls’ and boys’ education in the primary phase. However, much work remains. Globally, three-quarters of children and adolescents are still not learning at minimum levels.
Now in its third year, the Luminos UNGA week event convenes key funders, thought leaders, and implementors around the subjects of education and international development. This year, we were delighted to have a packed room of participants all focused on real solutions for the 260 million children around the world who still fail to learn the basics.
Caitlin Baron moderated the discussion
Innovative Approaches to Solve the Global Learning Crisis
At Luminos, we believe in philanthropy’s power to fuel breakthrough innovations that will tackle the global learning crisis. We feel extremely fortunate to work with these four leaders and their respective organizations, and were eager to hear their timely, energizing insights about the power of philanthropy in education development.
Cartier Philanthropy, Dubai Cares, Legatum Group, and UBS Philanthropy/UBS Optimus Foundation have funded an array of innovations that are moving the needle in educational opportunity around the globe. During the event, each speaker discussed his or her organization’s approach to philanthropy, innovation, and international education.
“The power of UBS Philanthropy is bringing clients to the doorstep of the world’s greatest problems,” Phyllis explained, noting that up to 80% of UBS clients are interested in investing in education. “UBS Optimus is a foundation of our clients: we route money from clients towards solving many social challenges. With education, we are trying to move clients from building schools to focusing on the quality of learning happening in the classrooms.”
One key area of innovation for UBS Optimus Foundation has been investment in outcomes-based financing. Phyllis described outcomes-based financing as one way to help build capacity in the space and encourage NGOs to focus on results. UBS has achieved strong returns through Development Impact Bonds (DIB) that can then be re-invested to achieve even more impact.
Meanwhile, Cartier Philanthropy seeks to fund scalable, high-impact innovations while moving toward an unrestricted funding model.
“Cartier Philanthropy believes in unrestricted funding,” Pascale noted. “We work for our grantees. They don’t work for us.”
“Cartier Philanthropy is quite independent of Cartier, which has been great to let us be experimental and find organizations working on exciting ideas that scale. Our work isn’t dictated by how we can further the Cartier brand: we were left free to draft our own strategy. Test, try, learn, fail, and try again is a philosophy we believe in,” she continued appreciatively.
Tariq described Dubai Cares’ founding vision to improve children’s access to quality primary education and, more broadly, increase funding for education as this sector receives far less investment than health.
“The Millennium Development Goals were set in 2000 and the 2nd Goal was universal access to primary education. Five years later when the UN met, they said Goal 2 would not be met by the deadline. Dubai Cares was founded in 2007 by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. HRH is a strong believer in youth and education. He wanted to convince others to invest more in education, as health always gets more investment compared to education. Dubai today is where it is because of its focus on youth and education. Since 2007, Dubai Cares has worked to provide quality education around the globe.”
“The job of philanthropy is to pilot and test innovations, and do your best to see them to scale,” Tariq continued. “Philanthropists’ job isn’t system strengthening. But, partnership with government is key if you want to influence the mainstream. We have to work within the priorities of governments if we are serious about achieving systems change – or help the government to prioritize an issue if we feel it is important.”
Legatum has a unique relationship with the Luminos Fund. A Legatum Foundation grant launched Luminos as an independent organization in 2016. Alan currently serves as Chairman of the Luminos Fund’s Board of Directors.
From left: Pascale de la Frégonnière, Alan McCormick, and Phyllis Kurlander Costanza
Alan explained, “We run a purpose-driven investment business at Legatum. The mission at the heart of our business is to generate and allocate capital that helps people prosper – and we’ve funded 2,000 projects across the developing world. Our philosophy is to test ideas and then bring others to invest in proven solutions. The best way to help people succeed is to give them the freedom to innovate.”
Describing the Luminos Fund’s origins, he noted, “When we saw how the program makes children numerate and literate in 10 months we were blown away.”
Words of Encouragement
As the event drew to a close, panelists offered advice based on their experience in philanthropy.
“We can’t do this alone,” Tariq said. “We need more donors to collaborate, like how Co-Impact is bringing funders together.”
Phyllis shared recommendations for prospective grantees: “Learn how to ask for money and go big.” Funders are pitched frequently and potential grantees must stand out from the crowd to succeed.
“Reading the news, it’s easy to focus on problems,” Alan cautioned. “Get out and look for solutions and innovations. The innovations out there today give me such hope. Be hopeful and persevere.”
H.E. Dr. Tariq Al Gurg discusses Dubai Cares’ focus on education
Thomas Hatch is a Professor at Teachers College, Columbia University and Co-Director of the National Center for Restructuring Education, Schools, and Teaching (NCREST). In December, he posted two articles with his reflections on Luminos’ unique approach to accelerated learning. These posts have been reproduced here with permission from International Education News.
Expanding Second Chance in Liberia and Lebanon
Second Chance’s efforts to carry out such an unconventional pedagogical approach in what are usually remote areas depends on building an alternative infrastructure for learning that incorporates local materials, training for local youth, partnerships with government schools, and support for parent self-help groups. Rather than creating this infrastructure itself – and growing a larger organization to do it – the Luminos Fund’s efforts to expand Second Chance build on the expertise, resources, and relationships that local implementing partners have already established. Those partners include NGO’s that have a record of accomplishment and a presence in the communities where Second Chance seeks to work. Luminos provides training, materials, guidance and oversight for the partners, but the partners hire and train facilitators, supervisors and project coordinators.
Second Chance’s expansion to Liberia uses this local approach to test the viability of program in what Baron described as an “under-resourced” context. Khosla was more emphatic: “It’s exactly the same program, but, oh my god, the challenges are so different.” Those challenges include an out of school rate in Liberia of over 50% for children of primary school age (compared to about 35% in Ethiopia); extreme poverty and a lack of basic necessities; an economy growing at about half the rate of Ethiopia’s; and public spending on education also at about half the rate of Ethiopia’s.
All of these factors contribute to much higher costs. With so little money for education, textbooks are scarce – roughly 1 textbook for every 28 students, according to Khosla. That means textbooks have to be imported and delivered to the schools, and the inadequate roads lead to high transportation costs that compound the problem. As a result, initial costs to set up a Second Chance classroom in Liberia run about $10,000 per classroom, where it only cost about about $6000 in Ethiopia. Although Luminos’ aims for a 300$ per pupil cost once the program reaches scale, the per student costs in Ethiopia work out to only about $150.
Early on in the work in Liberia, the staff also discovered that the impoverished conditions meant that many of the students were going through an entire day without food. As Khosla explained, “In Ethiopia they have a 1 ½ hour lunch break where they go home everyday to eat lunch and then go back. We thought the same model would work in Liberia, but there’s no food. “Kids were coming to school so hungry,” Baron added, “it was a fool’s errand not to address that need, but that means we are delivering rice and beans to mothers who are cooking food.” Baron pointed out that this “small” change in the schedule in Liberia introduces a whole new series of problems to be addressed – where to get the food, how to import it, how to prepare it – that requires establishing a whole new supply chain, with new job responsibilities and added costs. “And there are hundreds of weak points in the chain,” lamented Baron. For example, there are periods for traditional religious practices where it is unsafe for children to be out collecting the wood needed to fuel the fires for cooking. With no firewood, students can end up going several days without food, unless the staff at Second Chance make the local adjustments that enable he work inside the classroom to take place.
The difficult conditions and hardships in Liberia affect the Second Chance facilitators as well. For example, although initial assessment results in Liberia indicated that students’ literacy learning was far behind the students in Ethiopia, further analysis showed that the facilitators also had much lower scores on related literacy assessments than their peers in Ethiopia. Similarly, Khosla pointed out that the content of the training for the facilitators is quite basic “because the focus is on the early grades. But we are finding in Liberia that it’s not basic. There are still some issues that facilitators have with teaching parts of speech for example, so we are figuring out how we can fill some of those gaps in content knowledge.” These results are not surprising, however, given that the local youth the program relies on for facilitation have had to live through a series of wars and an Ebola crisis that interrupted their own schooling and development.
The transportation problems also complicate the training efforts; discouraging facilitators from getting together to share information, reflect on what they are doing, and address common challenges. Khosla explained, “If you have to deviate from the main road, then you are in the bush, and then you are in the bush for at least 10 miles to reach one school. So for us to tell the facilitators to meet up often is logistically impossible.” The Second Chance leaders solved this problem and the problem of distributing salaries to a widely dispersed staff of facilitators (who need to be paid once a month, in person, in cash, since they don’t have bank accounts) with one adjustment: they pay the facilitators at the end of the day, after they have attended their monthly learning community meetings. “It’s a good way to ensure they come to the meetings,” Khosla noted.
The initial work in Liberia revealed challenges for Luminos’ strategy of relying on local partners as well. In Ethiopia, Luminos’ has a team of five working with fourteen implementing partners managing a program of 20,000 children. In Liberia, the relatively small number of established NGO’s who have the capacity to serve as partners means more intense engagement for Luminos: a staff of three works with four implementing partners for a program (so far) of only 2000 children. The early stage of the work in Liberia also means that, as Khosla put it, neither the local partners nor the facilitators they have hired “know what a Second Chance classroom looks like, and what to aspire to.” Consequently, in the 2018-19 academic year, Luminos created 4 Second Chance programs to serve as “centres of excellence” with model classrooms so that facilitators, partners, and even government officials can come and see the program in operation. Given the need for all these adjustments, the initial rate of expansion in Liberia may well be slower than it has been in Ethiopia.
Despite these challenges, Luminos chose to work in Liberia because of the possibilities and assets that it found there. With Liberia’s small size, Baron, Khosla and their colleagues have good relationships with a government working to re-imagine education and other sectors of the society. That may create opportunities to influence government policies, for example, enabling facilitators to get a license to teach in government primary schools after they go through the Second Chance training. “That would put facilitators in a really good spot to get placed in a government school,” Khosla said. It would also create a powerful incentive for local youth to get Second Chance training and provide an entry point into government classrooms for Second Chance’s pedagogical approach. These kinds of possibilities, along with the fact that English is the official language, means that, if Second Chance is successful in Liberia, it may have more of a chance of being picked up by the government and scaled throughout the country than in Ethiopia.
The latest opportunities for expansion have taken Luminos to Lebanon, where the crisis in Syria has produced the largest recent wave of refugees and out-of-school children. In Lebanon, the conditions for refugees are extremely difficult, but the Lebanese government has its own well-established programs for accelerated learning. However, English and French are the languages of instruction in the government schools and accelerated learning programs, but most of the refugees speak Arabic. To respond to this situation, Luminos has shifted its focus to use its active learning pedagogy to help refugees make the transition into the Lebanese accelerated learning programs and then into the government schools. .
Moving forward: Building infrastructure and adapting to local conditions
Establishing an alternative infrastructure for learning – or, where possible, grafting it onto and into the local educational system – reflects a clear theory of action: this “second chance” for children to catch up to their peers and transition into primary school at grade 4 constitutes one of the most powerful and cost effective ways to substantially increase educational access. In continuing to pursue this theory of action, Second Chance’s expansion depends on far more than replicating a program “with fidelity.”
For one thing, Luminos has to pay attention to the larger context in which their work on education in the developing world takes place. That means recognizing the fact that priorities have shifted from a focus on increasing access by 2015 (in the Millenium Development Goals) to ensuring quality in education by 2030 (in the Sustainable Development Goals). As a consequence, Luminos needs to talk about the program differently so that those funders who are now working on quality can see the value of the Second Chance approach.
Luminos also has to be responsive to the local contexts in which they work. As Khosla acknowledged “Second Chance cannot just be plopped down in any regulatory environment.” Second Chance needs to find the right “fit” in contexts that provide the model with what the psychologist Lev Vygotsky called a “zone of proximal development”: places with both substantial need for accelerated learning and enough support and resources to take advantage of Second Chance’s alternative infrastructure for learning.
When it finds the right fit in places like Liberia and Lebanon, Luminos then works to stay true to its theory of action. On the one hand, that means remaining focused on key issues and opportunities for accelerated learning that gave rise to the model in the first place:
What capacities do children need to succeed in the “regular” school system?
What enables and motivates “over-age” students to stay in school?
Who has the will and the skill to support and sustain the success of the classroom approach?
What connections will ease and sustain the transition into the larger school system?
What mechanisms will enable parents and community members to embrace and support their children’s schooling?
What local capacities and local organizations can provide a foundation and a “home” for expanding the program?
On the other hand, that means looking for the specific contextual differences and pursuing the problem-finding and problem-solving in each context that makes it possible to adapt. “Pay attention to “all the really small ‘last mile’ things” advises Baron, “things that may not seem so groundbreaking but nonetheless create a foundation for success and expansion. If you are more modest about what individual change you can make, you can have a bigger impact.”
Thomas Hatch is a Professor at Teachers College, Columbia University and Co-Director of the National Center for Restructuring Education, Schools, and Teaching (NCREST). In December, he posted two articles with his reflections on Luminos’ unique approach to accelerated learning. These posts have been reproduced here with permission from International Education News.
Accelerating Learning in Africa: The Expansion and Adaptations of Second Chance (Part 1)
Despite significant increases in educational access around the world, one out of eleven children of primary school age remain out of school. For adolescents, that proportion reaches one in six. Illustrating the depth of the problem, in Sub-Saharan Africa, the 21% out-of-school rate for primary school age children balloons to 58% for upper secondary school age children (the highest rate in any part the world). With global efforts to increase access stalling, UNESCO and the Global Monitoring Report conclude: “Targeted interventions are needed to reach the most marginalised children, such as the millions obliged to work, the girls forced to stay home and the families displaced by conflict… We can no longer only rely on ‘business as usual’ strategies based on more teachers, more classrooms and more textbooks”.
Accelerated learning programs, like Second Chance (formerly called Speed School), serve as one such targeted intervention. Second Chance aims to meet the needs of children from 8-14 years of age who have never been in primary school or who have dropped out of school for two years or more. The program covers the content of first, second and third grade in just 10 months and helps the students to catch up to their peers and transition into the public school system in third or fourth grade.
Second Chance works by identifying a region with a high number of primary school-age students who are not in school and then establishing Second Chance classroom of no more than 25 students and a teacher (or “facilitator”) in that region. Although this constitutes a relatively small “unit of implementation,” the results have added up. Launched in West Africa by the Legatum Foundation, the Strømme Foundation, and Geneva Global in 2007, what was then called Speed School reached over 100,000 out of school children in West Africa and Ethiopia by 2015. Building on that initial success, Legatum created the Luminos Fund to expand the program in Ethiopia and to other parts of Africa.
According to a 2018 study tracking Second Chance graduates in Ethiopia from 2011-2017, about 75% of the Second Chance graduates were still in school compared to 66% of a similar group of students who had attended government schools. Furthermore, the Second Chance graduates had higher aspirations to progress beyond primary education and were over 30% less likely to dropout than comparable students in government schools. With those results, in 2018 HundrED identified Second Chance as one of 100 inspiring global educational innovations and in 2017 the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE)recognized Second Chance as one of six awardees for their creative approaches to crucial education challenges.
As Caitlin Baron, CEO of the Luminos Fund notes, Second Chance “has evolved, as any successful model has to.” That evolution includes the development of several key program elements across contexts:
An active-learning pedagogical approach
The hiring and training of unemployed youth from the local community in Second Chance’s active-learning pedagogy
Partnerships with “Link” government schools to help ease the transition of Second Chance students into the public system
“Self-help” groups for parents to encourage them to keep their children enrolled in school
These key elements can be considered “micro-innovations” because they are practices and structures that are new to the contexts in which Second Chance works – but their success depends on the ways in which Second Chance adapts and responds to the specific needs and circumstances in those contexts.
Active learning for basic skills
“The thing I find truly unique,” Baron explained, “is that when you work in really low-resourced environments, the assumption is that to do anything at scale in education it has to be stripped down and dry and narrow and ‘just the facts’… But Second Chance is a model of very creative, play-based learning, carried out with teachers with minimal qualifications. It’s a powerful example of being able to do something pedagogically complex in a low-resourced setting.”
That pedagogical approach was one of the key developments that facilitated Second Chance’s expansion. Developed by Jeyachandran Madurendrum after he became the country director for Geneva Global in Ethiopia in 2010, Second Chance’s approach marries a focus on key skills in literacy and numeracy with an emphasis on active learning. As the Facilitator’s Guide explains it, students work independently and in groups on learning activities that involve handling and using objects and materials from the local environment, sorting, grouping, and experimenting with them, making observations, recording findings, drawing conclusions, making generalizations, discussing what they’ve observed and learned with peers and facilitators. This active approach stands in striking contrast to conventional classrooms in surrounding areas, which are often overcrowded, with students in rows and the teacher in front delivering a lesson. As Nikita Khosla, Senior Director at Luminos observes, “If you walk into a Second Chance classroom in Ethiopia or Liberia, you will see about 25 children sitting in groups of 5. There will be work on the walls. It might be mud walls, but you will see chart paper stuck to them. You’ll see alphabets made out of clay. You’ll see children using lot of local materials for math, or going outside for nature-based learning.” In the process, Second Chance seeks to create a place where children want to come to school. Fostering that kind of environment is particularly important given the challenges many of their students face in getting to school and in keeping them motivated throughout an eight-hour school day (with almost twice as much instructional time as government schools).
Khosla makes clear that Second Chance’s emphasis on developing relationships with children is another crucial ingredient to the approach. “When we have principals and teachers [in government schools] asking us why the children in Second Chance are happy, we tell them, we don’t hit children, we talk to them, we ask them how they are, and this is very different from the teacher led classrooms in conventional schools, so even a slight deviation of that is welcomed by the students.” Both the active-learning pedagogy and the relationships with students aim to prepare Second Chance’s students to be independent learners and to help sustain them throughout their school careers.
This approach responds specifically to the opportunities and challenges in the local environment in two key ways. First, the program treats the facts that the students are older and out of school as assets. As the Facilitator’s Guide outlines, they see these students as able to learn at a faster pace and over a shorter time span than younger children and as more motivated and enthusiastic about learning.
Second, rather than developing and delivering a stand-alone curriculum, Second Chance facilitators use the active learning approach to teach the content of the national curriculum where they work. This approach also allows the facilitators to use the textbooks and other materials created to support the national curriculum – content with which local most facilitators and local partners are already familiar. This choice also eases the transition of Second Chance students into government schools that are using the same materials, and it reduces the costs of having to produce their own materials substantially.
Hiring and training unemployed youth
In another move that takes advantage of local circumstances, Second Chance looks for facilitators who are unemployed youth who know the local language and have at least a 10th grade education. Khosla reports that although this group has “zero experience teaching,” they bring other assets: “they have a real hunger for learning,” Khosla notes, “And we’ve seen they are very open, and they really absorb everything like a sponge.” On the downside, these facilitators are familiar with the content, but the active learning pedagogy is entirely new. To help them take in such a novel approach, 21 days of training are spread across the 10 months of the program. That training focuses on the activity-based pedagogy and equips facilitators to develop their own lessons that are linked to the national curriculum, draw on the Second Chance activities, and utilize local materials. In addition to the training, Second Chance tries to cultivate a “professional learning community” by bringing together facilitators periodically to share their learning and discuss their challenges.
From Khosla’s perspective, two aspects of this approach help to motivate facilitators. First, they can get a job at only slightly below the salary of government teachers and at a good rate given their qualifications. Second, they have an opportunity to develop positive relationships with the students. “The facilitators talk about how happy and excited the children are, and that motivates them to employ the approach,” explained Khosla.
Establishing “Link” school partnerships
Recognizing the challenges that Second Chance students face in staying in government schools once they graduate, Second Chance now establishes relationships with “Link schools.” Link schools are government schools that Second Chance graduates may go on to attend. Through the partnerships, Second Chance seeks to build some understanding of the Second Chance approach among the Link school staff and to encourage the staff to welcome the Second Chance graduates. “If a school already has a classroom of 70 children in grade 4,” Khosla explains, “and now Second Chance sends 15 more children, the principal and teachers really need to be on board with accepting the children. So this is just a way for us to develop some good will.” To build that good will, Second Chance provides the teachers and the principal in the Link schools one week of training to expose them to the active learning model. In some instances, principals may also allow Second Chance to operate inside a Link School by using an empty classroom. With this arrangement, the students are already in a government school building; they get into the habit of going to the school; and the parents get to know where the government school is as well. Seeing the Second Chance children engaged and happy at school has the added benefit that it can lead principals and teachers to try to learn more about the approach.
Creating parent “self-help” groups
Second Chance has also grown to recognize the importance of engaging with parents to address some of the cultural and economic barriers that prevent some children from getting access to schooling. Economic barriers include things like registration fees and, in Liberia, “hidden” costs like the need to buy textbooks and uniforms. Beyond the costs, the prospect of lost labor and a lack of clear benefits from sending their children to school can also undermine parental support. Given these challenges, to complement their work in schools, Second Chance establishes self-help groups for mothers. These groups generally meet once or twice a month to encourage mothers to come up with income-generating activities like raising chickens or selling cassava in the market. As an incentive, Second Chance provides a small “cash-injection”, matching the money that the mother’s raise.
Khosla noted that a 2016 evaluation of the program’s expansion in Ethiopia led to the realization that they were not paying enough attention to the self-help groups. In response, they established a new position with a small stipend for a volunteer from the local community who helps to make connections and support the work of the group. The 2018 evaluation tracking the performance of a group of Second Chance students and a comparison group from government schools for six years highlights the importance of addressing these kinds of economic and cultural issues outside of school. That study shows that costs remain the biggest reason former Second Chance students drop out of school; however, the difference between the drop-out rate of the “richest” and “poorest” Second Chance students narrowed much more than it did for government school students. Although it is impossible to make causal links between the self-help groups and Second Chance outcomes, that same study also found that household assets of Second Chance students improved by about 45%, and the average livestock increased by about 53%, while the household assets and livestock average of students from government schools stayed almost the same over the six years.
We’re thrilled to be recognized once again by HundrED.org as one of the top 100 global innovations in education. Shortly after we received the news, HundrED featured us in an article on their website. You can view the original article here.
Speed School Students Complete School At Twice The Rate of Government-Run Institutions
9.10.2018 | BY JOSEPHINE LISTER
Children on Speed School’s programme complete elementary school at twice the rate of their government school peers, a new report by the University of Sussex has discovered! The results show how the approach taken by Luminos, creator of Speed School, is proving more effective in tackling the widespread issue of children dropping out of school and not receiving a quality education in rural Ethiopia.
Speed School has been so successful that they are now also in operation in Liberia, where they are called Second Chance. The program in Liberia is the same as in Ethiopia, with a few adaptations to suit the local context – a key ingredient in making sure that an innovation still works when it is scaled to a new location, after all, no two cultures or countries are exactly the same!
Luminos credits its success to its holistic pedagogy. Children receive individualized instruction, are continually assessed to make sure they are all are on track and aren’t falling behind, their lessons are activity-based and are on multiple subject areas, and they learn the fundamentals of how to learn, a skill set that sets children up for a life of learning. Children in these programmes also read four times as much as those in government-run schools.
The success of Luminos’ programmes aren’t just down to their contemporary pedagogical approach, they take this one step further by engaging whole communities in their work. Along with programmes like Speed Schools and Second Chance that make sure children can re-enter education and receive a better education, Luminos also actively engages parents through self-help groups and community mobilization, and they build the capacity of the community by getting teachers and school leaders up to speed. Together, this multi-stakeholder approach helps to make sure no child is left behind.
So what’s next for Luminos? There’s no slowing down, as Caitlin Baron, CEO at Luminos, told us their next goal is, “to bring Second Chance to another 140,000 children across five critical countries in Africa.”