Sitting at a desk surrounded by classmates, 11-year-old Batoul treasures her paper, pencils, and books — prized possessions at this Luminos classroom in Baalbek, situated in Lebanon’s Beqaa Valley.
One of 13 million Syrians violently displaced from their home, Batoul has yearned for a sense of normalcy and an education like other children her age.
Civil war, crisis, and displacement have severely disrupted the lives and education of the Syrian refugee children Luminos serves in Lebanon.
“She feels that the school is her second home. She trusts her teacher.”
Nawal, Batoul’s mother
Our programs support children — both academically and emotionally — so they can catch up to grade level in safe, welcoming classrooms and prepare to advance into Lebanese government schools. Classrooms are full of joy, resilience, kindness, and warmth and provide a safe space for students to explore and cultivate their potential.
Batoul practices writing the singular and plural forms of words on the board in her classroom.
“I can calculate and compute numbers quickly now,” Batoul says, beaming with pride. “Math is my favorite subject.”
“She feels that the school is her second home. She trusts her teacher,” says Batoul’s mother, Nawal.
As the sole provider for six children, Nawal has made unimaginable choices and sacrifices to meet the family’s basic needs.
“I worry about my kids the most, mainly about educating them,” explains Nawal. “After we were forced to flee our home, we faced many obstacles.”
At that time, Batoul knew only a few letters and words, and numbers one through ten. But education was merely one of their concerns, as the family experienced homelessness.
“We were homeless during the winter season,” Nawal says. “People later on helped us by offering us the basic necessities such as food and blankets. We were offered shelter and a job.”
Luminos was among those who could help provide relief. As she passed by a classroom, Nawal noticed a gathering of parents and children. Nawal approached the group to learn more about why they were there and stayed to register her daughter to enroll in a Luminos classroom.
Batoul with her mother, Nawal.
Today, all Nawal’s children are in school, and Batoul’s teacher, Noha, is proud of the progress that she has made in the classroom.
“She became studious and diligent,” says Noha. “She has overcome all the obstacles.”
Such encouragement is fuel for Batoul’s future ambitions.
“The teacher always praises me and empowers me,” says Batoul. “I would like to continue to the university level and be a doctor.”
“I can calculate and compute numbers quickly now! Math is my favorite subject.”
Batoul, Luminos student in Lebanon
Students in Batoul’s class practice placing nouns into categories.
Click here to read a PDF version of our program updates.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to challenge communities across the globe, the prospects for the world’s most vulnerable children are somber. We know that one third of schoolchildren globally have not been reached by any remote learning during COVID-19 (UNICEF) and even three-month school closures can cause students to fall one year behind (NWEA). New research predicts that COVID-19 school closures will cost students up to $15 trillion in lost future earnings (IZA Institute of Labor Economics). Other new studies predict that at least seven million children are now at risk of dropping out of school completely (World Bank, Save the Children). And this is on top of the fifty-nine million children of primary-school age who were already out of school worldwide prior to the pandemic.
While this year exacerbates inequality across the globe, the Luminos Fund team is more dedicated than ever to our mission helping girls and boys learn to read and do arithmetic in our joyful classrooms, and continue their studies in their local village schools. Our key focus during this crisis is to keep our students safe and connected to learning. Our team never stopped pushing and, this fall, our classrooms are beginning to reopen. Read more about our efforts and plans in Ethiopia, Liberia, and Lebanon on the next pages.
In Ethiopia, the Luminos Fund is operating micro-classes, supporting distance learning, and partnering with government.
On March 16th, Ethiopia mandated the closure of all schools, impacting more than 26 million learners. Luminos continues to explore all available options for resuming learning safely for our children and understands the need to be agile while adhering to the guidelines laid out by the Ethiopian Ministry of Education (MOE). This year, the MOE’s growing need for proven alternative learning solutions—like Second Chance—is creating an even greater opportunity for the government’s adoption of our model beyond what is underway. There is significant appetite from education stakeholders in Ethiopia for technical expertise from Luminos and its partners on condensing curriculum, teacher training, and improving learning outcomes.
Our 2019-20 cohort of students
When schools closed, Luminos pivoted to supporting students with home-based learning through the distribution of learning resources and the creation of a digital learning portal for Luminos and its partners to share resources across regions. SMS-based contact helped ensure direct communication with families during the pandemic, and from May to July, we ran outdoor micro-classes of 4-6 students. Facilitators received guidance on micro-classes and ongoing virtual training and support from Program Supervisors and Luminos partners. Luminos also supported the MOE’s COVID-19 education response with staff as active participants in the Education Cluster and through one-on-one advising with key MOE officials. We continue to explore MOE partnership opportunities to reach even more children through our Second Chance model. All schools in Ethiopia plan to open by the end of November, and all Ethiopian students—including our 2019-20 cohort—will be promoted to the next grade for the start of the 2020-21 academic year.
Our 2020-21 cohort of students
In the 2020-21 school year, Luminos expects to reach 1,300 children directly through Second Chance education, and thousands more through government adoption. As noted, all schools in Ethiopia plan to open by the end of November. Our staff continues to work extensively with government partners across national, regional, and local levels to finalize plans for the 2020-21 government adoption program, which aims to equip the government to implement Second Chance in conventional government primary schools across Ethiopia.
In Liberia, the Luminos Fund is operating micro-classes (up to seven students and a teacher, physically distanced), supporting distance learning, and partnering with government.
Schools across Liberia closed in March. Luminos continues to explore all available options for resuming learning safely for our children. We understand the need to be flexible to respond to students’ and families’ needs while adhering to guidelines laid out by the Ministry of Education (MOE). The Luminos Fund launched in Liberia in the aftermath of Ebola, when approximately one in four Liberian children did not return to school, and we are keen to apply lessons from that time to the current crisis. Strategies like micro-classes keep children engaged in learning and help ensure they enroll when schools resume. As challenging as it has been to get these classes off the ground and ensure learning is happening, we are encouraged that we have positively engaged our children and kept up their enthusiasm for school.
Our 2019-20 cohort of students
Our primary focus has been the safety and health of our children and communities. Our US team actively participates in weekly MOE, Education in Emergencies Zoom meetings. Given only 12% of the Liberian population has access to electricity, we adopted a low-tech approach to ensure our 2019-20 students remain connected to the learning process by distributing worksheets, English readers, writing materials, and workbooks. Currently, Luminos is running outdoor micro-classes of 6-7 children, covering key foundational literacy and numeracy concepts. We anticipate students will transition to government school for the start of the 2020-21 school year in December. Since March 2020, Luminos has also supported its communities with WASH stations and food supplies. Even procuring basic items such as bags of rice proved challenging as most of the stores had run out of supplies. Our team worked incredibly hard on the ground to source the required permissions to cross county borders during lockdown and complete the necessary distributions.
Our 2020-21 cohort of students
We are planning for the 2020-21 cohort and forecast that we will be able to resume classes, with certain restrictions, in January 2021. Luminos will reach 2,400-2,800 children across Bomi, Montserrado, and Grand Cape Mount counties. We are updating our curriculum for the new school year to include psycho-social support for children, both in school and at home, in response to COVID-19. We anticipate continuing to support students with an element of home-based learning in the 2020-21 academic year.
In Lebanon, the Luminos Fund provides educational programs for Syrian refugees.
This year has been uniquely challenging in Lebanon, between political and economic strife, COVID-19, and the massive explosion that shook Beirut in August. Lebanon is dependent on imports and the destruction of the port has led to widespread shortages of medicines, baby formula, and other essentials. Luminos continues to explore all available options to help our students learn safely. We are working to be flexible and agile to respond to students’ and families’ needs while, at the same time, adhering to guidelines laid out by the Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MEHE).
Our 2019-20 cohort of students
Luminos pivoted to providing e-learning options to children within a few weeks of school closures. Curriculum-aligned educational videos, including lesson explanations, stories, rhymes, and songs, were shared 3-4 times per week. These videos covered the core subjects Science, Math, English, and Arabic. Teachers shared videos with learners through WhatsApp groups and followed up directly with learners through phone calls and WhatsApp messages.
While dealing with the macro-challenges in Lebanon, the team on the ground has been trying to find the best possible means to remain connected with children and their families. Our partners have responded nimbly to the Beirut blast by supporting children with school supplies, volunteering to clear the rubble, and providing emergency relief materials to effected communities. We’re incredibly grateful for their hard work.
Our 2020-21 cohort of students
We are planning for the 2020-21 cohort on the assumption that we will be able to resume classes, with certain restrictions, starting in November. We have invested in more established e-learning platforms to better structure the remote learning process for 2020-21. MEHE published an academic calendar that states that schools will reopen by first week of November for all grades in regions where there is no lockdown. Currently, student registration for the 2020-21 school year is ongoing for both Lebanese and Syrian children in public schools. In the 2020-21 school year, Luminos expects to reach 1,300 children across Mt. Lebanon, Beqaa Valley, and Beirut. We anticipate all students being promoted to further education.
The Luminos Fund is delighted to publish our 2019 Annual Report. To date, we’ve enabled 136,502 vulnerable children to receive a second chance at education – and this year was unlike any other. Our team is more committed than ever to ensuring children everywhere have the opportunity to learn and thrive, and to helping educators and governments in low-income countries develop the resiliency to weather powerful storms like COVID-19.
With over 1 billion youths out of school globally due to the pandemic, the Luminos Fund’s mission to help children get back to school is more important than ever. Our work was made for the task ahead.
Over the last several weeks of the “Diaries from the Frontline” series, we have shown how COVID-19 and school closures have affected some of the world’s most vulnerable students. Education organizations have had to be adaptive and responsive to meet the most pressing needs of their students and their families while trying to plan for the long-term impacts of the pandemic. In this final blog post of the series, we take a look at the impacts of COVID on the most vulnerable students.
CGD colleagues have written about how school closures are exacerbating inequality, how learning loss will be greater for children with less connectivity and parents less able to help them, and how school closures will put some children at higher risk of violence and other forms of abuse. Girls are more likely to be negatively affected by COVID-19, as 69 percent of education organizations said in response to a CGD survey.
These impacts are likely to continue to be felt in the long term. As evidence from Argentina, the United States, and Indonesia has shown, less educated workers are more affected by economic crises, and students who drop out of school or experience significant declines in learning are likely to face lower lifetime productivity and earnings. That’s in addition to the potential psychological impacts of isolation and in some cases abuse during lockdowns.
This week, we examine how one particularly vulnerable population served by the Luminos Fund—refugee children in Lebanon—has been affected. The Citizens Foundation in Pakistan describes what school closures mean for girls and their education and life opportunities. And Educate Girls, an organization based in India new to the series, shares stories from the frontlines.
Luminos: Education for refugee children during COVID-19
Lebanon is navigating economic strife, inflation, unrest, painful cross-border tension, and a pandemic, all while hosting one of the largest refugee populations in the world per capita. There are 910,256 registered Syrian refugees in Lebanon, but theactual number is likely even higher. Despite the Lebanese government’s efforts to offer school placement to refugee children,over a third of Syrian refugee children in Lebanon at the age of compulsory schooling (6-14) are out of school. For those that are in school, this academic year has had major disruptions: schools closed for weeks in the autumn due to political protests and unrest, and again beginning in March due to COVID.
In Lebanon, the Luminos Fund offers back-to-school and homework support programs for Syrian refugees, including robust psychosocial support such as art and music therapy to help students process trauma. Many students have been out of school for years, and all are learning in English and French (the standard languages of instruction in Lebanon) for the first time. These programs are an opportunity for refugee children to catch up to grade level and prepare to assimilate into Lebanese classrooms. During COVID, Luminos has shifted these programs to online and message-based learning, for example through WhatsApp, whichmany families identify as their preferred communication format.
For the refugee families that Luminos serves, financial pressure is a greater concern than COVID, which has implications for education. Mahmoud, a father, describes the stress that he feels: “My daughter receives some lessons on WhatsApp, and I go to my neighbor’s home to use their internet connection to download the lessons because I do not have enough credits for 3G. Honestly, I am embarrassed because, first, I feel shy when I go to my neighbors’ for internet connection and, second, my financial status is very bad. I am borrowing money to buy food so I don’t know how to afford buying my children notebooks, pens, pencils, erasers, etc. I cannot find a job.”
Syrian refugee children,both boys and girls, are at particular risk of dropping out of school, especially now. Boys may be needed to earn income for the household. Girls are at risk of early marriage, perhaps to a man with a degree of financial stability, and may be at greater risk of sexual and gender-based violence during the pandemic. Even before COVID, Luminos needed to adjust school hours during harvest season because children go to work, and the crisis is accentuating these hardships.
Some children are studying online, says Assem, a teacher, but adds that he sees children working, like selling napkins at a nearby traffic stop, or playing outdoors during COVID. Families report seeing some children scavenging for food or potential toys.
When the Lebanese-Syrian border reopens, some refugee families may decide to return to Syria, depending on when schools reopen in Lebanon and the family’s assessment of the economic situation—a choice that illuminates the confluence of crises these families face.
Luminos has continued to evaluate new ways to support refugee families and students through the crisis, such as by providing cell data cards to families who will have trouble accessing lessons otherwise. It has considered distributing tablets, but there is concern families may sell these devices for short-term income.
“I hope schools will open and my children return to their schools,” says Azab, a father. “I hope life becomes normal again. I think life will not be normal as it was before because life is financially harder now. Honestly, I don’t know what will happen.”
TCF: COVID, gender, and class
“What are we supposed to do with a learning continuity plan when we don’t have anything to eat at home? Our girls are better off stitching footballs, at least that way we can put food on the table,” parents told Shakeela, a TCF principal running a government school for girls in a village in Narowal, Punjab.
TCF estimates that a significant proportion of its students are currently at risk of dropping out, primarily girls and students from the lowest-income families. Boys who come from the lowest socioeconomic backgrounds, especially those currently in secondary school, are also at risk of leaving school to serve as an extra set of hands in the fields or at local shops.
Principals, teachers, and community members from across the TCF network are echoing the challenge of keeping female students in school if closures persist. There’s a particular concern about girls dropping out during the transition from primary to secondary schooling, a problem which predates the pandemic but is likely to be exacerbated in its aftermath. The reasons for this are familiar: the loss of livelihood has a disproportionate impact on girls, as they are expected to take on traditional caregiver roles around the home while their mothers earn a living; distance to school and the cost of transportation; early marriages; and familial and societal pressures.
With several low-cost private schools at risk of closing due to the economic impact of COVID-19, parents are increasingly worried about their daughters’ job prospects (teaching is seen as a safe and respectable job for women, as we noted here). They are calling into question the value of educating them instead of teaching them skills such as beautician work, embroidery, or stitching.
Ahsan, aged 10, used to help his father in the fields after school, but is now working from daybreak to sunset. He says, “Every day we used to play and do activities at school. I miss meeting my teachers and friends. Without school, it’s only work.” For many boys like Ahsan, the transition back to school may be challenging or even impossible, due to the economic pressure his family is facing.
In addition to economic pressures to work, the digital divide is also preventing the continuity of learning for some students who do not have access to technology. That puts kids at greater risk of dropping out, as they’re unable to catch up.
Accounts from the field of the impact of all these factors, however, have been mixed—some TCF principals are confident that they will be able to retain all of their students, while others are much more apprehensive. TCF’s TV program, self-study magazine, and community outreach have sought to keep families and students engaged with education. Continued parental support, where we find it, has been predicated on community members feeling that TCF did not leave them behind: the relief work that TCF has done, coupled with the regular community outreach by phone from principals and teachers has meant that some parents are happy to send their children, daughters and sons alike, back to school. How long this patience will last is yet to be determined.
Educate Girls: Losing girls due to lockdown?
The team at Educate Girls in India recognizes that learning loss due to COVID is important, but has been more troubled by the possibility of scores of girls losing out completely on continuing their education as a result of the pandemic.
They have seen cases of this play out firsthand: Gita, a girl in a remote village in Rajasthan, was on the verge of completing her education when the pandemic hit and her school closed. Gita is a child bride who had been allowed to finish her education before moving in with her husband. Her family deemed it inappropriate for her (as for many girls in the area) to have access to a mobile phone—preventing her from accessing distance learning. When she did briefly use the phone to text a girlfriend, her father and brother believed her to be dishonoring her family, talking to a boy and not her husband, and sent her off to her in-laws earlier than planned. News traveled fast and three other girls in similar situations in Gita’s village were also sent to live with their husbands—accelerating their child marriages and diminishing their futures. They are unlikely now to ever set foot in a classroom again.
Another girl, Pinky, and her three sisters live in fear of their alcoholic father, even without a lockdown and now, cooped up at home, the situation is precarious. The pandemic and lockdown have increased the risks of gender-based violence, with reports of calls to national helplines rapidly increasing. With Educate Girls’ field teams on lockdown, it is hard to translate these stories into quantitative data, but the reports from staff in communities Educate Girls serves have been deeply concerning.
Educate Girls, in partnership with the government of India and local communities, has enrolled more than half a million girls into school over the past 12 years, many for the first time. But the pandemic and lockdowns have created a real fear among staff that more than a decade of progress could disappear overnight. As livelihoods and health issues loom as the greatest risks, education is deprioritized. It is hard for a field worker to pick up the phone and have a conversation about school when their family has lost its income and its food.
Like many other education NGOs, Educate Girls’ staff and volunteers have pivoted to do relief work beyond their usual role, supporting over 100,000 of the worst-hit families across 1,500 villages with the highest concentration of out-of-school girls. Despite substantial fears about the impact of the crisis on girls’ education, the hope is that the crisis will be an opportunity to rethink the systems and policies that have been at the root of girls’ repression all these years—and that NGOs can help press the reset button on the systems that are holding the most vulnerable back.
Thanks very much to the teams at the Luminos Fund, TCF, and Educate Girls for sharing their stories. These stories have illuminated for us what new relief operations, distance learning and learning loss, the roles of educators, and COVID-19 impacts on girls and the most vulnerable populations have meant in reality. While the series is ending for now, CGD’s education team will be continuing to research these issues related to the pandemic’s longer-term effects on global education.
“We’re reaching children who never went to school before and getting them to a level where they want to keep going. That’s humanitarian. So, when an emergency arises like COVID-19, it’s important that we step up and revise. Providing relief during COVID isn’t strange. It’s what we have to do.”
— Abba Karnga Jr., Luminos Program Manager in Liberia
Updated: May 2020
At this time, the Luminos Fund’s classrooms across Ethiopia, Lebanon, and Liberia are on hold due to COVID-19. To help keep our communities and team safe and to mitigate the spread of the virus, all Luminos staff are working remotely and in-country teams are limiting travel to the field (where it is still permitted).
During this challenging time, we are working to support our students and provide relief to families where possible. For example, in Liberia, we are distributing learning materials for students to work on at home, as well as rice, soap, and drums to store water for families. Our team is managing resources closely to leave room to respond in new ways as the crisis evolves: we want to both respond now and plan ahead for the long term.
Luminos is in dialogue with our funders and other education providers on the latest and to share best practices. Where possible, we are working with governments and partners to coordinate our response on the ground.
Educate: A Charity Exhibition at Christie’s New York Benefiting the Luminos Fund
On Friday, February 7, 2020 at 6:30 p.m. EST, an opening reception will be held at Christie’s New York commencing a charity art exhibition benefiting the Luminos Fund.The Luminos Fund is a philanthropic organization which aims to bring the life-changing opportunity of education to the most disadvantaged children around the world. The night will include live performances, complimentary refreshments, and a SPIN New York sponsored ping-pong tournament open to the public.
The reception will inaugurate a group exhibition of global emerging artists of diverse styles, and mediums. Each artist will donate a single work into a silent auction with proceeds fully benefiting the Luminos Fund. Additional works will be available for purchase directly from the participating artists. The silent auction and artist’s exhibition will remain open to the public until Tuesday, February 11, 2020.