The Luminos Fund is delighted to release its 2018 Annual Report. We’re working to ensure children everywhere get a chance to experience joyful learning, especially those denied an education by poverty, conflict, or discrimination.
In this Annual Report, we review 2018 through the lens of the Luminos Fund’s contribution to girls’ education. When girls get the chance to learn, they can positively transform their lives and those of their families.
Around the world, an equal number of girls and boys are out of school. Luminos programs prove you can give girls and boys a second chance at education right alongside one another — with great results. In fact, research shows that co-ed programs like ours may be one of the best ways to reach girls.
- 118,437 – To date, we’ve helped 118,437 children get a second chance at a good education, half of whom were girls.
- 10 months – Luminos delivers accelerated 10-month programs covering the first 3 years of school, with 4 times as many reading hours as mainstream school.
- 95% – Overall, 95% of children transition to mainstream school upon completion of our programs.
- 11,185 – In 2018, 11,185 children (46% girls) received a second chance education in Ethiopia.
- 1,615 – In 2018, 1,615 Syrian refugee children (43% girls) participated in our back-to-school programs in Lebanon.
- 3,150 – In 2018, 3,150 children (46% girls) received a second chance education in Liberia.
Read the full 2018 Annual Report here.
The Luminos Fund team extends sincere thanks and gratitude to our funders, implementing partners, government ministry allies, Board of Directors, advisors, and friends for joining us on this vital journey.
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Lindsey Wang, Luminos Program Analyst
Lindsey Wang is Program Analyst at the Luminos Fund where she is instrumental in program monitoring, evaluation, and reporting. She joined Luminos in 2016 as a Mechanical Engineering graduate of MIT and is entering Harvard Kennedy School this autumn.
I would like to tell you a story. In the Dargweh community of Liberia, West Africa, an 11-year-old girl steps into a classroom for the first time in two years. She attended school previously and can name a few letters of the alphabet but is unable to read even two-letter words. Years helping her mother in the market taught her to perform simple sums in her head, but she doesn’t know how to write any numbers. In her new classroom, she chants and claps alongside her peers, repeating the names of letters, their sounds, and words beginning with those letters. A. Ah. Africa. B. Buh. Bird. A letter. A sound. A word. She memorizes the pattern and steps to the front of the class to lead her classmates in song. Outside, she can hear toddlers from her community chanting along, drawn to the boisterous chorus rising from the cinder block building.
Ten months later, imagine returning to this one-room classroom in Dargweh to find that this 11-year-old girl now can not only identify all 26 letters, she can read entire paragraphs about Sammy and his sister Satta. She’s more than happy to tell you that if Yatta has 8 pencils and Abdul has 5 pencils, Yatta has 3 more pencils than Abdul. When she encounters an unfamiliar word, she holds out her left arm and taps it with her right hand, moving from her shoulder to her wrist, one tap for each phonetic sound: shuh, oh, puh. Shop.
In 10 months, thanks to her own tenacity and the Luminos Second Chance program, this girl jumped from near illiteracy to acing a second-grade reading comprehension assessment. Her progress is real, and we have the data to prove it.
As the Luminos Fund’s Program Analyst, I had the great fortune to attend the first week of Luminos Second Chance classes in Liberia in September 2018 and the final week of classes in June 2019. I observed similar advances in dozens of the children I met as I supervised the baseline and endline EGRA and EGMA assessments that measure the learning levels of a sample of students before and after our program. Our Liberian program team—Program Manager Abba Karnga and Program Coordinator Alphanso Menyon—diligently arranged for enumerators (the third-party professionals who conduct evaluations and capture raw data) to randomly sample five students from each of our Second Chance classes during the first week of school. At the end of the 10-month program, those same five students were given the same test by the same enumerator. These kinds of data enable Luminos to identify program strengths and the weaknesses we need to rectify for the next cohort of students. The baseline and endline evaluations are our report card, so to speak.
Everyone in international development knows that external, independent evaluations are essential, but we may underestimate what it takes to get it right. Leading up to my trip and on my flight to Liberia, I buried myself in lecture notes and slide decks from an evaluation management training I had attended until finally, somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean, I realized that no workshop would prepare me completely for the boots-on-the-ground experience of supervising an evaluation.
The lessons that have fundamentally shaped my approach to managing independent evaluations came not from lectures but from visiting classrooms and speaking with enumerators. Now, with the June 2019 endline evaluation completed, I can reflect on the entire process and share a few of those lessons here.
Pilot the survey instrument. Pilots may not always be possible due to time or resource constraints, but the experience of testing a survey with subjects before it launches is invaluable and will strengthen the actual evaluation. We were fortunate to pilot our survey instrument at a Monrovia government school a few days before the baseline evaluation began. Looking over my field notes, I have pages of scribbles even though our pilot took place during just one afternoon. I jotted down every mistake that enumerators came across in the survey and every set of instructions that students did not understand. I noted the names of enumerators I thought were particularly skilled at putting children at ease. Receiving test data collected during the pilot also made it easier for me to prepare an R script to run data checks on the actual evaluation data as they were received from enumerators each evening. This script was a critical time-saver and allowed me to respond swiftly to data discrepancies and issues that arose in the field.
The enumerator training prior to the September 2018 baseline evaluation
Build relationships with your enumerators. While piloting the survey instrument, I received the most insightful feedback from the twelve enumerators preparing to evaluate our students. Rufus noted that students seemed to struggle to read words, not because they didn’t know the words but because the font was too small. Sarah suggested that marking incorrect responses on a paper in front of the child may be discouraging which prompted the other enumerators to change their own processes and mark their papers under the table. During evaluations, enumerators have a front row seat to the students and can share more qualitative insights into students’ knowledge and behavior. At the endline, Margaret shared with me—with a beaming smile—that students seem much more confident in their abilities than they did at the start of the program year, something that wouldn’t have been clear from the data alone. One student, she reported, even corrected her as she tried to demonstrate how to break up a word into its phonetic sounds. Without this direct line of communication to the enumerators, I would have a less nuanced understanding of Luminos results.
Raise concerns early and often. I was nervous going into the baseline evaluation. Was I ready to be an authority on the Luminos program and supervise the enumerator team in the field? I had the Luminos leadership team’s support and they reminded me that, in that room, no one knew more about the program than I did. “Don’t hesitate to raise concerns,” they told me, so I didn’t. I disputed the phrasing of one of the questions. I stressed to enumerators the importance of putting students at ease and reassuring the children that their performance would not impact their enrollment in our program. It surprises me even now how easily the survey team and I fell into a good rhythm. I would observe the enumerators and recommend a change to the survey. The survey firm’s manager would adjust the instrument and the cycle would begin again. This ease is a testament to the survey firm’s professionalism and investment in conducting a rigorous, informative evaluation in service of Luminos’ mission.
Dive in (and be prepared to sweat the details). Did we edit the survey so that both addition and subtraction questions require numeric responses? Does every enumerator know that we will no longer be reading the examples for question 5? The night before the baseline evaluation launched, I caught myself drafting an email to the field coordinators with a few more observations from the pilot only to realize that the enumerators and field coordinators were probably asleep and wouldn’t respond to my emails at 3:00 a.m.! In the end, despite some sleep deprivation, the exhilaration of accompanying the survey into the field kept me motivated. After four hours of driving over pothole-ridden dirt roads – the same pace of work our Liberian colleagues keep every week – I would return to my room to start running data checks, keeping an eye out for enumerator errors and data inconsistencies. In evaluations, as in our Second Chance program as a whole, success lies in the details.
Sleepless nights, constant survey revisions, and many miles logged on bumpy dirt roads. Conducting evaluations can be tedious and time-consuming, expensive and exacting. Why do we do it?
Data drives decision-making and real-time program enhancements. When mid-year internal monitoring reports flagged that our students were struggling with language arts, the Luminos program team in Liberia acted immediately and restructured the curriculum around phonics. A few weeks later, when facilitators met for our semi-annual training, Luminos staff and curriculum consultants delivered a new training module in phonics that led to increased emphasis on literacy in the classroom. Real-time data collection and analysis enables efficient and agile program improvements. This process helps Luminos fulfill our commitment to deliver high-quality education to students in joyful, welcoming, safe, and instructive classrooms.
Lindsey crunching the evaluation data back in Boston
Data is key to achieving impact at scale. At Luminos, I have seen firsthand how a lean NGO-operated education program can evolve into broad, government-funded, and implemented education policies. In Ethiopia, where Luminos also runs classrooms, our academic research partners at the University of Sussex Centre for International Education have rigorously evaluated that program’s pedagogy, implementation, and long-term impact on students’ educational prospects. Excitingly, Ethiopia’s Ministry of Education has now adopted the Second Chance program model as a national strategy to reach out-of-school children, largely due to the rich body of evidence demonstrating our program’s impact. Going into the baseline/endline process in Liberia, I understood that for our Liberia program to follow a similar path to scale, we must produce another compelling body of evidence — beginning with this evaluation.
Not all NGOs are fortunate enough to have strong evaluation partners. Even when they do, evaluations can be expensive, especially for small teams. But, without data, how does an organization self-reflect, implement better strategies, and, frankly, attract more investment? Only through data-driven action, dialogue, and policymaking can the global community address systemic inequalities with sustainable solutions.
When you’re deep in the analysis process—trying to make sense of one thousand data points—it’s easy to lose sight of why data matter. Data is important because our decisions and policies have implications for real people. Data should be the foundation for policymaking, not only to scale effective programs more efficiently but because, in the end, each of those data points represents a person or a community. Remember the young girl who aced the second-grade reading comprehension test? I know her only as Student B014, but she is a reminder that these data we collect are more than a series of numbers. She is a person with dreams and aspirations of her own. She is a daughter. She is a friend.
This autumn, I am taking my experience with data-driven program management to Harvard Kennedy School in pursuit of a Master in Public Policy and will continue working at Luminos on a project basis. In my academic studies and career so far, I have approached international development as an implementor. At HKS, I look forward to bringing my implementer’s lens to the policymaking table. As I transition to this next chapter, I proudly carry with me the humanity and dignity that the Luminos Fund brings to its work, whether around a conference table in Boston or in a one-room classroom in Liberia.
“Imagine the power of 100,000 stories!” That’s what comes to mind for Ahmed Badr when he considers all the out-of-school children who’ve been given a voice through the work of the Luminos Fund.
Upon first impression, Ahmed is unassuming, quiet, likable, and inviting, with a confident boyish charm. He gives nothing away in his gait or demeanor. No clues to indicate anything other than normalcy in his past. He appears to be a regular guy just living an ordinary life. That is, at least until he tells you the extraordinary tale of his childhood.
Ahmed was born in Iraq. He remembers his feelings of excitement to stay the night at his grandmother’s house. When he was picked up by his father the next day, things felt different — something wasn’t right. Ahmed soon learned that his home had been bombed the night before by militia troops. The ripple effect of this devastation carried Ahmed and his family quite unexpectedly from Baghdad and into Syria as Iraqi refugees. Two and a half years later, they were in the United States building a new life.
There was something poetic about listening to Ahmed recount his story at the Norwood Club in New York City, on a frosty evening just a few weeks ago in January. He was surrounded by the inspiring artwork of Syrian children who, currently in Lebanon, are participants in the Luminos Fund’s refugee education program. Luminos is actively working in Lebanon because we believe all children should experience joyful learning, regardless of circumstances. We see art therapy as an integral component in redeeming the joyful journey of childhood after trauma.
“Art is expression. It is prose and poetry through paper and paint. It captures and carries the heart, the imagination, the soul, the very voice of each child. It transports them to us, to the very people who should hear and respond by recognizing them as individuals who matter. Art is agency. It is empowerment. It is story telling.” – Ahmed Badr
For Ahmed, agency, empowerment, and storytelling are the three legs of a sturdy stool. Together they provide a platform for displaced children – young people like him, like the Syrian refugees, and like the out-of-school children in Ethiopia and Liberia whom Luminos serves. A platform upon which they can stand and activate their own power and engage productively with the world.
If you have not heard him speak before, you should find an opportunity to listen. Ahmed’s outlook is refreshing. Although there certainly exists no shortage of geopolitical complexity in his existence as an Iraqi American, Ahmed feels no dissonance in the parts of him that represent his early years and his current life. Instead, he believes his different vantage points equip him with a unique voice, an instrument that can help the world convert its confusion into cooperation.
When he scans the room and imbibes the artwork of Luminos children, Ahmed sees victors, not victims. They have struggled, yes. Travailed unimaginable traumas. However, their knowledge, wisdom, and experiences make them vital voices in the great global discourse. They need to be heard so they can help the world step into the shoes of its better self. Ahmed’s current work, as a writer, speaker, social entrepreneur, and poet, is focused on accomplishing just that.
“What often happens is that people don’t think they have a story to tell. But everything changes when they begin to realize that one of their most powerful attributes is the very narrative of their lives. The work we should be doing – as educators, social entrepreneurs, and international development professionals – is elevating the voices of the displaced. And this is important: we should elevate them and not replace them.” – Ahmed Badr
Ahmed is on a crusade to help displaced young people feel valued, validated, and listened to. He wants to help activate the power that is already in them. Like the team at Luminos, Ahmed believes that the agency, empowerment, and storytelling that is born through joyful learning can help unlock the light in every child, so that every child can unlock light throughout the world.
“The creative offerings in the insights and imaginations of these children need to be seen and engaged, so that the world can truly see them and also itself. The work Luminos does – this combination of creativity and education – has an effect that will cascade across generations. As each child experiences joyful learning, they will take that seed and plant it in the heart of their present communities and in the spirit of their future children. 100,000 will impact millions. You can’t help but get excited about that.” – Ahmed Badr
Ahmed Badr spoke at the Norwood Club in New York on January 31st, 2019. He was the much appreciated guest of the Luminos Fund, at an event very generously hosted by Madeleine Schachter and supported by docents from Christie’s. The event showcased the artwork of Syrian from Luminos’ refugee education program in Lebanon. Discover more about Ahmed Badr and his work here.
Globally, the Luminos Fund has helped over 120,000 children get a second chance to learn.
2018 was a big year for us at the Luminos Fund. Through our Second Chance program, we were able to help 11,457 children get a second chance at a bright future. Children like Nathan and Mechan who, both at age 12, were able to rejoin their peers at school and find encouragement, support, and mentorship from teachers, family, and us.
Each child we are able to support has their own unique story about why they left school, be it financial limits, family hardships, or conflict. What’s exciting is that these stories no longer stop there. For example, an incredible 97% of our students in Ethiopia transitioned back into mainstream school after just 10 months catching up through our Second Chance program.
In 2018 we built upon the incredible success of the Second Chance program in a number of ways. In Ethiopia, we began partnering with the national government to train their teachers to implement our unique model of instruction. In Liberia, we built out a new child protection curriculum for children and parents. And in Lebanon, we expanded our arts education work, providing more ways for our refugee students to reflect on their arduous journeys through creative self-expression. The work across all three countries reflects continuous innovation within the context of our core values of providing joyful learning to children in some of the toughest corners of the globe.
Most importantly in 2018, we gained proof that the lives of children in our program are transformed for the long term. A six year external evaluation from the University of Sussex showed that graduates of our program are completing primary school at almost twice the rates of their peers.
We’re excited about these program developments because we know the economic impact that our work has. One extra year of schooling increases an individual’s earnings by up to 10% and the effect can be double for women according to UIS and World Bank. When we see that 97% of our students transition back to school, we know that with every year, their opportunities grow, as do their dreams. Subsequently, each additional year of schooling raises the average annual GDP by 0.37% (UIS).
While we love the numbers, we love the students even more. You can meet some of our students and read their stories, highlighting the resilience of the kids and families we work to support, and the commitment of Luminos Fund teachers, partners and donors. If you’re interested in hearing more about the kids we work with, the teachers who support them, and the next part of these kids’ stories, follow along on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.
Nathan, Mechan, and the 11,457 other children were given these opportunities thanks to the support and contributions of our donors. We can’t thank them enough for making our mission of giving children a second chance at education a reality.
Want to learn more about how rich education is possible, even in the poorest corners of the globe? Visit our website to learn, participate, and find out how you can help.
Thomas Hatch is a Professor at Teachers College, Columbia University and Co-Director of the National Center for Restructuring Education, Schools, and Teaching (NCREST). In December, he posted two articles with his reflections on Luminos’ unique approach to accelerated learning. These posts have been reproduced here with permission from International Education News.
Expanding Second Chance in Liberia and Lebanon
Second Chance’s efforts to carry out such an unconventional pedagogical approach in what are usually remote areas depends on building an alternative infrastructure for learning that incorporates local materials, training for local youth, partnerships with government schools, and support for parent self-help groups. Rather than creating this infrastructure itself – and growing a larger organization to do it – the Luminos Fund’s efforts to expand Second Chance build on the expertise, resources, and relationships that local implementing partners have already established. Those partners include NGO’s that have a record of accomplishment and a presence in the communities where Second Chance seeks to work. Luminos provides training, materials, guidance and oversight for the partners, but the partners hire and train facilitators, supervisors and project coordinators.
Second Chance’s expansion to Liberia uses this local approach to test the viability of program in what Baron described as an “under-resourced” context. Khosla was more emphatic: “It’s exactly the same program, but, oh my god, the challenges are so different.” Those challenges include an out of school rate in Liberia of over 50% for children of primary school age (compared to about 35% in Ethiopia); extreme poverty and a lack of basic necessities; an economy growing at about half the rate of Ethiopia’s; and public spending on education also at about half the rate of Ethiopia’s.
All of these factors contribute to much higher costs. With so little money for education, textbooks are scarce – roughly 1 textbook for every 28 students, according to Khosla. That means textbooks have to be imported and delivered to the schools, and the inadequate roads lead to high transportation costs that compound the problem. As a result, initial costs to set up a Second Chance classroom in Liberia run about $10,000 per classroom, where it only cost about about $6000 in Ethiopia. Although Luminos’ aims for a 300$ per pupil cost once the program reaches scale, the per student costs in Ethiopia work out to only about $150.
Early on in the work in Liberia, the staff also discovered that the impoverished conditions meant that many of the students were going through an entire day without food. As Khosla explained, “In Ethiopia they have a 1 ½ hour lunch break where they go home everyday to eat lunch and then go back. We thought the same model would work in Liberia, but there’s no food. “Kids were coming to school so hungry,” Baron added, “it was a fool’s errand not to address that need, but that means we are delivering rice and beans to mothers who are cooking food.” Baron pointed out that this “small” change in the schedule in Liberia introduces a whole new series of problems to be addressed – where to get the food, how to import it, how to prepare it – that requires establishing a whole new supply chain, with new job responsibilities and added costs. “And there are hundreds of weak points in the chain,” lamented Baron. For example, there are periods for traditional religious practices where it is unsafe for children to be out collecting the wood needed to fuel the fires for cooking. With no firewood, students can end up going several days without food, unless the staff at Second Chance make the local adjustments that enable he work inside the classroom to take place.
The difficult conditions and hardships in Liberia affect the Second Chance facilitators as well. For example, although initial assessment results in Liberia indicated that students’ literacy learning was far behind the students in Ethiopia, further analysis showed that the facilitators also had much lower scores on related literacy assessments than their peers in Ethiopia. Similarly, Khosla pointed out that the content of the training for the facilitators is quite basic “because the focus is on the early grades. But we are finding in Liberia that it’s not basic. There are still some issues that facilitators have with teaching parts of speech for example, so we are figuring out how we can fill some of those gaps in content knowledge.” These results are not surprising, however, given that the local youth the program relies on for facilitation have had to live through a series of wars and an Ebola crisis that interrupted their own schooling and development.
The transportation problems also complicate the training efforts; discouraging facilitators from getting together to share information, reflect on what they are doing, and address common challenges. Khosla explained, “If you have to deviate from the main road, then you are in the bush, and then you are in the bush for at least 10 miles to reach one school. So for us to tell the facilitators to meet up often is logistically impossible.” The Second Chance leaders solved this problem and the problem of distributing salaries to a widely dispersed staff of facilitators (who need to be paid once a month, in person, in cash, since they don’t have bank accounts) with one adjustment: they pay the facilitators at the end of the day, after they have attended their monthly learning community meetings. “It’s a good way to ensure they come to the meetings,” Khosla noted.
The initial work in Liberia revealed challenges for Luminos’ strategy of relying on local partners as well. In Ethiopia, Luminos’ has a team of five working with fourteen implementing partners managing a program of 20,000 children. In Liberia, the relatively small number of established NGO’s who have the capacity to serve as partners means more intense engagement for Luminos: a staff of three works with four implementing partners for a program (so far) of only 2000 children. The early stage of the work in Liberia also means that, as Khosla put it, neither the local partners nor the facilitators they have hired “know what a Second Chance classroom looks like, and what to aspire to.” Consequently, in the 2018-19 academic year, Luminos created 4 Second Chance programs to serve as “centres of excellence” with model classrooms so that facilitators, partners, and even government officials can come and see the program in operation. Given the need for all these adjustments, the initial rate of expansion in Liberia may well be slower than it has been in Ethiopia.
Despite these challenges, Luminos chose to work in Liberia because of the possibilities and assets that it found there. With Liberia’s small size, Baron, Khosla and their colleagues have good relationships with a government working to re-imagine education and other sectors of the society. That may create opportunities to influence government policies, for example, enabling facilitators to get a license to teach in government primary schools after they go through the Second Chance training. “That would put facilitators in a really good spot to get placed in a government school,” Khosla said. It would also create a powerful incentive for local youth to get Second Chance training and provide an entry point into government classrooms for Second Chance’s pedagogical approach. These kinds of possibilities, along with the fact that English is the official language, means that, if Second Chance is successful in Liberia, it may have more of a chance of being picked up by the government and scaled throughout the country than in Ethiopia.
The latest opportunities for expansion have taken Luminos to Lebanon, where the crisis in Syria has produced the largest recent wave of refugees and out-of-school children. In Lebanon, the conditions for refugees are extremely difficult, but the Lebanese government has its own well-established programs for accelerated learning. However, English and French are the languages of instruction in the government schools and accelerated learning programs, but most of the refugees speak Arabic. To respond to this situation, Luminos has shifted its focus to use its active learning pedagogy to help refugees make the transition into the Lebanese accelerated learning programs and then into the government schools. .
Moving forward: Building infrastructure and adapting to local conditions
Establishing an alternative infrastructure for learning – or, where possible, grafting it onto and into the local educational system – reflects a clear theory of action: this “second chance” for children to catch up to their peers and transition into primary school at grade 4 constitutes one of the most powerful and cost effective ways to substantially increase educational access. In continuing to pursue this theory of action, Second Chance’s expansion depends on far more than replicating a program “with fidelity.”
For one thing, Luminos has to pay attention to the larger context in which their work on education in the developing world takes place. That means recognizing the fact that priorities have shifted from a focus on increasing access by 2015 (in the Millenium Development Goals) to ensuring quality in education by 2030 (in the Sustainable Development Goals). As a consequence, Luminos needs to talk about the program differently so that those funders who are now working on quality can see the value of the Second Chance approach.
Luminos also has to be responsive to the local contexts in which they work. As Khosla acknowledged “Second Chance cannot just be plopped down in any regulatory environment.” Second Chance needs to find the right “fit” in contexts that provide the model with what the psychologist Lev Vygotsky called a “zone of proximal development”: places with both substantial need for accelerated learning and enough support and resources to take advantage of Second Chance’s alternative infrastructure for learning.
When it finds the right fit in places like Liberia and Lebanon, Luminos then works to stay true to its theory of action. On the one hand, that means remaining focused on key issues and opportunities for accelerated learning that gave rise to the model in the first place:
- What capacities do children need to succeed in the “regular” school system?
- What enables and motivates “over-age” students to stay in school?
- Who has the will and the skill to support and sustain the success of the classroom approach?
- What connections will ease and sustain the transition into the larger school system?
- What mechanisms will enable parents and community members to embrace and support their children’s schooling?
- What local capacities and local organizations can provide a foundation and a “home” for expanding the program?
On the other hand, that means looking for the specific contextual differences and pursuing the problem-finding and problem-solving in each context that makes it possible to adapt. “Pay attention to “all the really small ‘last mile’ things” advises Baron, “things that may not seem so groundbreaking but nonetheless create a foundation for success and expansion. If you are more modest about what individual change you can make, you can have a bigger impact.”
— Thomas Hatch
Thomas Hatch is a Professor at Teachers College, Columbia University and Co-Director of the National Center for Restructuring Education, Schools, and Teaching (NCREST). In December, he posted two articles with his reflections on Luminos’ unique approach to accelerated learning. These posts have been reproduced here with permission from International Education News.
Accelerating Learning in Africa: The Expansion and Adaptations of Second Chance (Part 1)
Despite significant increases in educational access around the world, one out of eleven children of primary school age remain out of school. For adolescents, that proportion reaches one in six. Illustrating the depth of the problem, in Sub-Saharan Africa, the 21% out-of-school rate for primary school age children balloons to 58% for upper secondary school age children (the highest rate in any part the world). With global efforts to increase access stalling, UNESCO and the Global Monitoring Report conclude: “Targeted interventions are needed to reach the most marginalised children, such as the millions obliged to work, the girls forced to stay home and the families displaced by conflict… We can no longer only rely on ‘business as usual’ strategies based on more teachers, more classrooms and more textbooks”.
Accelerated learning programs, like Second Chance (formerly called Speed School), serve as one such targeted intervention. Second Chance aims to meet the needs of children from 8-14 years of age who have never been in primary school or who have dropped out of school for two years or more. The program covers the content of first, second and third grade in just 10 months and helps the students to catch up to their peers and transition into the public school system in third or fourth grade.
Second Chance works by identifying a region with a high number of primary school-age students who are not in school and then establishing Second Chance classroom of no more than 25 students and a teacher (or “facilitator”) in that region. Although this constitutes a relatively small “unit of implementation,” the results have added up. Launched in West Africa by the Legatum Foundation, the Strømme Foundation, and Geneva Global in 2007, what was then called Speed School reached over 100,000 out of school children in West Africa and Ethiopia by 2015. Building on that initial success, Legatum created the Luminos Fund to expand the program in Ethiopia and to other parts of Africa.
According to a 2018 study tracking Second Chance graduates in Ethiopia from 2011-2017, about 75% of the Second Chance graduates were still in school compared to 66% of a similar group of students who had attended government schools. Furthermore, the Second Chance graduates had higher aspirations to progress beyond primary education and were over 30% less likely to dropout than comparable students in government schools. With those results, in 2018 HundrED identified Second Chance as one of 100 inspiring global educational innovations and in 2017 the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE)recognized Second Chance as one of six awardees for their creative approaches to crucial education challenges.
As Caitlin Baron, CEO of the Luminos Fund notes, Second Chance “has evolved, as any successful model has to.” That evolution includes the development of several key program elements across contexts:
- An active-learning pedagogical approach
- The hiring and training of unemployed youth from the local community in Second Chance’s active-learning pedagogy
- Partnerships with “Link” government schools to help ease the transition of Second Chance students into the public system
- “Self-help” groups for parents to encourage them to keep their children enrolled in school
These key elements can be considered “micro-innovations” because they are practices and structures that are new to the contexts in which Second Chance works – but their success depends on the ways in which Second Chance adapts and responds to the specific needs and circumstances in those contexts.
Active learning for basic skills
“The thing I find truly unique,” Baron explained, “is that when you work in really low-resourced environments, the assumption is that to do anything at scale in education it has to be stripped down and dry and narrow and ‘just the facts’… But Second Chance is a model of very creative, play-based learning, carried out with teachers with minimal qualifications. It’s a powerful example of being able to do something pedagogically complex in a low-resourced setting.”
That pedagogical approach was one of the key developments that facilitated Second Chance’s expansion. Developed by Jeyachandran Madurendrum after he became the country director for Geneva Global in Ethiopia in 2010, Second Chance’s approach marries a focus on key skills in literacy and numeracy with an emphasis on active learning. As the Facilitator’s Guide explains it, students work independently and in groups on learning activities that involve handling and using objects and materials from the local environment, sorting, grouping, and experimenting with them, making observations, recording findings, drawing conclusions, making generalizations, discussing what they’ve observed and learned with peers and facilitators. This active approach stands in striking contrast to conventional classrooms in surrounding areas, which are often overcrowded, with students in rows and the teacher in front delivering a lesson. As Nikita Khosla, Senior Director at Luminos observes, “If you walk into a Second Chance classroom in Ethiopia or Liberia, you will see about 25 children sitting in groups of 5. There will be work on the walls. It might be mud walls, but you will see chart paper stuck to them. You’ll see alphabets made out of clay. You’ll see children using lot of local materials for math, or going outside for nature-based learning.” In the process, Second Chance seeks to create a place where children want to come to school. Fostering that kind of environment is particularly important given the challenges many of their students face in getting to school and in keeping them motivated throughout an eight-hour school day (with almost twice as much instructional time as government schools).
Khosla makes clear that Second Chance’s emphasis on developing relationships with children is another crucial ingredient to the approach. “When we have principals and teachers [in government schools] asking us why the children in Second Chance are happy, we tell them, we don’t hit children, we talk to them, we ask them how they are, and this is very different from the teacher led classrooms in conventional schools, so even a slight deviation of that is welcomed by the students.” Both the active-learning pedagogy and the relationships with students aim to prepare Second Chance’s students to be independent learners and to help sustain them throughout their school careers.
This approach responds specifically to the opportunities and challenges in the local environment in two key ways. First, the program treats the facts that the students are older and out of school as assets. As the Facilitator’s Guide outlines, they see these students as able to learn at a faster pace and over a shorter time span than younger children and as more motivated and enthusiastic about learning.
Second, rather than developing and delivering a stand-alone curriculum, Second Chance facilitators use the active learning approach to teach the content of the national curriculum where they work. This approach also allows the facilitators to use the textbooks and other materials created to support the national curriculum – content with which local most facilitators and local partners are already familiar. This choice also eases the transition of Second Chance students into government schools that are using the same materials, and it reduces the costs of having to produce their own materials substantially.
Hiring and training unemployed youth
In another move that takes advantage of local circumstances, Second Chance looks for facilitators who are unemployed youth who know the local language and have at least a 10th grade education. Khosla reports that although this group has “zero experience teaching,” they bring other assets: “they have a real hunger for learning,” Khosla notes, “And we’ve seen they are very open, and they really absorb everything like a sponge.” On the downside, these facilitators are familiar with the content, but the active learning pedagogy is entirely new. To help them take in such a novel approach, 21 days of training are spread across the 10 months of the program. That training focuses on the activity-based pedagogy and equips facilitators to develop their own lessons that are linked to the national curriculum, draw on the Second Chance activities, and utilize local materials. In addition to the training, Second Chance tries to cultivate a “professional learning community” by bringing together facilitators periodically to share their learning and discuss their challenges.
From Khosla’s perspective, two aspects of this approach help to motivate facilitators. First, they can get a job at only slightly below the salary of government teachers and at a good rate given their qualifications. Second, they have an opportunity to develop positive relationships with the students. “The facilitators talk about how happy and excited the children are, and that motivates them to employ the approach,” explained Khosla.
Establishing “Link” school partnerships
Recognizing the challenges that Second Chance students face in staying in government schools once they graduate, Second Chance now establishes relationships with “Link schools.” Link schools are government schools that Second Chance graduates may go on to attend. Through the partnerships, Second Chance seeks to build some understanding of the Second Chance approach among the Link school staff and to encourage the staff to welcome the Second Chance graduates. “If a school already has a classroom of 70 children in grade 4,” Khosla explains, “and now Second Chance sends 15 more children, the principal and teachers really need to be on board with accepting the children. So this is just a way for us to develop some good will.” To build that good will, Second Chance provides the teachers and the principal in the Link schools one week of training to expose them to the active learning model. In some instances, principals may also allow Second Chance to operate inside a Link School by using an empty classroom. With this arrangement, the students are already in a government school building; they get into the habit of going to the school; and the parents get to know where the government school is as well. Seeing the Second Chance children engaged and happy at school has the added benefit that it can lead principals and teachers to try to learn more about the approach.
Creating parent “self-help” groups
Second Chance has also grown to recognize the importance of engaging with parents to address some of the cultural and economic barriers that prevent some children from getting access to schooling. Economic barriers include things like registration fees and, in Liberia, “hidden” costs like the need to buy textbooks and uniforms. Beyond the costs, the prospect of lost labor and a lack of clear benefits from sending their children to school can also undermine parental support. Given these challenges, to complement their work in schools, Second Chance establishes self-help groups for mothers. These groups generally meet once or twice a month to encourage mothers to come up with income-generating activities like raising chickens or selling cassava in the market. As an incentive, Second Chance provides a small “cash-injection”, matching the money that the mother’s raise.
Khosla noted that a 2016 evaluation of the program’s expansion in Ethiopia led to the realization that they were not paying enough attention to the self-help groups. In response, they established a new position with a small stipend for a volunteer from the local community who helps to make connections and support the work of the group. The 2018 evaluation tracking the performance of a group of Second Chance students and a comparison group from government schools for six years highlights the importance of addressing these kinds of economic and cultural issues outside of school. That study shows that costs remain the biggest reason former Second Chance students drop out of school; however, the difference between the drop-out rate of the “richest” and “poorest” Second Chance students narrowed much more than it did for government school students. Although it is impossible to make causal links between the self-help groups and Second Chance outcomes, that same study also found that household assets of Second Chance students improved by about 45%, and the average livestock increased by about 53%, while the household assets and livestock average of students from government schools stayed almost the same over the six years.
— Thomas Hatch