International Education News: “A view from Liberia: Abba Karnga Jr. on School Closures and the Pandemic”

International Education News: “A view from Liberia: Abba Karnga Jr. on School Closures and the Pandemic”

This interview was published originally at: https://internationalednews.com/2020/06/10/a-view-from-liberia-abba-karnga-jr-on-school-closures-and-the-pandemic/.


This week’s post features an e-mail interview conducted by Maretta Silverman with Abba Karnga Jr., Program Manager at the Luminos Fund in Liberia, where the school lockdown continues. During the Ebola crisis, Karnga also served as Director of the Stop the Spread of Ebola Campaign. In partnership with the Country Health Team, he created an Ebola Emergency Response program responsible for social mobilization, case identification, and distribution of emergency supplies to affected homes. In 2019, he also reflected on his own educational journey in a Luminos staff profile: The Fight for Education Equality in Liberia: Living Up to My Father’s Example. Diaries from the Frontlines from the Center for Global Development provides additional perspectives on the outbreak and school closures from Luminos Fund staff as well as staff from The Citizens Foundation.

This interview is the sixth in a series that includes posts from Scotlandfrom Chile,  from Japan, and from the Netherlands.  The “A view from…” series editors are IEN’s Thomas Hatch and Karen Edge, Reader/Associate Professor in Educational Leadership at University College London’s Institute of Education

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.

LOWAH, LIBERIA: November 27, 2019 – Abba Karnga, center, playing a learning game with students before the Covid-19 school closures. Carielle Doe for The Luminos Fund.

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: I listen to the Liberian Ministry of Health press releases that are shared every Friday on certain radio stations. They are credible and have the latest information.

MS: What have you found most inspiring?

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.

Center for Global Development Diaries from the Frontline: Preparing for School Reopening

Center for Global Development Diaries from the Frontline: Preparing for School Reopening

The fourth blog in Center for Global Development’s “Diaries from the Frontline” series examines how education organizations, including Luminos, are preparing for schools to reopen. The original blog is available at https://www.cgdev.org/blog/diaries-frontline-preparing-for-school-reopening.


Diaries from the Frontline: Preparing for School Reopening

By Maryam AkmalNikita Khosla and Ali Nadeem Sipra

More than 20 countries have started to reopen schools in the last few weeks, with more expected to follow suit. Many countries that have reopened schools have not seen a spike in infections follow. However, others, like Israel, opened schools only to close some of them soon after due to a surge in infections among students and staff. When to open schools is primarily an epidemiological question, and the evidence on child infections and transmission is still far from conclusive.

Policymakers making difficult decisions about when to reopen schools are balancing the health concerns of the pandemic against the social and economic repercussions of school closures. Ultimately, schools cannot stay closed forever and governments need to start planning for an eventual reopening, whenever that may be. CGD colleagues and others have published evidence-based guidance on how policymakers should plan for school reopening. The recommendations include engaging communities in school reopening plans, targeting resources where most needed, incentivizing children to come back to school, making school environments safe, and instituting plans to recover learning loss. Ultimately, any guidance will have to be adapted to different contexts, as protocols that are being implemented in one setting may be hard to implement in others.

Last week we looked at how two frontline education organizations, The Citizens Foundation (TCF) in Pakistan and the Luminos Fund in Liberia, are supporting their teachers and principals through the crisis. In this fourth installment of our “Diaries from the Frontline” series, we highlight how TCF and Luminos are preparing their teachers, principals, and children for school reopenings.

TCF tackles reopening challenges, including ways to recover learning loss

After schools closed in March in Pakistan, TCF spoke with some of its teachers and principals to take their concerns into account while planning for an eventual reopening. Many TCF teachers and principals are proactively staying connected with kids and parents during school closures through regular calls and messages. Their primary concerns are student wellbeing, particularly students’ physical and mental health, and learning loss—all of which need to be kept in focus if schools are to work for all children once they reopen.

For many students, schools offer a temporary escape from harsh conditions at home—half of Pakistanis believe that parents beat their children more during lockdown. Some areas, disconnected from traditional information channels, still lack guidance about the disease risk; in some communities kids continue to play cricket on the streets like it’s a normal day. TCF principals and teachers, who continue to receive their salaries, have been providing information to children about how to stay safe from the virus, as well as providing emotional support so that kids are able to return to school once they reopen.

“Most children I talk to ask me when they will have their old routine back. They miss their school and class fellows,” says Naila Liaqat, a principal at a government school managed by TCF in Punjab. Another principal, Saba Parveen Kayani, at a different school in Punjab says, “When some members of our community were diagnosed with COVID-19, the student body was gripped by fear. I told my students to be strong, to wash their hands regularly, and to keep a physical distance from others to not only protect themselves but also those around them.”

A teacher at a school in Kasur, Punjab stands over a class doing work
Before schools shut down, a teacher at a TCF-operated government school delivers her lesson in Kasur, Punjab. Source: The Citizens Foundation

When TCF spoke with its faculty, the teachers and principals raised difficult questions about how to plan for reopening: If schools open in July, as currently scheduled, how will children walk three kilometers or more to school in the summer heat with temperatures soaring to 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius)? If schools open in August, how will teachers cover the entire syllabus by December when the government conducts the exams? It can take four weeks after the school year begins for textbooks to become available—how will learning happen without books?

“Since schools suddenly closed in March, I have been very worried about the future of my students. How will they finish the syllabus? How will teachers manage it?” says Sana Adil, a principal at a government girls’ primary school managed by TCF in Sindh.

Other teachers and principals raised concerns about whether government schools that TCF manages under public-private partnership arrangements (roughly one fifth of its total schools) will continue to receive a sufficient government subsidy, which is conditional on enrollment numbers and test scores, if students migrate back to their native villages or test scores are low. How will schools cope with the financial blow, and will teachers be laid off? While TCF’s diversified philanthropic base has meant that the organization has never needed to consider closing schools due to lack of financial support, the current economic recession comes around Ramadan, when TCF raises more than half of its total budget. In a recent CGD survey of frontline education organizations, close to three quarters of the respondents report a drop in private or philanthropic funding during the crisis.

TCF management has also been thinking about how to maximize learning once schools reopen despite the shortened academic year, which many teachers are understandably worried about. To that end, TCF has decided to cut down the curriculum in proportion to the reduction in academic hours while trying to maintain learning goals. This is possible because the government’s curriculum contains a lot of repetition and redundancy, as well as content that is disconnected from the development of literacy and numeracy skills. For example, students might learn about Abdul Sattar Edhi, a revered Pakistani humanitarian, in social studies, English, and Urdu books; or Sindhi and Urdu books will contain the same story verbatim. TCF is planning to streamline overlapping or repetitive content to ensure learning is maximized despite the shortened school year.

TCF is aware that despite these efforts, student scores will probably take a hit—TCF will not penalize teachers or principals for that. The organization’s primary goals remain prioritizing the physical and socio-emotional health of students and staff, and promoting meaningful learning as much as possible under these complex circumstances.

Luminos prioritizes re-enrollment, remediation, and resilience

In the coming autumn, the Luminos Fund plans to enroll a new cohort of students across its three programs in Ethiopia, Lebanon, and Liberia, pending safety assessment and local government guidance. Once schools reopen in Liberia, Luminos is preparing to deliver a specialized catch-up program for the cohort of students whose program was disrupted by COVID closures.

Given the uncertainty about how the COVID-19 crisis will evolve, when schools will reopen, or how long they will stay open, Luminos’s strategy is to stay responsive, flexible, and connected to developments on the ground. Three key priorities guide the organization’s reopening strategy:

  • Re-enrollment. Conduct outreach to the most vulnerable students to encourage re-enrollment.
  • Remediation. Assess students’ learning gaps and deliver targeted remediation to help children catch up.
  • Resilience. Strengthen school systems to weather future closures and disruptions.

Luminos’s Second Chance program enrolls some of the most economically vulnerable children who have missed out on schooling due to poverty or other barriers. These children are also at high risk of not returning to school once COVID subsides. Luminos tries to incentivize enrollment, for example, by offering school lunch in Liberia. However, there is a real worry that meals alone may not be enough to encourage families to send kids back to school—these children might now be needed to help at home or to contribute economically to the household, given the income shocks brought on by the crisis. Furthermore, those students who do make it back might have a hard time catching up on lost learning.

“Each one of my students will come back to school. Their parents are already asking about it,” says Blama, a teacher with the Second Chance program. “But I think when school reopens, some children will find it difficult to catch up.”

Two teachers lead students in a game at a school in Liberia
Luminos students and staff play a learning game before schools shut down

Luminos facilitators have continued to stay in touch with students and their families, which is essential to ensure that children return to school once they reopen. Facilitators, wearing personal protective equipment, visit students to review worksheets, check on their health and the health of family members, share educational radio program schedules, and more. In addition, Luminos teachers are planning for enrollment outreach and delivering catch up lessons to prepare for reopening.

As a part of these reopening efforts, Luminos is discussing how to manage distancing (for example, smaller class sizes and/or multiple shifts), school feeding, and more. In addition, socio-emotional support for returning students is a major concern. While Luminos already provides child protection and sensitivity training for its teachers and supervisors, it plans to train teachers to identify, support, and communicate with children who are struggling psychologically due to disruptions brought on by the pandemic.

It helps that Luminos teachers are still getting paid; some teachers haven’t been so lucky. However, there is no guarantee that Luminos will be able to keep paying teachers as COVID evolves. Donor flexibility has helped Luminos adapt its operations to the crisis so far, and the organization will likely continue to need flexibility through the next 6–18 months.

“Coming out of a crisis like COVID or Ebola, there’s a high risk that many children won’t return to school,” says Gbovadeh Gbilia, head of the Education Delivery Unit at Liberia’s Ministry of Education, adding that programs that engage communities and catch up children on learning gaps play a key role in the aftermath of a crisis.

Finally, Luminos realizes that building resilience within its school systems is hard but essential. In Liberia, COVID-19 is the second public health crisis in six years to cause prolonged school closures. In Lebanon, where Luminos also works, the current academic year has already been disrupted more than once: schools had already closed for weeks in the autumn due to political protests and civil unrest. Moving forward, school systems will need to develop the agility to close and reopen flexibly, and to pivot quickly to supporting learning at home when needed.


Next week we will look at how these organizations are addressing risks faced by some of the most marginalized groups of students.

Center for Global Development features Luminos in its series: “Diaries from the Frontline.” The series focuses on education organizations that are pivoting during COVID-19. Here is the first installment, which is also available at www.cgdev.org/blog/diaries-frontline-how-education-organizations-are-providing-food-and-relief-during-covid-19.

Impact and Insight: My Visit to Luminos Classrooms in Liberia

Impact and Insight: My Visit to Luminos Classrooms in Liberia

The Luminos Fund is delighted to feature this guest blog by Michel Al-Moumen, an Investment Analyst at Legatum.


In February, before the pandemic closed our borders and forced us into new ways of living, working, and innovating, I headed from my home in Dubai to Monrovia with six colleagues of mine. We were going to meet with a team of people who are lowering the barriers to education and the children who were being given a second chance because of it.  

Each year, a small group from Legatum goes out into the frontline to spend time with one of the many communities we work alongside. Doing so helps us understand more about the ways in which we can work best with those on the ground.  

Although my role within Legatum focuses on the investment area of our business (I’m one of three investment analysts), as a whole the company is positioned to provide people with the opportunities required to live a more prosperous life.

The community leaders we went to meet with work for the Luminos Fund, which is one of three private philanthropic funds that Legatum founded. Luminos launched in 2016, evolving out of six years of test programs in West Africa and Ethiopia.

While in Liberia (which, by the way, is such a beautiful and friendly place, with fantastic food!), I came to fully understand three things:  

1. Learning becomes our identity

The most powerful thing about Luminos’ Second Chance program was the enthusiasm and sheer determination of the kids in the classroom. The classes (which use accelerated learning techniques) were energetic, joyful, and expressive. What I appreciated the most was hearing the kids sing a song that went like this: “Everywhere we go, people want to know, who we are, and we tell them, Second Chance is our name!” I realized that this program was more than just an education for these children, it was their identity. To see the children building a community together, with Second Chance as the common thread, was a beautiful thing to witness. Having a strong identity is a powerful motivational tool and key drivers of hope and self-belief. 

2. We are all connected

At Legatum, we believe that we are all connected – if you suffer, I suffer. But that doesn’t mean we simply swoop in and try to solve things. Not at all. Instead, what we do is provide the capital, support, and ideas to help local community leaders, those who know and understand how to best serve their communities, drive change forward. When I met Abba and Alphanso, who run the program in Liberia, I saw first-hand how powerful this notion is. They were passionate, committed, and inspiring, and displayed a genuine desire to help get children back into the public-school system. It was their community and they were ready to devote their lives to improving the opportunities of those around them. 

3. Local government collaboration is key to sustaining change

On the second day, we met with the Honorable Gbovadeh Gbilia (known as “GG”) who heads Liberia’s Education Delivery Unit at the Ministry of Education and is Vice-Chair of UNESCO’s Education Commission. GG is the kind of guy that really inspires people – he has a radiant smile, is extremely articulate, and shows a genuine dedication and belief about education as a right of passage for all people. One thing in particular that really stuck with me was how GG characterized Liberia as a nation of “survivors:” Liberians were people who had survived years of a bloody civil war in the 1990s and early 2000s and the fear and economic damage caused by the Ebola crisis in 2014. This really struck me, but it also filled me with hope for the people of Liberia. Now, more than ever, Liberians have the chance to create the lives they want to live. 

The Second Chance program is a well-oiled machine. There is a strong system in place that engages the community, implements an effective curriculum to achieve functional literacy in a very short period of time (they use phonics and unique ways to identify words), and an efficient reporting structure between facilitators (teachers), program coordinators, and the Luminos team.  

Overall, the experience of being with our partners in Liberia was hugely impactful and insightful. Despite the economic circumstances that the Second Chance children and their families are in, the children had an amazing energy about them. You could feel that they recognized the opportunity was in their hands, and they had hope and excitement to make the most of it.

Michel (left) joins a lesson with Second Chance students. Alphanso Menyon, Luminos Program Coordinator, is standing in yellow.

Center for Global Development Diaries from the Frontline: Distance Learning for Offline Children

Center for Global Development Diaries from the Frontline: Distance Learning for Offline Children

This blog is the second installment of Center for Global Development‘s new series: Diaries from the Frontline. The blog is available at www.cgdev.org/blog/diaries-frontline-distance-learning-offline-children and included below.


Diaries from the Frontline: Distance Learning for Offline Children

By Maryam Akmal, Marriam Musa and Maretta Silverman

With schools out, countries around the world are grappling with distance learning initiatives to keep kids learning and engaged. Distance learning is a big challenge in low-tech environments where children have minimal access to digital media, though many digitally advanced countries are struggling as well. According to CGD’s COVID education policy tracker, only 29 percent of low-income countries are providing some kind of distance learning program for their students. But even in low-income countries that do have distance learning programs, many students might be left out due to poor access to the TV, radio, or internet. For example, a new survey from Kenya suggests that only one in five children are accessing online learning during school closures. In addition, language of content, access to books at home, and parental literacy and involvement can further exacerbate inequalities.

In the second post in our “Diaries from the Frontline” series, we continue to examine how frontline education organizations are adjusting to the crisis. Last week we took a look at how The Citizens Foundation (TCF), which operates more than 1,600 primary and secondary schools in urban slums and rural communities in Pakistan, and the Luminos Fund, which  provides accelerated learning for children who have missed out on school due to poverty, crisis, or discrimination in countries including Liberia, shifted to providing food and relief to families. In this post, we examine how TCF and Luminos are supporting distance learning efforts for the students they serve.

TCF’s Ilm Ka Aangan TV Show in Pakistan

Less than a month after Pakistan closed schools, the prime minister announced a new state television channel dedicated to lessons aligned with the national curriculum, PTV TeleSchool. It was the first time in decades that Pakistan had a local language children’s TV channel. Television was a natural choice. Roughly two-thirds of households in Pakistan own a television set. In contrast, the percent of households that have a radio and internet connection are 6.4 percent and 11.8 percent respectively.  While TCF has found its teachers taking the initiative to use a variety of media, including WhatsApp, SMS, and word-of-mouth to ensure the continuity of learning in communities it serves, television stands out as a medium to reach and engage a large number of children from schools throughout the country.

Now came the harder question: how do you get school from a TV? For TCF, the answer was simple: You don’t. Lessons from education response efforts in West Africa after the Ebola crisis emphasize that education’s primary role during a crisis should be that of positive engagement, mitigating psychosocial impacts of the disaster, and establishing routine—not just ensuring the continuity of academic learning.

In response to the government’s call for academic content for the TV channel, TCF adapted its play-based curriculum for a new filmed-at-home-but-made-for-television show, Ilm Ka Aangan (The Courtyard of Knowledge). The content focuses on building functional literacy and numeracy through engaging activities, with a key focus on socio-emotional learning.

Figure 1. TCF’s Ilm Ka Aangan uses play-based learning and storytelling to keep children engaged

Source: The Citizens Foundation

The show uses storytelling, which can be an effective way to not only cultivate literacy and social skills, but also explain concepts from science and social studies while keeping kids engaged. For example, the story “Emaan the Scientist” is about a little girl who wants to fly, and illustrates the scientific method. After several failed attempts, her mother reassures her that if she keeps experimenting, as scientists do, then someday she will fly. Eventually, she does, with a hot air balloon. The protagonist, along with the show’s host, also offer positive role models for little girls watching. Despite the effectiveness of storytelling, only 3.5 percent of kids in Punjab have 3 or more books to read at home.

Recognizing that children of many ages are watching at once, the show’s content is multi-grade with a focus on basic concepts targeted at ages 5-10. This is in contrast to other distance learning content being aired in Pakistan right now that is structured in a grade-wise manner—despite the fact that many students are already behind their grade level. Data from the Annual Status of Education Report suggest 75 percent of grade 3 children in urban Pakistan cannot read a simple story in their local language at the grade 2 level.

The learning doesn’t stop once the show ends. The host assigns “homework,” for example playing a game to learn a concept or solving a math problem. However, the most popular homework is the host asking children to submit a drawing based on the episode.

The day after the launch, the show received 20,000 text messages from a wide range of urban and rural areas, a response that has fed into how the program is evolving. Since the most marginalized children will not have access to TV, mobile phones, or electricity, including most of the communities that TCF serves, the organization is also piloting a purely offline version of Ilm ka Aangan: an edutainment magazine focused on building early grade skills through do-it-yourself activities, stories, and comics, which can be exchanged with teachers via drop-off points, such as grocery stores. Anticipating that school closures may be extended, TCF is designing similar magazines for secondary school students. For now, Ilm Ka Aangan, through television and the offline magazine, seems to be providing much needed engagement, learning, and a sense of routine for millions of children stuck at home.

The Luminos Fund’s Efforts to Support Learning at Home

After schools closed in Liberia, the government launched a radio schooling initiative. Unlike Pakistan, Liberia has a relatively higher rate of radio penetration and lower rate of TV access. Roughly half of households possess a radio, whereas roughly one-fifth possess a television and approximately one-tenth of the population has access to electricity. However, that means that while radio schooling is more scalable, half of Liberian households still may not have access. And even among those households with access to a radio, children might not have access to learning materials such as books and stationery.

Luminos has sought to provide access to some of those learning materials. In late March and early May, Luminos distributed learning materials to hundreds of Liberian students for home-based learning, including readers, math workbooks, pencils, and pencil sharpeners, as a part of relief packages that also included soap and detergent for students’ families.  Through this process, Luminos facilitators found that in most cases, the materials they provided are the only books the family has.

A student in Liberia receives her learning material to continue studying at home
Figure 2. A student in Liberia receives her learning material to continue studying at home

Radio or texting might work elsewhere,” says Abba Karnga, Jr., Luminos program manager for Liberia, “but not where we work. Most of our parents don’t have radios, and kids shouldn’t gather around one anyway due to distancing. If we sent a text, many of our parents couldn’t read it. The best thing Luminos can do is distribute the readers, worksheets – learning materials – for students to work on at home, speak to the families, and then for our facilitators or supervisors do their best to monitor.”

Apart from providing textbooks, Luminos Fund facilitators have tried to stay engaged with students and ensure that they are using the learning materials. Varney, a facilitator who lives and teaches in a rural village in Bomi, walks by students’ houses—at a distance—to tell them the lesson for that day and to ensure that children are using the books. Then, that afternoon or the next day, he checks to make sure they have completed it.

One father, who is literate, says of the Luminos reading materials, “My daughter can read the whole book now. Even last night she was working on it.”

The initiative has had challenges. First, not all facilitators are able to check in with their students, especially those who live in faraway villages. Second, distributing materials in remote communities is time-consuming and can be stressful when local community members are suspicious of visitors wearing medical masks and personal protective equipment, especially due to heightened distrust of others from experience with Ebola.

Despite these efforts to promote distance learning, facilitators and parents have expressed concerns that students will fall behind, especially students who were struggling already. For now, everyone is worried about what will happen to this particular cohort of students, and eager for the virus to pass so schools can reopen and life can return to normal.


Next week we’ll take a look at what TCF and Luminos teachers are doing and how operations are being sustained during the crisis.

Center for Global Development features Luminos in its series: “Diaries from the Frontline.” The series focuses on education organizations that are pivoting during COVID-19. Here is the first installment, which is also available at www.cgdev.org/blog/diaries-frontline-how-education-organizations-are-providing-food-and-relief-during-covid-19.

Center for Global Development Diaries from the Frontline: Distance Learning for Offline Children

COVID-19’s impact on our classrooms and mission

“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.

UNESCO reports that the number of children out of school due to COVID-19 has surpassed 1 billion. With roughly 9 out of 10 children out of school globally, Luminos students, parents, and communities are not alone in the vast challenges we currently face. However, crises like COVID-19 impact vulnerable populations disproportionately and there will be a long road to recovery. Our work at Luminos has never been more important.

Center for Global Development is featuring our COVID response in their new series, “Diaries from the Frontline.” Read more here.


We welcome your comments and questions at info@luminosfund.org or @luminosfund. Thank you.


Our team distributes learning materials in Liberia – March 2020
Seeking an antidote to Learning Poverty

Seeking an antidote to Learning Poverty

In 2019, the World Bank introduced the concept of Learning Poverty to measure when children are unable to read or understand a simple text by age 10. In poor countries, the Learning Poverty rate is as high as eighty percent. Often excluded due to poverty, conflict, or discrimination, these children are at risk of being forgotten or ignored as they are assumed to be uneducable. These are children like 13-year-old James in Liberia.

“I used to feel bad when I was out of school and could see my friends go to school. I cried,” says James, a student in the Luminos Fund’s program. “Now, my brother and I do homework together.”

“When I grow up, I want to be a journalist because I want to talk about my country,” he adds.

The Luminos Fund in Liberia

Liberia’s struggles are well known. The country ranked 181 (out of 188) on the UNDP’s Human Development Index for 2018, there is a 64% poverty rate, and the World Bank estimates that one third of Liberian children are stunted. And yet, amidst these challenges, Liberian children are learning to read in Luminos Fund classrooms at one of the highest rates on the continent.

Since 2016, the Luminos Fund has worked in Liberia to scale up Second Chance, an accelerated learning program that supports children like James to become literate and numerate in 10 months. We now operate across four counties. Many students in our Liberia program are first-generation readers and have been out of school, so the opportunity to learn to read is especially meaningful for their families and themselves.

According to Luminos external evaluation results from last year (2018/19), the average Second Chance graduate in Liberia identifies 39 familiar words per minute (wpm). This is up from essentially zero at the beginning of the program. Definitions of functional literacy vary and may include reading comprehension, like the World Bank does. Luminos sets a target of 30 wpm or more. By this measure, Luminos students are achieving functional literacy within our 10-month program. To put this in perspective, merely 21.1% of Grade 3 and 5.8% of Grade 2 students in Liberia can correctly identify this many words per minute (Ref. USAID Early Grade Reading Barometer, Liberia, Familiar words sub-task, 2013. https://earlygradereadingbarometer.org/liberia/results).

Luminos students are achieving functional literacy within our 10-month program

Our recipe for success

In Second Chance, Luminos applies the best global knowledge regarding what’s most effective for first-generation readers and reimagines it for the Liberian context. Through a joyful and phonics-centered curriculum, classes capped at 30 students, 8-hour school days, and locally developed reading materials, we enable children to become independent readers. In a Second Chance school day, on average, five hours are spent on literacy. Children see themselves in the texts and reading is presented as an integral part of the world around them.

We use a structured approach to phonics to ensure students build the requisite skills to read by the end of the program. We try to strike a balance between direct instruction, which is essential to teach the technical aspects of reading, and activity-based learning, which is at the core of our pedagogy. Students practice using Elkonin Sound Boxes and Blending Ladders, as well as finger tapping as a multi-sensory way to learn spelling and syllables. We are streamlining the process wherein teachers give students weekly timed reading assignments and remedial support is provided to the bottom performers. Our goal is to not leave any child behind as a reader.

We use locally developed reading materials in Liberia, such as this story about “The New Girl”

We believe a structured approach, supplemented by honest, regular feedback as well as space for creativity, is key to success. We created detailed guides for our teachers to provide them with daily guidance on technical aspects of the curriculum while also providing intervals wherein they can innovate and design appropriate activities for children. This helps keep teachers motivated and in charge of the learning happening in their own classrooms.

Additionally, we provide weekly coaching and supervision in the classroom, conduct regular teacher training workshops, and are proud to partner with the Liberian Ministry of Education (MoE). For example, the MoE provisions some classroom space to Luminos and we train MoE officials on our Second Chance pedagogy.

What’s next?

More than seven thousand Liberian children have learned to read through Luminos programs: children who now have a pathway out of learning poverty. Ninety percent of Luminos students transition to mainstream school at the end of the program. We have trained 350 teachers and government officials at the district and regional levels.

Key opportunities and challenges lay ahead as we build our program and experiment with new routes to scale in Liberia, such as working more with overage students (i.e., children in school but years behind their correct grade level). We are immensely proud of our program to-date, but recognize that ongoing, urgent work remains to build our evidence base in Liberia. Our team is eager to expand upon the successful programming and strong relationships we have established to help more Liberian children, like James, realize their dreams of learning – and learning to read – in a joyful classroom environment.


“As Liberia works to provide all children a quality education, we are pleased to have non-government organization partners, like the Luminos Fund. They are working to ensure those who have missed out on an education get a second chance to learn. It is such vital support here in Liberia where for many out-of-school children the second chance to learn is a first chance at an education. Partners like Luminos align well with our national vision for education.” — Professor Ansu Sonii, Minister of Education, Liberia

71 Commercial Street, #232 | Boston, MA 02109 |  USA
+1 781 333 8317   info@luminosfund.org

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

Privacy Policy

We use cookies in order to give you the best possible experience on our website. By continuing to use this site, you agree to our use of cookies.
Accept
Reject