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As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to challenge communities across the globe, the prospects for the world’s most vulnerable children are somber. We know that one third of schoolchildren globally have not been reached by any remote learning during COVID-19 (UNICEF) and even three-month school closures can cause students to fall one year behind (NWEA). New research predicts that COVID-19 school closures will cost students up to $15 trillion in lost future earnings (IZA Institute of Labor Economics). Other new studies predict that at least seven million children are now at risk of dropping out of school completely (World Bank, Save the Children). And this is on top of the fifty-nine million children of primary-school age who were already out of school worldwide prior to the pandemic.
While this year exacerbates inequality across the globe, the Luminos Fund team is more dedicated than ever to our mission helping girls and boys learn to read and do arithmetic in our joyful classrooms, and continue their studies in their local village schools. Our key focus during this crisis is to keep our students safe and connected to learning. Our team never stopped pushing and, this fall, our classrooms are beginning to reopen. Read more about our efforts and plans in Ethiopia, Liberia, and Lebanon on the next pages.
In Ethiopia, the Luminos Fund is operating micro-classes, supporting distance learning, and partnering with government.
On March 16th, Ethiopia mandated the closure of all schools, impacting more than 26 million learners. Luminos continues to explore all available options for resuming learning safely for our children and understands the need to be agile while adhering to the guidelines laid out by the Ethiopian Ministry of Education (MOE). This year, the MOE’s growing need for proven alternative learning solutions—like Second Chance—is creating an even greater opportunity for the government’s adoption of our model beyond what is underway. There is significant appetite from education stakeholders in Ethiopia for technical expertise from Luminos and its partners on condensing curriculum, teacher training, and improving learning outcomes.
Our 2019-20 cohort of students
When schools closed, Luminos pivoted to supporting students with home-based learning through the distribution of learning resources and the creation of a digital learning portal for Luminos and its partners to share resources across regions. SMS-based contact helped ensure direct communication with families during the pandemic, and from May to July, we ran outdoor micro-classes of 4-6 students. Facilitators received guidance on micro-classes and ongoing virtual training and support from Program Supervisors and Luminos partners. Luminos also supported the MOE’s COVID-19 education response with staff as active participants in the Education Cluster and through one-on-one advising with key MOE officials. We continue to explore MOE partnership opportunities to reach even more children through our Second Chance model. All schools in Ethiopia plan to open by the end of November, and all Ethiopian students—including our 2019-20 cohort—will be promoted to the next grade for the start of the 2020-21 academic year.
Our 2020-21 cohort of students
In the 2020-21 school year, Luminos expects to reach 1,300 children directly through Second Chance education, and thousands more through government adoption. As noted, all schools in Ethiopia plan to open by the end of November. Our staff continues to work extensively with government partners across national, regional, and local levels to finalize plans for the 2020-21 government adoption program, which aims to equip the government to implement Second Chance in conventional government primary schools across Ethiopia.
In Liberia, the Luminos Fund is operating micro-classes (up to seven students and a teacher, physically distanced), supporting distance learning, and partnering with government.
Schools across Liberia closed in March. Luminos continues to explore all available options for resuming learning safely for our children. We understand the need to be flexible to respond to students’ and families’ needs while adhering to guidelines laid out by the Ministry of Education (MOE). The Luminos Fund launched in Liberia in the aftermath of Ebola, when approximately one in four Liberian children did not return to school, and we are keen to apply lessons from that time to the current crisis. Strategies like micro-classes keep children engaged in learning and help ensure they enroll when schools resume. As challenging as it has been to get these classes off the ground and ensure learning is happening, we are encouraged that we have positively engaged our children and kept up their enthusiasm for school.
Our 2019-20 cohort of students
Our primary focus has been the safety and health of our children and communities. Our US team actively participates in weekly MOE, Education in Emergencies Zoom meetings. Given only 12% of the Liberian population has access to electricity, we adopted a low-tech approach to ensure our 2019-20 students remain connected to the learning process by distributing worksheets, English readers, writing materials, and workbooks. Currently, Luminos is running outdoor micro-classes of 6-7 children, covering key foundational literacy and numeracy concepts. We anticipate students will transition to government school for the start of the 2020-21 school year in December. Since March 2020, Luminos has also supported its communities with WASH stations and food supplies. Even procuring basic items such as bags of rice proved challenging as most of the stores had run out of supplies. Our team worked incredibly hard on the ground to source the required permissions to cross county borders during lockdown and complete the necessary distributions.
Our 2020-21 cohort of students
We are planning for the 2020-21 cohort and forecast that we will be able to resume classes, with certain restrictions, in January 2021. Luminos will reach 2,400-2,800 children across Bomi, Montserrado, and Grand Cape Mount counties. We are updating our curriculum for the new school year to include psycho-social support for children, both in school and at home, in response to COVID-19. We anticipate continuing to support students with an element of home-based learning in the 2020-21 academic year.
In Lebanon, the Luminos Fund provides educational programs for Syrian refugees.
This year has been uniquely challenging in Lebanon, between political and economic strife, COVID-19, and the massive explosion that shook Beirut in August. Lebanon is dependent on imports and the destruction of the port has led to widespread shortages of medicines, baby formula, and other essentials. Luminos continues to explore all available options to help our students learn safely. We are working to be flexible and agile to respond to students’ and families’ needs while, at the same time, adhering to guidelines laid out by the Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MEHE).
Our 2019-20 cohort of students
Luminos pivoted to providing e-learning options to children within a few weeks of school closures. Curriculum-aligned educational videos, including lesson explanations, stories, rhymes, and songs, were shared 3-4 times per week. These videos covered the core subjects Science, Math, English, and Arabic. Teachers shared videos with learners through WhatsApp groups and followed up directly with learners through phone calls and WhatsApp messages.
While dealing with the macro-challenges in Lebanon, the team on the ground has been trying to find the best possible means to remain connected with children and their families. Our partners have responded nimbly to the Beirut blast by supporting children with school supplies, volunteering to clear the rubble, and providing emergency relief materials to effected communities. We’re incredibly grateful for their hard work.
Our 2020-21 cohort of students
We are planning for the 2020-21 cohort on the assumption that we will be able to resume classes, with certain restrictions, starting in November. We have invested in more established e-learning platforms to better structure the remote learning process for 2020-21. MEHE published an academic calendar that states that schools will reopen by first week of November for all grades in regions where there is no lockdown. Currently, student registration for the 2020-21 school year is ongoing for both Lebanese and Syrian children in public schools. In the 2020-21 school year, Luminos expects to reach 1,300 children across Mt. Lebanon, Beqaa Valley, and Beirut. We anticipate all students being promoted to further education.
The Luminos Fund’s Second Chance program, an accelerated learning program for out-of-school children also known as Speed School, is one of the world’s leading innovations in K12 education according to Finnish education nonprofit, HundrED. During this week’s HundrED Innovation Summit, Luminos was selected as a member of the HundrED 2021 Global Collection.
The annual Global Collection highlights 100 of the most impactful innovations in K12 education from around the world. HundrED’s goal is to help pedagogically-sound, ambitious innovations spread and adapt to multiple contexts across the globe. While there has been remarkable disruption in global education this year due to COVID-19, we at Luminos are inspired by our fellow education nonprofits across the globe as they have rapidly developed new ways of teaching and learning. This marks the fourthconsecutive year that the Luminos Fund has been honored by HundrED, starting in 2017.
This year’s HundrED Global Collection includes innovations from thirty-eight countries.To make the Global Collection, the HundrED research team compiled a list of over 5,000 innovations from over 110 countries. After this initial survey, 150 Academy Members—consisting of academics, educators, innovators, funders, and leaders from over 50 countries—reviewed a shortlist of innovations. In total, there were 3,404 reviews by the Academy based on each innovation’s impact and scalability that were then evaluated by HundrED’s Research Team to make the final selection.
In the words of Luminos CEO Caitlin Baron, “Over this past year, the hard work and creative problem solving of our staff to ensure children still get a second chance to learn has been truly humbling and inspiring. We are honored to be a part of the HundrED Global Collection for the fourth year running.”
Once again, the Luminos Fund’s program was chosen due to its pioneering status and ability to create a scalable impact. Since 2011, Speed School (known outside of Ethiopia as Second Chance) has worked in partnership with Ethiopian NGOs to enable more than 122,062 children in Ethiopia to get a second chance at education. Over 90% of the children who start the Luminos program transition successfully to their local village school. External evaluations show that graduates of our program complete primary school at twice the rate of their peers. In 2016, the program expanded to Liberia where it reaches thousands more children every year. During COVID-19, Luminos pivoted our programs quickly to support our students learning at home with remote learning resources and through “micro-classes” (small, distanced groups of students). In addition, Luminos is providing relief to vulnerable families and communities and strengthening our collaboration with Ministries of Education.
George K. Werner served as Minister of Education in Liberia from 2015 to 2018. Caitlin Baron is CEO of the Luminos Fund, a non-profit working in Liberia and across Africa to bring a second chance at education to out-of-school children.
“It has gotten really tough for us,” says James, a father in rural Liberia, of COVID-19 lockdown and school closures. “My son is trying but he is missing his friends and teachers. Children want to be in school.”
“When Coronavirus passes, will your school still be there to help us with our children?” asks Fatu, a Liberian mother of six.
Around the world, over one billion children are out of school. All will face learning losses (data from World War II and other crises offer grim indications on this) and far too many will be lost to learning forever. Estimates suggest the COVID-19 pandemic will cause this generation to lose $10 trillion in future earnings.
Headlines exclaim that the global education system has never seen a moment like this and, in some sense, that is true. However, in Liberia, where we work, this is the second pandemic in six years. Our experiences in Liberia provide important lessons for COVID-19 education system recovery in low-income countries – and the uniquely important role of “last mile teachers.”
In 2014, the Ebola crisis closed schools across Liberia for six months to a year. One and a half million children were excluded from school, in addition to 500,000 children who were already excluded before Ebola roared through the country. As Liberia’s Minister of Education, I led the country’s education response. I traveled with my team to schools across Liberia, speaking with teachers, parents, and children to assess the magnitude of the task to bring children back to learning. I concluded that the education system was failing and bold reform was needed urgently: the Ministry of Education needed to rethink everything about its education delivery system for post-Ebola Liberia. The Luminos Fund, where Caitlin is CEO, was one of several education organizations that launched operations in Liberia as part of the recovery journey following Ebola.
Reflecting on past school closures in Liberia and beyond, and our experience educating vulnerable children, we identify three key steps for education systems to come back strong after a crisis like COVID-19. First, targeted outreach must be conducted to bring the most vulnerable and older students back to school. Next, each child should be assessed to understand the extent of their learning loss, and to meet students where they are in the curriculum. Finally, remediation should be provided to bring students who have fallen behind back up to grade level.
Here is the key, and challenge: all of these steps rely on the efforts and tenacity of frontline educators, but low-income countries do not have nearly enough teachers. UNESCO estimates a global shortage of nearly 69 million teachers, 70% of whom are needed in sub-Saharan Africa. Furthermore, many countries cannot graduate teachers fast enough to fill the shortfall. South Sudan, for example, would need all of its projected graduates from higher education – twice over – to become teachers to fill its gap. Traditional teacher training alone is insufficient to meet demand, even before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some non-government organizations are helping address the need. The Luminos Fund manages an education program in Liberia that has achieved powerful success with a different model of teacher preparation (James’s son and Fatu’s daughter are students this year). Luminos recruits local, motivated, high potential young people with minimal qualifications as teachers. The program has shown that, with an intensive three-week training followed by ongoing classroom-based coaching, these recruits deliver transformative learning for children who are often the first in their family to learn to read. Luminos teachers are so successful that, in less than one year, their students advance from still learning the alphabet to reading 39 words a minute. After one year of schooling, Luminos students read at a rate that only 15% of Liberian third graders can match.
Today, school systems across Africa and beyond must think expansively about the assets they can deploy to respond to the current crisis – and take action. Status quo thinking is inadequate to respond to the moment.
Here Liberia has another powerful lesson to share with this world. In the provision of basic healthcare, Liberia hosts perhaps the world’s most famous example of the creative extension of government delivery capacity through collaboration with civil society: Last Mile Health. Last Mile Health has reached over 1.2 million of the poorest Liberians through a network of 3,600 community and frontline health workers. Community health workers are paid professionals, recruited from these same poor communities and empowered to provide basic healthcare in consultation with the formal system. This model is now being scaled to reach nine million people with primary care services globally by 2030. Last Mile Health has created a model community health system in Liberia and marshalled a movement to develop the global workforce of community and frontline health workers. The same approach could be used in education and is not dissimilar to how Luminos operates. Far too often, though, the global education sector has viewed community-based educators as a threat, unlike global health’s careful but open-minded exploration of alternative models.
The world may never see another global school closure like the one we are experiencing, but in Liberia, COVID-19 is the second pandemic in six years. Low-income countries – and countries everywhere – need to build resilient school systems that can weather periodic closures and still deliver transformative learning for students. Building a global workforce of frontline education staff from remote communities to serve remote communities – last mile teachers – is a critical part of the formula.
The Luminos Fund is delighted to publish our 2019 Annual Report. To date, we’ve enabled 136,502 vulnerable children to receive a second chance at education – and this year was unlike any other. Our team is more committed than ever to ensuring children everywhere have the opportunity to learn and thrive, and to helping educators and governments in low-income countries develop the resiliency to weather powerful storms like COVID-19.
With over 1 billion youths out of school globally due to the pandemic, the Luminos Fund’s mission to help children get back to school is more important than ever. Our work was made for the task ahead.
“We’re still focused on our core education mandate, but we felt we had to reach further to help during this crisis. We’re thrilled to receive this grant from the END Fund to provide essential relief to more communities.”
Nikita Khosla, Senior Director of Programs at the Luminos Fund
The END Fund works to end the five most common neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), which together affect 1.7 billion people worldwide. A group of parasitic and bacterial diseases, NTDs trap people in the cycle of poverty and, among children, infection leads to malnutrition, cognitive impairment, stunted growth, and the inability to attend school. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the END Fund is allocating grants from its COVID-19 Response Fund to assist communities affected by the virus in Africa. The Luminos Fund’s mission is to educate the world’s most vulnerable out-of-school children, but the organization has shifted during COVID-19 to provide relief, too. In this interview, Warren Lancaster, Senior Vice President of Programs at the END Fund, and Nikita Khosla, Senior Director of Programs at the Luminos Fund, discuss how the END Fund is supporting the Luminos Fund’s efforts in rural Liberia through its COVID-19 Response Fund — and what makes this collaboration unique.
Q. How did the grant to the Luminos Fund come about? How does the grant fit in with the END Fund’s COVID-19 Response Fund?
Warren Lancaster: Since I was familiar with the Luminos Fund’s Second Chance program being embedded in communities, I thought it was an ideal platform for community-level COVID-19 mitigation interventions especially hand washing and community information.
Rural villages are the communities most affected by intestinal worms (soil-transmitted helminths) and schistosomiasis. Breaking the fecal-oral route is a key strategy to break the transmission of intestinal worms. However, behavior change around sanitation practices can be very challenging due to constraints in poor, rural villages (e.g. no running water or electricity). Intervening to help directly with a perceived need where hand washing is suddenly seen as a positive community good contributed to an immediate need — COVID-19 — and a longer-term one as well — ending neglected tropical diseases (NTDs).
Q. The Luminos Fund’s mission is to help vulnerable and out-of-school children with education. How does this COVID-19 Response funding align with your work?
Nikita Khosla: It’s true: at Luminos, our mission is to ensure no child is ever denied an education, whether by poverty, crisis, or discrimination. It has come as a surprise to everyone at Luminos that we would face one of our busiest moments when all our classrooms are closed due to this pandemic. We’re now providing distance learning and relief.
My colleague Abba Karnga Jr., who manages our program in Liberia, might have explained our pivot best so I’ll quote him: “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.”
We’ve been staying in close contact with colleagues and partners in the countries where we work, and even surveying teachers and students’ families on the frontline to stay abreast of the crisis. It’s been both inspiring and heartbreaking to see how communities are coping. We’re still focused on our core education mandate, but we felt we had to reach further to help during this crisis. We’re thrilled to receive this grant from the END Fund to provide essential relief to more communities.
Q. What was the END Fund’s motivation to provide COVID Response funding in Liberia?
Warren: Liberia requires treatment for four of the five NTDs we work on, including schistosomiasis and intestinal worms. We used to be very involved in NTD programming in Liberia but that project came to an end. With hand washing having a dual benefit for NTDs and COVID-19, the funding fit in with our COVID-19 Response Fund in a country we were already familiar with.
Q. What does this funding from the END Fund mean for the Luminos Fund’s COVID-19 response in Liberia?
Nikita: Thanks to the END Fund’s grant, Luminos is providing 37 hand washing stations, buckets, soap, and bleach to remote villages, as well as mobilizing and training community teams to carry out monthly door-to-door awareness efforts regarding hand washing. The community teams will speak to families and hand out printed health flyers that have text and visuals. These are communities without running water or electricity and many adults who cannot read, so these efforts will have a material positive impact. In fact, we’ve already begun this work. The first supplies were distributed, and a second round of supplies was distributed the second week of June. We’re receiving very positive feedback from families and our team in Liberia.
Q. Given the END Fund and Luminos Fund’s roots with Legatum, what makes this grant unique? Why are you excited for your organizations to work together on this?
Warren: The motto of Legatum is to look for the great beyond the good. The Luminos Fund’s program is already great; this just makes it “greater!” We were excited to bring two members of the Legatum family together in a way that adds value to the missions of both organizations.
Nikita: I know I speak for the Luminos team when I say we’re thrilled to have this opportunity to partner with the END Fund, especially on something as important as COVID relief for vulnerable communities. I’ve been at Luminos over four years and, in the back of my mind, I feel I’ve been looking for ways to work with the other wonderful organizations — like the END Fund and Freedom Fund — that were initially funded by Legatum.
Legatum focuses on unlocking human potential and creating sustainable prosperity. Helping Liberian families sustain through this dire crisis so they can continue their education and livelihoods on the other side feels very aligned with Legatum’s mission — and our missions at Luminos and END. So, while the circumstances are somber, this is a pivotal moment to align our efforts.
To learn more about the END Fund’s work to end neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), visit https://end.org.
To learn more about the Luminos Fund’s work ensuring no child is ever denied the chance to learn, whether by poverty, crisis, or discrimination, visit https://luminosfund.org.
Maretta Silverman: What’s happening with you and your family/friends?
Abba Karnga Jr.: My family are like every family in Liberia: on lockdown, staying home, and not doing normal things. All of Liberia is in a state of emergency and there are lots of rules. We’re observing curfew, wearing masks when we go out in public, and handwashing constantly!
Right now, my kids are with my mom who lives in another county, doing the same thing. The major challenge my mom faces is trying to find activities for the kids to keep them occupied. It is the same for my friends and neighbors. Everyone’s kids are idle. My family has it better than most in Liberia, especially regarding food: we were able to prepare well for this crisis, have food, and can stay at home. But many families are having a lot of difficulty finding food. People aren’t eating regular meals. I feel like I have a responsibility, as someone who has a little, to share with those who are less fortunate. It’s a very weird and strange situation in Liberia. I think it’s much harder on children than adults.
MS: What’s happening with education/learning in your community?
AK: Liberia’s Ministry of Education has ideas and strategies to help schools reach children and to help programs like us at the Luminos Fund to reach our students. One major thing they are concentrating on is radio programs. This is a great effort but I do see challenges because, in some places like the rural communities where Luminos works, either radio stations don’t reach, or families don’t have radios, or people haven’t heard about the program schedule so don’t know to listen. I’m afraid many students aren’t paying attention. I think everyone realizes the limitations, but radio is perhaps the best tool in the national toolkit to reach children.
Education is very, very slow in most of our communities. Some school systems have created lessons to send home but, anecdotally in my friend group, most kids aren’t really doing them. In Liberia, we know most learning happens at school. Parents are busy and may not be educated, so it’s hard to expect them to guide learning at home.
At the Luminos Fund, we offer a 10-month program to help out-of-school children catch up on their learning: to learn to read, write, and do math. In March, all our classes closed because of COVID. We decided to focus on learning that students could continue at home, as well as to distribute materials directly to our students’ homes: readers, math workbooks, and worksheets. We believe this is good practice for students, helps them continue engaging in education, and it’s useful for them to know their teachers are thinking about them. There are challenges, of course. I’d estimate that about forty percent of our facilitators (teachers) live in the community they serve and can easily assign lessons and check on students regularly by walking past their homes, which is great. In communities where there aren’t facilitators, one of our supervisors goes to check in with students once a week.
“About forty percent of our facilitators live in the community they serve and can easily assign lessons and check on students regularly by walking past their homes.”
MS: What do you/your community need help with?
AK: Two things. First, food. There’s extremely high unemployment right now in Liberia. Most people depend on a daily hustle or contracts to survive, and much of that work has stopped due to the Coronavirus and lockdown. The Liberian government proposed a stimulus package some weeks ago, but it hasn’t moved forward. Families are really suffering.
Second, I wish children had more home recreation options during this period. Most homes in Liberia don’t have electricity, so TV isn’t realistic. Board games would be nice. It’s lockdown, but many kids still try to play outside and people have to chase them away. It’s risky. Parents are trying to make ends meet.
MS: What resources/links/supports have you found most useful?
AK: I’m excited about the support we’re witnessing from people in communities across Liberia, who have created local Coronavirus awareness teams. I’m on the team in my community. I think this community-level action comes, in part, from our experiences with Ebola a few years ago. Right now, we’ve set up handwashing sites. We ensure people coming into the community wash their hands and wear a mask. We go around with flyers (practicing social distancing) or loudspeakers on cars to raise awareness about COVID and share good information. It’s motivating and useful. I think it’s great when people mobilize themselves.
MS: What are you reading, watching, listening to that you would recommend to others?
AK: Our program! Luminos is an education organization but pivoted quickly to provide relief to students’ families during this crisis, including learning materials, soap, detergent, barrels for water, and food. Recently, we distributed food to over 1,600 of our students’ homes. For more than a week after, we received calls from parents. Some parents were literally crying in appreciation of what Luminos did. They said they never expected it and it was so timely. Some families were out of food and hadn’t known where they would find their next meal. We even heard from other community members and local leaders who heard what we did and called – not even parents. So, seeing the humanitarian aspect of this work is what’s most inspiring for me. I’m grateful we can do this for these families, and to be involved.