Siah: A Luminos Alumna Keeps Reaching for Her Education Dreams

Siah: A Luminos Alumna Keeps Reaching for Her Education Dreams

A massive mango tree casts a shade over Siah’s school, offering some respite from the humid Liberian sun.

Every morning, Siah walks the short distance from her bright blue house to her 6th grade classroom eager to learn for the day.

“The Luminos program helped prepare me for the school I’m in now.”

Siah, a Luminos alumna

It was not always like this for Siah. Her parents were unable to afford the school fees to send Siah, the youngest of five children, to government school. Instead, Siah helped her mother sell traditional Liberian meals, like pepper meat soup, around her community.

Three years ago, at the age of 10, Siah finally started school for the first time in a Luminos classroom in Bomi County.

When Luminos began offering our free catch-up education program in Siah’s community, her parents jumped at the chance to send her to school. Siah remembers her time in the Luminos classroom fondly.

“It helped me learn how to pronounce words—how to read and write,” she says. One of her favorite memories was learning to use phonics to break down letter sounds in a word. Luminos’ program was instrumental in helping Siah step forward on the path of learning.

“The Luminos program helped prepare me for the school I’m in now,” Siah says. When Siah started Luminos’ program, she was unable to read the alphabet, do math, or identify letters. By the end of the one-year program, Siah was a top student in her class.

Siah’s parents were struck by her transformation. When Siah’s mother, Kumba, saw the progress her daughter was making with Luminos, she vowed to keep Siah in school. Siah transitioned into 3rd grade at her local government school when she completed the Luminos program. Today, Siah attends 6th grade and continues to help her mother sell hot meals in the afternoon.

“I also like to play kickball with my friends!” Siah adds with enthusiasm.

Using the skills she learned in Luminos’ program, Siah has become a fervent reader and loves stories. Her favorite subject is social studies.

“I like to hear the story of our country,” Siah says. Siah’s passion for stories and her country has grown into a dream of being a journalist. “If I become a journalist, I would help others in the community. If there was something happening in our country, I would announce it to the public.”

Mesfin Yacob, Sodo Zuria Woreda School Improvement and Supervision Directorate Team Leader.

Siah and her mother, Kumba, outside their home. Kumba jokes that Siah’s love of talking will make her an excellent journalist.

Through the Luminos program, Siah received a second chance at education and a deeply instilled joy of learning.

“If I become a journalist, I would help others in the community. If there was something happening in our country, I would announce it to the public.”

Siah, a Luminos alumna

Mignot with her mother, Alemitu.

Siah standing outside her home, proudly wearing her favorite color: purple.

Read this story and others from our various country programs in our 2021 Annual Report!

To learn more about our Liberia program, click here.

Photo credit for this story: Mara Chan

Luminos Liberia Students Made Remarkable Progress Despite Pandemic-Shortened School Year

Luminos Liberia Students Made Remarkable Progress Despite Pandemic-Shortened School Year

Read the full report summary ↑

In 2016, the Luminos Fund launched the Second Chance program in Liberia to help address the country’s urgent education needs – including one of the world’s highest recorded rates of out-of-school children. To date, Luminos has helped 12,650 Liberian children catch up on learning and reintegrate into local schools. 489 young people have been trained in the Second Chance pedagogy and model.

Previous external evaluation results show that in just 10 months, Second Chance students in Liberia are reading 39 correct words per minute (CWPM) on average, compared to just under 5 CWPM at the start of the program. [1] Approximately 90% of Luminos students transition to mainstream school at the end of the program.

During the 2020/21 school year, results show that the Second Chance program increased oral reading fluency by 28.7 CWPM, with girls progressing 4 CWPM more than boys. These results are remarkable on two accounts. First, the 2020/21 school year was a shorter, 7-month program due to the COVID-19 pandemic (in a typical school year, the Second Chance program runs for 10 months). Second, the 2020/21 school year marked the reopening of classes in Liberia for the Luminos Fund after COVID-19 school closures (mid-March through December 2020). Our latest report, “Second Chance Liberia Endline Evaluation Report,” summarizes results from the 2020/21 Second Chance endline evaluation conducted by Q&A Services. [2]

Evaluation Overview

The evaluation aimed to demonstrate the impact of the Second Chance Liberia program on student literacy and numeracy outcomes during the 28-week 2020/21 program. The literacy and numeracy levels of a random sample of students across all Second Chance classes were assessed in the first two weeks of the program (baseline) and again in the final week of the program (endline). 345 students (ngirls= 163, nboys 182) across 80 Second Chance classes were assessed at baseline and endline. The RTI/USAID-developed Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) and Early Grade Mathematics Assessment (EGMA) tools adapted for Liberia were used at both baseline and endline to assess students on a variety of early grade reading and math skills. For more details on the evaluation and methods used, please see the full report summary.

Overall Results

Results show that the Second Chance program positively impacted student achievement in both reading and math, with statistically significant impact on reading.


On reading, students showed improvement across every EGRA subtask, including improvement of 48 percentage points on both letter identification and oral reading fluency of Grade 2 level text, 41 percentage points on familiar words, and 28 percentage points on reading comprehension. In oral reading fluency, students read 31.5 correct words per minute (CWPM) at endline, compared to 2.8 CWPM at baseline. Results show that the Second Chance program increased oral reading fluency by 28.7 CWPM during the 7-month 2020/21 program. See Table 1 below for the full results.


On numeracy, students again showed improvement across every single EGMA subtask, including improvement of 35 percentage points in number identification, 32 percentage points in number discrimination, 27 percentage points on addition and 17 percentage points on subtraction. As noted, while Second Chance impacted student achievement on mathematics, improvement was less significant than literacy. This makes sense given that 5 hours of the Second Chance school day (approximately 70% of instructional time) is devoted to literacy and 2 hours each day (30% of instructional time) is devoted to numeracy. See Table 2 below for the full results.


Results from the Luminos Fund’s 2020/21 Liberia program show that the program positively impacted student reading and math outcomes across all EGRA and EGMA subtasks. Student improvement in reading was statistically significant. Results show that the average student improved 28.7 CWPM within the 7-month Second Chance program, with girls improving four CWPM more than boys on oral reading fluency. Outcomes were similar across gender, county, and implementing partner. These results are incredibly impressive given the shorter 7-month 2020/21 program, and the challenges of successfully delivering an education program during the COVID-19 pandemic. When compared with similar programs in Liberia and globally, results show that Second Chance is a highly efficient and effective way to help vulnerable children catch up on learning.

To read the full report summary, including additional background on our Liberia program and a more detailed overview of the evaluation and methods used, click here.

1. Simpson, A. “Luminos Fund Second Chance Program, Liberia, Endline Evaluation Report 2018-19,” Q&A Services, June 2019.

2. Simpson, A. “Second Chance Liberia Endline Evaluation 2020-21,” Q&A Services, October 2021.

A Heart for Liberia: James Earl Kiawoin

A Heart for Liberia: James Earl Kiawoin

The Luminos Fund is expanding to help more out-of-school children catch up than ever before. Our country leaders are spearheading this effort: a group of dynamic, knowledgeable, and dedicated individuals who live and breathe our mission to ensure all children experience joyful learning. In this new series, “Luminos Leaders,” we will share their stories with you, starting with Liberia Country Manager, James Earl Kiawoin.

Q: Tell us a bit about your background. Did you grow up in Liberia?

I was born in Liberia in the middle of the civil war. Then my family went to the Ivory Coast and Ghana where we were refugees for two years before coming back to Liberia. I started primary school in the Ivory Coast but continued the rest of my education in Liberia where I finished high school at age 14. I was too young to do anything, so I went to the African Leadership Academy (ALA) for another two years. ALA is a pan-African prep school meant to develop the next generation of African leaders. ALA was a real game-changer in terms of what my life could have been and what it became after that. It was the first time that I got access to real, proper education—global education that was preparing me with a skill set and a mindset dedicated to social change and social justice. With ALA, there was a mission around preparing students to go back to their homes and do actual work to advance their communities.

Growing up in Liberia, many of my friends’ parents couldn’t afford to send them to school. Or kids would go to school, and they weren’t interested or motivated and would stop going. As a child, I didn’t understand the gender dynamics, culture factors, or financial issues. I just thought, oh, they don’t want to go to school because school’s boring. Today, I’m able to step back and understand those dynamics: the fact that if the public school systems are not strong, parents will think that their kids are better off staying on the farm. In most of the communities Luminos serves in Liberia, there’s no real no role model effect. Kids don’t see people graduate from high school and so school doesn’t make sense to them because they haven’t seen anyone do it.

Q: What makes Liberia special? What do you love about the country?

When you trace the history of Liberia back to free slaves returning to a place they knew nothing about—there’s this sense of daring and entrepreneurship in the Liberian spirit. That’s one of the things that’s always brought me back to Liberia.

When I was growing up, before attending ALA, I had no idea that I could do anything meaningful for Liberia. It was just: you go to school, you try to survive the war, you just try to eat and live. When I went to ALA, that was the first time that I actually realized that there’s something we can do in this country. We can change the narrative for children who come after me. We can help build the national education system. We can help build systems across all sectors to do good for people!

“When you trace the history of Liberia back to free slaves returning to a place they knew nothing about—there’s this sense of daring and entrepreneurship in the Liberian spirit.”

James Earl Kiawoin

Q: The core of our mission at the Luminos Fund is education. Tell us more about your own education. Why education is important to you?

After completing the ALA program, I did my undergrad at Colorado College in Political Science. I went back to Liberia to work for two years on the Ebola crisis and then returned to the States for a master’s degree in Public Affairs with a focused on international development from Princeton’s School of Public and International Affairs. I’ve been really, really fortunate with all the places I’ve gone to school.

For me, education opens doors for people to cultivate their own potential and innate talent. For most families in Liberia, there’s no other pathway out of their current situation. The way you pull yourself out of poverty, for the most part, is to go to school and get a job to take care of your family. For the longest parts in Liberia’s history, people have not been able to go to school because of the war or their family didn’t have the resources. It’s really important that we are able to create access to high quality education so that people can do things for their families and in their own communities.

“For me, education opens doors for people to cultivate their own potential and innate talent.”
– James Earl Kiawoin

Q: Why did you decide to join the Luminos Fund team?

It was a combination of a personal desire to help Liberia, and also knowing that I could do more at scale, even through a small organization. The Luminos Fund is so different from previous parts of my career that focused on strategy and were far removed from day-to-day implementation. At Luminos, I’m actually in the field once a week; talking to Abba [Luminos Liberia’s Program Manager], talking to parents, and talking to teachers. There was an appeal to being in direct communication with those who are benefitting from the program. It’s a very dynamic job. At Luminos, every day there’s something new from government engagement to people management and trying to ensure the motorbikes run!

Q: What’s your favorite part of your role?

I love being able to see the students in class and learning. The teachers are there, classrooms have the proper materials, and there’s all this chanting going on and active, play-based learning.

At the front of everybody’s mind is that we have to ensure that these children are reading and writing properly, and that they can transition to traditional schools. Whenever you enter Luminos classrooms that’s on the fullest display: everyone is so committed to helping these kids learn how to read and develop the desire to learn.

Q: What inspires you?

The will of individuals to craft big societal change is really inspiring. Whenever I come across those people who are willing to ask hard questions or to put it all on the line to solve hard problems, it’s really inspiring.

Q: What inspires you about the Luminos Fund?

This commitment to excellence. Watching Folley and Emmanuel [Luminos Libera Program Associates] in the field, seeing them coach the teachers, and do the running records, it’s very visible that everyone wants these kids to succeed. Everyone really buys into the vision that every child can learn, and our job is to ensure we teach them how to learn.

At Luminos, everyone’s actions reflect our mission. When we’re collecting receipts to ensure that we’re good stewards of our resources, it’s reflecting that mission because, if we can do more with this money, more children can learn. When we’re tweaking the curriculum based on feedback or driving consistent use of data to improve program outcomes, it’s all geared toward that simple vision that children should be reading; that they should be in school in order to cultivate their potential.

To learn more about Luminos’ work in Liberia, visit our Liberia page.

Involving the Whole Family in Learning

Involving the Whole Family in Learning

Growing up in Liberia, Otis had the chance to briefly attend school, but was pulled out when his parents could no longer afford to pay school fees for all of their children. School fees prompt hard choices for many families in Liberia. In this West African country of 4.9 million people, between 15-20% of  6–14 year-olds are out of school. Feeling the strain of supporting their family of eleven, Otis’s mother and father made the difficult decision to send Otis to his aunt’s house where he helped with household chores.

Otis outside his classroom

Despite having to leave school, Otis’s brief, early exposure to learning had him hooked. Eager to continue learning, Otis asked his older brother to teach him, and soon Otis was learning basic letters and numbers.

Early last year, at ten years of age, Otis finally had the chance to return to the classroom again. He enrolled in the Luminos Fund’s free catch-up education program for out-of-school children, known as Second Chance. In a class of 30 students, Otis rapidly began to build on his basic knowledge of letters and numbers with the help of his teacher. Like many of his classmates, Otis loves Luminos’ play-based activities best. For Otis, experiencing joyful learning has made all the difference on his education journey.

“I like school because it is helping me learn how to read!” says Otis. His rapid progress has not gone unnoticed by his parents.

“I can now see him writing on everything in the house—and he can spell some words now,” says Otis’s father.

Otis’s mother, Sata, has noticed the writing, too. She remarked that Otis is now able to read a few small things and hopes that Otis will be able to read for the family since Sata herself is not literate. Both of Otis’s parents have seen the impact of Luminos’ Second Chance program in their communities firsthand.

“I know children who are now in 7th grade after they finished the program years ago,” says Sata.

Most Luminos students transition into public schools at the 3rd or 4th grade level after they graduate. Continuing to 7th grade means these students successfully completed primary school and are continuing their education!

Otis’s father agreed with Sata, saying, “Second Chance has helped the community because a lot of students are now in the public school.”

“Second Chance has helped the community because a lot of students are now in the public school.”

Otis’s father

Otis sits with his father outside their home looking at a workbook.

Luminos takes a holistic approach to education. Not only do we run catch-up education programs for out-of-school children, but we also recruit and train local young adults as teachers for our classrooms and engage parents in the learning journey.

Parents of Luminos students like Otis participate in monthly parent engagement groups where they step inside the classroom. During meetings, students may read a passage or demonstrate their writing skills in front of parents and community members. This is especially motivating for parents as they see the vast progress their children have made because of Second Chance. Parent engagement meetings also emphasize the importance of child protection and safeguarding, and challenge gender-based stereotypes that constrain women and girls. Parents in these groups commit to one another that they will keep their children in school, creating a network of accountability.

In Liberia where over half the population lives below the poverty line, and 1.6 million people are food insecure, Luminos provides a crucial midday meal to students and employs a local parent to prepare the food. In Otis’s class, his mother, Sata, prepares the meals. She receives a monthly stipend to purchase and prepare the ingredients, and cooks a satisfying hot meal of rice and beans for all the children each day.

“I enjoy the work,” says Sata. “I’m happy to help the program that is helping my child.”

Sata prepares a midday meal for the students in Otis’s class.

When asked about their dreams for Otis, his father replies, “I dream that he will be educated and do everything he wants to do.”

Sata chimes in, “I dream that he will learn a lot and become a better person tomorrow to help the family.”

With Otis’s parents behind him and the Luminos program providing a path back into mainstream education, his future of learning looks bright. For Otis, education isn’t something he wants to keep to himself. “Education is important because it will help me learn—and help my younger sister,” says Otis proudly.

“Education is important because it will help me learn—and help my younger sister.”

Otis, 10-year-old Luminos student in Liberia

Otis learning in class. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Luminos has provided masks to students and teachers in addition to hand-washing stations when classrooms reopened under guidance from the Liberian Ministry of Education.
Easy As 1-2-3: Innovative Community-Driven Collaborations for Helping Out-Of-School Children Catch Up

Easy As 1-2-3: Innovative Community-Driven Collaborations for Helping Out-Of-School Children Catch Up

On Wednesday, December 8th, the Luminos Fund had the honor of leading a virtual panel discussion at the 2021 WISE Summit titled, “Easy as 1-2-3: Innovative Community-Driven Collaborations for Helping Out-of-School Children Catch Up.” Luminos was honored with a WISE Award in 2017 and remains a proud member of the WISE community.

Moderated by Luminos CEO, Caitlin Baron, the session explored Luminos’ model of deep partnership with community-based organizations and shared lessons for the broader education community to drive greater positive impact for some of the most marginalized children and communities. Panelists included:

  • Dr. Kwame Akyeampong, Professor of International Education and Development, the Open University | Luminos Advisory Board member
  • Benjamin M. Freeman Jr., Executive Director, Liberia Institute for the Promotion of Academic Excellence (LIPACE) | Luminos partner
  • Abba G. Karnga Jr., Liberia Program Manager, Luminos Fund
  • Nikita Khosla, Senior Director of Programs, Luminos Fund

Why Luminos works with community-based organizations

Luminos works in partnership with community-based organizations (CBOs) and governments through a hub-and-spoke operating model to deliver our catch-up education programs. In each country we work in, a small, expert Luminos team is responsible for curriculum, pedagogy, training, monitoring and evaluation, and government adoption, and Luminos funds local CBOs to implement the program. Second Chance, our catch-up education program, is delivered through these local partners whose capabilities Luminos helps build, support, and oversee throughout the program. Each community Luminos operates in is unique with different traditions, dialects, and needs. As such, it is critical that we contextualize our work to align with these varying circumstances. Who better to know and deeply understand these needs than the people who live and work there? This is why we partner with local organizations like LIPACE in Liberia, led by panelist Benjamin M. Freeman Jr. (Ben).

As Nikita Khosla explained, thanks to CBOs, Luminos is able to rapidly adapt to new geographies and quickly learn how to help meet children where they are. These community partnerships allow Luminos to be highly responsive to local conditions and needs and teach in children’s local language using contextually relevant stories and experiences to enrich learning. In addition, this community-based model helps build local capacity and creates a sustainable model for the future. As Nikita noted, Luminos hopes that our holistic, community-based approach to catch-up education for out-of-school children will grow beyond our organization.

Navigating the power dynamics

There is an inherent dynamic between larger, international NGOs and smaller CBOs. Nikita explained that to navigate this dynamic, Luminos intentionally creates a flat hierarchy from the start. We co-establish a common goal—ensuring all children are learning—and work towards that together. In addition, Luminos conducts quarterly learning sessions with our partners where we ask, “How can we improve the program?”

The first time Ben needed to provide constructive feedback to Luminos, he was hesitant. Ben shared that it was through the quarterly learning sessions that he grew to trust Luminos as an organization that valued the voices and opinions of its partners. Now, providing feedback comes more easily.

Luminos Liberia Program Manager, Abba G. Karnga Jr., noted that this was a crucial part of the puzzle to get right.

“We have to talk about the things that are working, and the things that are not working,” he said.

With that information in hand, Luminos can actively problem-solve. For instance, Nikita shared a recent example from Liberia where Luminos provides midday meals. After receiving feedback from our partners that students did not like the new fortified porridge, we changed the hot meals back to rice and beans.

Working with CBOs during COVID

For Luminos, working with CBOs allowed learning to continue for our students during the pandemic. Because our teachers are local, we were able to hold outdoor micro-classes that parents felt comfortable sending their children to attend. Through our partners, we distributed at-home learning resources and provided emergency food supplies to families in need. On the partner side, Ben noted that the CBO network Luminos created “ensured that we could go beyond the technological gaps that we were experiencing to bring effective COVID awareness and continue to ensure children were learning.”

What can the global community learn?

To wrap up the session, Caitlin posed the question, “What might the Luminos team be getting right, what are the shortcomings, and what might the global community take away more broadly?” to Dr. Kwame Akyeampong, a long-time evaluator of Luminos’ program and member of our Advisory Board.

Kwame reflected that the research shows Luminos’ model can close learning gaps for out-of-school children; it is essential for the global community to look at models like these that can close those learning gaps rapidly. Working with CBOs who have deep knowledge and investments in communities means that Luminos can recruit teachers and make a meaningful difference. “We tend to think about the program much more in terms of the child,” said Kwame, “but it also about the community. It takes a village to educate the child.”

Thank you to WISE and all the participants for such a dynamic and engaging session, and all our community partners. Learn more about WISE and the 2021 WISE Summit here, and read more about Luminos’ community teaching model here.

Hunger, Safety, and Aspirations: New Data on Student Well-Being During COVID-19 from Liberia

Hunger, Safety, and Aspirations: New Data on Student Well-Being During COVID-19 from Liberia

In the past year, COVID-19 has highlighted enormous gaps in our understanding of how best to support learners affected by a health emergency, especially the most vulnerable children. What we know from the Ebola epidemic and emerging evidence from COVID-19 suggests that children living through health emergencies face unique risks to their well-being. Given what we know about the importance of psychosocial well-being as a precursor to learning (especially for children impacted by crisis), what specific well-being risks do children in Liberia face? And how can the Luminos Fund best support students to manage these risks?

To explore these questions and support the Liberian Ministry of Education’s COVID-19 response,  Luminos worked with the Ministry in the fall of 2020 to conduct a needs assessment to better understand the psychosocial needs of vulnerable children living through COVID-19 in Liberia. The assessment included in-depth interviews (conducted in November during the school closures) with approximately 300 Luminos Second Chance students and 100 parents across 26 communities in three counties (Bomi, Montserrado, Grand Cape Mount). Survey instruments were designed in collaboration with the Ministry of Education to collect data across the three major domains of psychosocial well-being: human capacity, social ecology, and culture and values (INEE, 2016). Given that hunger and malnutrition are threats to well-being in the Liberian context, data on children’s physical health was also collected. Below are a few of our learnings from the assessment.

In Liberia, hunger was a problem before the pandemic. Since COVID-19, the situation has gotten a bit worse.

Prior to COVID-19, an estimated 1.6 million Liberians were food insecure, and nearly 1 in 3 children suffered from chronic malnutrition. Estimates from the World Food Program suggest that food insecurity has risen by over 80% since the start of the pandemic due to compounding effects of COVID-19.

Since the start of the pandemic, 54% of Luminos students in Liberia eat just one meal per day (an increase of 16 percentage points compared to pre-COVID-19).

When we spoke with Luminos parents on the topic, the majority (63%) shared that since COVID-19, their family was eating less food (though the vast majority described the change as small). 22% said their family was eating the same amount of food as before COVID-19. When we probed further, we heard that just 13% of Luminos students ate three meals per day prior to the pandemic, and since COVID-19 this has dropped to 5% (Figure 1). Since the start of the pandemic, 54% of Luminos students in Liberia eat just one meal per day (an increase of 16 percentage points compared to pre-COVID-19). The data suggests that the situation may be slightly worse for boys than girls (more girls appear to eat three meals/day as compared to boys, both before and during COVID-19).

Given that COVID-19 has disrupted school meals programs (including ours in Liberia, during the period of school closures), it makes sense that there is a direct link between being out of school and being hungrier. Moreover, given that household income has contracted (80% of Luminos families say they have lost income during COVID-19), the above data suggesting that our students and their families are a bit hungrier since COVID-19 is, sadly, not surprising. To support families through this challenging period, Luminos provided food support (bags of rice) to our students and their families during the school closures. While by no means comprehensive to tackle the challenge of hunger that our families face, we aimed to support Luminos students’ well-being through the pandemic in lieu of school meals. In the wake of COVID-19, the need for holistic learning models that meet students’ academic and broader needs, like our proven Second Chance program, is greater than ever. School feeding programs will play an important role as well. 

Both boys and girls express having felt unsafe during COVID-19 school closures. The data suggest that this manifests differently for boys as compared to girls.

Given that children spent the greater part of the past year at home (as opposed to at school), we were interested to understand student experiences and feelings regarding safety at home and within the community during COVID-19 school closures. When we spoke to Liberian students, 22% reported feeling unsafe at home in the past one month (while schools were closed). Depending on who you spoke to, the degree to which the community was perceived as a safe space for students varied dramatically: nearly all students reported having felt unsafe in the community, while just 20% of parents shared the same view regarding their child’s feeling of safety (nearly 75% of parents said that their child “always felt safe in the community”). This suggests there is a gap between children’s experiences and parental perceptions of safety.

When we asked students why they felt unsafe, 54% shared that it was due to COVID-19 and social distancing. In students’ own words this was expressed as: “Because it’s possible someone has the virus and I don’t know”, and “Most of the time my friends and I are playing, so if they get the Coronavirus, it is possible that I get it too”. Other reasons for feeling unsafe included physical or verbal abuse, traditional and cultural practices in the community (including female genital mutilation, or FGM), and school closures (Figure 2). 

It is worth noting that the data suggests that boys’ and girls’ feelings around safety during the school closures do not appear equal. Of the children who answered our question about safety, six boys and one girl reported physical or verbal abuse, which conveys a disproportionate impact on boys’ feelings of safety in the home. On the other hand, six out of seven students who reported feeling unsafe due to traditional and cultural practices in the community were girls. This is consistent with our understanding of the disproportionate impact of such practices on women, children and the poorest, and supports research on the increased prevalence of violence against girls and women during the pandemic, and the increase in teenage pregnancies we saw following Ebola school closures. Given the small sample size, these points of course merit further study. As a side note, while students did not explicitly reference FGM when describing traditional and ritualistic practices, given that Liberia is one of four countries in Africa where FGM remains legal, the data could provide an early proof point for the anticipated increase in cases of FGM as a result of COVID-19.

Despite living through Ebola and now COVID-19, Luminos students have high aspirations for their future selves, which supports their overall well-being despite the adversities they face.

Based on external evidence from the Second Chance program in Ethiopia, we know that the Second Chance pedagogy is effective in building learners’ confidence in their abilities and capacity to learn. Given the importance of self-concept (the ability to express personal preferences, feelings, thoughts and abilities) to social and emotional development and well-being, we were eager to explore students’ aspirations for their future possible selves. When asked to share one thing they hope or wish will happen in their life in the future, nearly every single student was able to share a hope or aspiration (“I want to travel to America so I can live better and support my family”; “I want to be able to help my mom and make her ok”; “I want to be a business woman”; “I want to finish high school and go to college”). Seventy-nine percent of students surveyed named a specific career or profession they aspired to (doctor, teacher, president, pilot, police officer, entrepreneur, etc.), while 21% named other things, the main themes of which were being educated, financial security, helping others (especially one’s parents), and traveling abroad for a better quality of life. Based on student responses, education was often recognized as the means to achieving other things like becoming a nurse or helping one’s community. It is interesting to note, that when we asked parents about their child’s hopes/aspirations for their futures, 69% of parents were able to identify an aspiration (27% were unsure). This may suggest that parents are less optimistic about their child’s future prospects, as compared to children’s own outlooks.

When asked to share one thing they hope or wish will happen in their life in the future, nearly every single student was able to share a hope or aspiration

64% of students (roughly equal number of girls and boys) were able to name a realistic barrier that could stop them from achieving their aspiration. The main barriers identified by students were not going to school or lack of education (62%) and financial barriers (22%). See Figure 3. Of students that named financial barriers, more often than not this was closely linked to the child’s ability to access education, and in particular, the ability to pay school fees (“If there’s no money to send me to school anymore”; “If my parents don’t have money to pay for my school fees”). It is worth pointing out that girls were 9 percentage points more likely to identify financial barriers as prohibitive to achieving their future self (Figure 3). Given that household education spending may fall as incomes contract in the wake of the pandemic, we may see more girls than boys dropping out of school. At Luminos, we are deeply aware of these constraints on families and our Second Chance program remains free for all students. In addition, each program graduate receives a stipend, which supports their transition into the government school system at the end of our program.

Final thoughts

During COVID-19 school closures, which ran from March to November 2020 in Liberia, the Luminos team, partners, and facilitators worked hard – through food support, physically-distanced home visits, and micro-classes – to ensure that student well-being was our top priority. Now that schools have reopened and Luminos continues to help the most vulnerable children return to school in Liberia and beyond, ensuring that we meet students’ broader well-being needs will be critical to getting children caught up on learning quickly. Our hope is that the data and insights generated through this assessment are useful not only for Liberia’s Ministry of Education as they navigate the return to learning for the country’s two million learners, but for the broader global education community in responding to COVID-19 and future crises.

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

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