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As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to challenge communities across the globe, the prospects for the world’s most vulnerable children are somber. We know that one third of schoolchildren globally have not been reached by any remote learning during COVID-19 (UNICEF) and even three-month school closures can cause students to fall one year behind (NWEA). New research predicts that COVID-19 school closures will cost students up to $15 trillion in lost future earnings (IZA Institute of Labor Economics). Other new studies predict that at least seven million children are now at risk of dropping out of school completely (World Bank, Save the Children). And this is on top of the fifty-nine million children of primary-school age who were already out of school worldwide prior to the pandemic.
While this year exacerbates inequality across the globe, the Luminos Fund team is more dedicated than ever to our mission helping girls and boys learn to read and do arithmetic in our joyful classrooms, and continue their studies in their local village schools. Our key focus during this crisis is to keep our students safe and connected to learning. Our team never stopped pushing and, this fall, our classrooms are beginning to reopen. Read more about our efforts and plans in Ethiopia, Liberia, and Lebanon on the next pages.
In Ethiopia, the Luminos Fund is operating micro-classes, supporting distance learning, and partnering with government.
On March 16th, Ethiopia mandated the closure of all schools, impacting more than 26 million learners. Luminos continues to explore all available options for resuming learning safely for our children and understands the need to be agile while adhering to the guidelines laid out by the Ethiopian Ministry of Education (MOE). This year, the MOE’s growing need for proven alternative learning solutions—like Second Chance—is creating an even greater opportunity for the government’s adoption of our model beyond what is underway. There is significant appetite from education stakeholders in Ethiopia for technical expertise from Luminos and its partners on condensing curriculum, teacher training, and improving learning outcomes.
Our 2019-20 cohort of students
When schools closed, Luminos pivoted to supporting students with home-based learning through the distribution of learning resources and the creation of a digital learning portal for Luminos and its partners to share resources across regions. SMS-based contact helped ensure direct communication with families during the pandemic, and from May to July, we ran outdoor micro-classes of 4-6 students. Facilitators received guidance on micro-classes and ongoing virtual training and support from Program Supervisors and Luminos partners. Luminos also supported the MOE’s COVID-19 education response with staff as active participants in the Education Cluster and through one-on-one advising with key MOE officials. We continue to explore MOE partnership opportunities to reach even more children through our Second Chance model. All schools in Ethiopia plan to open by the end of November, and all Ethiopian students—including our 2019-20 cohort—will be promoted to the next grade for the start of the 2020-21 academic year.
Our 2020-21 cohort of students
In the 2020-21 school year, Luminos expects to reach 1,300 children directly through Second Chance education, and thousands more through government adoption. As noted, all schools in Ethiopia plan to open by the end of November. Our staff continues to work extensively with government partners across national, regional, and local levels to finalize plans for the 2020-21 government adoption program, which aims to equip the government to implement Second Chance in conventional government primary schools across Ethiopia.
In Liberia, the Luminos Fund is operating micro-classes (up to seven students and a teacher, physically distanced), supporting distance learning, and partnering with government.
Schools across Liberia closed in March. Luminos continues to explore all available options for resuming learning safely for our children. We understand the need to be flexible to respond to students’ and families’ needs while adhering to guidelines laid out by the Ministry of Education (MOE). The Luminos Fund launched in Liberia in the aftermath of Ebola, when approximately one in four Liberian children did not return to school, and we are keen to apply lessons from that time to the current crisis. Strategies like micro-classes keep children engaged in learning and help ensure they enroll when schools resume. As challenging as it has been to get these classes off the ground and ensure learning is happening, we are encouraged that we have positively engaged our children and kept up their enthusiasm for school.
Our 2019-20 cohort of students
Our primary focus has been the safety and health of our children and communities. Our US team actively participates in weekly MOE, Education in Emergencies Zoom meetings. Given only 12% of the Liberian population has access to electricity, we adopted a low-tech approach to ensure our 2019-20 students remain connected to the learning process by distributing worksheets, English readers, writing materials, and workbooks. Currently, Luminos is running outdoor micro-classes of 6-7 children, covering key foundational literacy and numeracy concepts. We anticipate students will transition to government school for the start of the 2020-21 school year in December. Since March 2020, Luminos has also supported its communities with WASH stations and food supplies. Even procuring basic items such as bags of rice proved challenging as most of the stores had run out of supplies. Our team worked incredibly hard on the ground to source the required permissions to cross county borders during lockdown and complete the necessary distributions.
Our 2020-21 cohort of students
We are planning for the 2020-21 cohort and forecast that we will be able to resume classes, with certain restrictions, in January 2021. Luminos will reach 2,400-2,800 children across Bomi, Montserrado, and Grand Cape Mount counties. We are updating our curriculum for the new school year to include psycho-social support for children, both in school and at home, in response to COVID-19. We anticipate continuing to support students with an element of home-based learning in the 2020-21 academic year.
In Lebanon, the Luminos Fund provides educational programs for Syrian refugees.
This year has been uniquely challenging in Lebanon, between political and economic strife, COVID-19, and the massive explosion that shook Beirut in August. Lebanon is dependent on imports and the destruction of the port has led to widespread shortages of medicines, baby formula, and other essentials. Luminos continues to explore all available options to help our students learn safely. We are working to be flexible and agile to respond to students’ and families’ needs while, at the same time, adhering to guidelines laid out by the Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MEHE).
Our 2019-20 cohort of students
Luminos pivoted to providing e-learning options to children within a few weeks of school closures. Curriculum-aligned educational videos, including lesson explanations, stories, rhymes, and songs, were shared 3-4 times per week. These videos covered the core subjects Science, Math, English, and Arabic. Teachers shared videos with learners through WhatsApp groups and followed up directly with learners through phone calls and WhatsApp messages.
While dealing with the macro-challenges in Lebanon, the team on the ground has been trying to find the best possible means to remain connected with children and their families. Our partners have responded nimbly to the Beirut blast by supporting children with school supplies, volunteering to clear the rubble, and providing emergency relief materials to effected communities. We’re incredibly grateful for their hard work.
Our 2020-21 cohort of students
We are planning for the 2020-21 cohort on the assumption that we will be able to resume classes, with certain restrictions, starting in November. We have invested in more established e-learning platforms to better structure the remote learning process for 2020-21. MEHE published an academic calendar that states that schools will reopen by first week of November for all grades in regions where there is no lockdown. Currently, student registration for the 2020-21 school year is ongoing for both Lebanese and Syrian children in public schools. In the 2020-21 school year, Luminos expects to reach 1,300 children across Mt. Lebanon, Beqaa Valley, and Beirut. We anticipate all students being promoted to further education.
The Luminos Fund’s Second Chance program, an accelerated learning program for out-of-school children also known as Speed School, is one of the world’s leading innovations in K12 education according to Finnish education nonprofit, HundrED. During this week’s HundrED Innovation Summit, Luminos was selected as a member of the HundrED 2021 Global Collection.
The annual Global Collection highlights 100 of the most impactful innovations in K12 education from around the world. HundrED’s goal is to help pedagogically-sound, ambitious innovations spread and adapt to multiple contexts across the globe. While there has been remarkable disruption in global education this year due to COVID-19, we at Luminos are inspired by our fellow education nonprofits across the globe as they have rapidly developed new ways of teaching and learning. This marks the fourthconsecutive year that the Luminos Fund has been honored by HundrED, starting in 2017.
This year’s HundrED Global Collection includes innovations from thirty-eight countries.To make the Global Collection, the HundrED research team compiled a list of over 5,000 innovations from over 110 countries. After this initial survey, 150 Academy Members—consisting of academics, educators, innovators, funders, and leaders from over 50 countries—reviewed a shortlist of innovations. In total, there were 3,404 reviews by the Academy based on each innovation’s impact and scalability that were then evaluated by HundrED’s Research Team to make the final selection.
In the words of Luminos CEO Caitlin Baron, “Over this past year, the hard work and creative problem solving of our staff to ensure children still get a second chance to learn has been truly humbling and inspiring. We are honored to be a part of the HundrED Global Collection for the fourth year running.”
Once again, the Luminos Fund’s program was chosen due to its pioneering status and ability to create a scalable impact. Since 2011, Speed School (known outside of Ethiopia as Second Chance) has worked in partnership with Ethiopian NGOs to enable more than 122,062 children in Ethiopia to get a second chance at education. Over 90% of the children who start the Luminos program transition successfully to their local village school. External evaluations show that graduates of our program complete primary school at twice the rate of their peers. In 2016, the program expanded to Liberia where it reaches thousands more children every year. During COVID-19, Luminos pivoted our programs quickly to support our students learning at home with remote learning resources and through “micro-classes” (small, distanced groups of students). In addition, Luminos is providing relief to vulnerable families and communities and strengthening our collaboration with Ministries of Education.
Lindsey Wang is a 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 MITand is currently pursuing a Master in Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School.
Why build a data dashboard?
COVID-19 has interrupted students’ learning all around the world. Now, more than ever, the international education community needs effective tools to analyze data in real time and spur equitable solutions to close learning gaps. As Luminos’ Program Analyst, I ensure that rigorous data collection and analysis are at the foundation of program management and support efficient service delivery because, in the end, each data point represents an individual or a community. With over 1 billion students slowly returning to school due to COVID-19 (UNESCO), we need faster feedback loops to identify and address learning gaps and better meet the needs of every student and family.
One year ago, I set out to develop a tool for program managers to leverage the wealth of data collected from the field to drive program delivery. I sought to capture a real-time snapshot of the state of our Second Chance program by integrating both quantitative and qualitative data into our model, thus ensuring that vital institutional knowledge and first-hand observations could be shared across far-reaching geographies. Our solution: a data dashboard for program management with three simple objectives to help us monitor program results in real-time and deploy program resources more efficiently:
Monitor Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
Capture a holistic view of the program and drill down to granular insights
Identify struggling students and facilitators
A dashboard for program management
Given my past experience as an engineer applying user-centered design principles to develop products to support low-resource communities, I believed it critical that we prioritize our intended users (program staff) throughout the dashboard development process to ensure we built a tool that met their needs. To do so, I built iteration and feedback into the design process: at each stage of development, I solicited feedback and co-created elements alongside program staff.
My constant engagement with program staff in Liberia and within the Luminos HQ informed the creation of four distinct dashboard reports:
The Program Overview captures an up-to-date snapshot of the program by pairing student enrollment information with internal field reports and spot checks. Program staff can drill down and filter data by program year, region, and implementing partner.
The Student Assessments dashboard captures the distribution of scores for literacy, numeracy, and words per minute (WPM) in each phase and allows users to disaggregate data by region, implementing partner, student demographics, or classroom rating.
The Classroom Observations dashboard enables users to review a log of classroom observations from field visits conducted by program coordinators. KPIs include facilitator performance and internal measurements of attendance and words read per minute.
The Baseline and Endline dashboard compares the results from our external baseline and endline EGRA/EGMA surveys from the program level down to the individual student level.
Dashboards in practice
The potential applications of the dashboard are vast. Here is a taste of what I hope to achieve once this new tool is implemented:
Diagnose barriers: Imagine we notice a classroom in which most students scored below the program average. The dashboard allows us to examine this datapoint in context. Has there been an economic shock in the community that caused parents to withdraw their students to work? We can compare the performance of the classroom in question against other classrooms in the same or neighboring communities to determine if this is a shared phenomenon. Perhaps the issue lies with the facilitator. We can review the classroom observations logged by program coordinators over the prior weeks to determine if the facilitator is struggling to grasp the principles of Second Chance’s activity-based pedagogy.
Map trends: With data stored in a centralized database, we can combine external baseline and endline data with internal midline and phase-level assessments to create a picture of students’ learning trajectories.
Promote equity: Luminos disaggregates data by region, implementing partner, and student demographic information — such as gender — to promote equity in program delivery. The success of our Second Chance program has always depended on strong partnerships with leaders and advocates in the community who help us localize the program to meet students and families where they are. With this dashboard, we can easily assess how different sub-populations are performing and address their specific barriers to learning.
As Second Chance classes gradually reopen from months of school closures and interim distance learning efforts, our team is committed to supporting our students, classroom facilitators, and communities. I am currently training our program coordinators to use the dashboard to inform their management practices in anticipation of classes resume. We have already begun the orientation process and will dive deeper into each of the dashboard visualizations in the coming months. My hope is that eventually our program staff will bring their own creativity and curiosity to the dashboard and derive unique insights from the data.
So, you want to build a data dashboard….
Design is fundamentally an iterative process. Here are some of the lessons we have learned through many rounds of feedback:
Build for your end users: Who will use the dashboard, and how will they engage with the tool? User interviews and feedback testing are great ways to make sure you build something your users need rather than what you think they need.
Identify KPIs early: It is easy to try and incorporate too much into one dashboard. Enumerating your KPIs early will help avoid scope creep.
Address varying levels of data literacy: Make sure to assess the data literacy of your end users and tailor your dashboard to their comfort level with data visualizations.
Track your data sources: Especially as you begin to combine datasets, it is critical to track where your data come from, how and by whom they were collected and cleaned, and how often the data are updated.
If you’re interested in learning more about the development of the Luminos dashboard, please contact email@example.com.
The Luminos Fund is delighted to publish our 2019 Annual Report. To date, we’ve enabled 136,502 vulnerable children to receive a second chance at education – and this year was unlike any other. Our team is more committed than ever to ensuring children everywhere have the opportunity to learn and thrive, and to helping educators and governments in low-income countries develop the resiliency to weather powerful storms like COVID-19.
With over 1 billion youths out of school globally due to the pandemic, the Luminos Fund’s mission to help children get back to school is more important than ever. Our work was made for the task ahead.
In a sign of these strange times, my kindergartner had his first math class via Zoom recently. This was the first formal lesson since schools closed and families were eager to make the most of it. Parents hovered behind their children across our screen, talking over one another (and ultimately the teacher) as they implored their children to focus. Despite our good intentions, parental anxiety got the best of us. My son came away with little more than a headache.
For many families during COVID-19, having children out of school and needing to catch up on education is a new, stressful feeling. For millions around the world, being out of school or denied an education is a tragic, multi-generation reality.
I’m the mother of two young children and leader of the Luminos Fund, a non-profit that has educated more than 130,000 children who had been kept out of school by conflict and poverty.
To paraphrase Michele Caracappa of New Leaders: everything has changed due to COVID-19, except children’s capacity to learn.
Here are lessons from my work that I hope will give some peace of mind to fellow parents during these challenging, unprecedented times.
1. When this is over, kids can catch up. Children have a remarkable capacity to absorb new information from the world around them, and to progress quickly through curricula when the learning conditions are right. In Liberia, many Luminos students have no prior schooling and come from illiterate families. It’s estimated that one third of all Liberian children are stunted. Yet, despite these heartbreaking challenges, these girls and boys cover three years of school in just ten months — successfully. It’s alright if you haven’t transformed into a homeschooling pro. It will be challenging, but your children can catch up later.
2. Becoming a self-directed learner is a precious life skill. It’s also accompanied by growing pains. For children and adults alike, learning something new or achieving a goal on one’s own (and not because a teacher or coach is making you), is hard and takes initiative. Remind your kids of the long-term reward that comes from pushing through. It may be messy, but some degree of struggle and frustration for both parents and kids is part of the process. At Luminos, we call this “learning how to learn,” and consider it essential to boost a child’s future ability to thrive. Graduates of our program go on to complete primary school at nearly twice the rate of their peers.
3. Creative arts are important, especially in times of crisis. The weeks ahead will bring a great deal of anxiety for parents and children, and mourning in some families. Creative expression is a valuable, accessible way to help children process grief. Indeed, psycho-social support, like art and music therapy, is a central element of our program for Syrian refugee children in Lebanon, helping them to process the trauma they have experienced. I’m repeatedly amazed by the creativity — sometimes simple and sometimes heart-rending — that children pour onto paper. Create space for creativity.
4. It’s OK to revisit concepts that children have learned already. Reinforcing learning is as essential as covering new materials. At least for children in early grades, it’s not necessary to introduce new concepts while children are at home. At Luminos, we present each concept in multiple ways to help it take root firmly in children’s minds: linking what they learn in class to what they know of life beyond the classroom.
Our work teaches me that children have a remarkable capacity to catch up when given a second chance. It also teaches me that children outside of a privileged bubble don’t bounce back without support.
The reality is, the lives of my kids, and kids who are similarly privileged to my own, will ultimately return to normal. And they will be surrounded by the love and resources to bounce back from this disruption in their learning. My work with children halfway around the world with a fraction of the material support around them proves to me that this is so.
The long term challenge of this crisis then, is not for my family, but for families in parts of Africa and the Middle East whom Luminos is privileged to serve.
There’s an opportunity, and indeed an imperative, for parents living in a similar state of privilege to my own, to use the anxiety, frustration and uncertainty of this moment not just to build a protective wall for our own families, but to cherish the firsthand insight and empathy we now share with parents in the poor majority.
We never thought we’d find ourselves in a situation where these ideas are needed so much closer to home, in this time of solemn uncertainty and pandemic. But I find solace in knowing we’ll try to make the best of it for our children, families, and communities – just like millions of people in other parts of the world have done, and continue to do, every day.
Mubuso Zamchiya is Managing Director of the Luminos Fund
The Luminos Fund has discovered something special in “joyful learning.” That is the name we have given to our pedagogy – our approach to teaching and learning. At the core of joyful learning is the mission to help children acquire foundational literacy and numeracy skills. Especially marginalized children, who have missed out on an education because of poverty, crisis, or discrimination. But the magic of joyful learning lies in how skills acquisition actually takes place. It’s all in the relationship.
You see, the joyful learning journey is not primarily about
amassing facts and details. It is instead a process of discovery that occurs
through holistic connections. By connections, I mean that joyful learning is
far from an abstract exercise. It truly invites children to engage. They engage
with their own hearts and minds, with their peers and learning facilitators,
with their families and communities, and with the broader environment and world
By holistic, I mean that joyful learning invites children to
muster, master, and mobilize all their faculties as they connect and engage. They
bring their consciousness, their physical presence, their attributes, and their
strengths. They marshal their emotional intelligence and they harness their cognitive
competencies. They draw upon their social acumen and they share the fruit of
their creative flair.
When discovery is fueled by holistic connections, as
children act and respond to the stimulus of relationship, joy is both
inevitable and automatic. They, of course, appreciate the fun in Luminos’
Second Chance program. But their joy is the product of that special “aha”
moment when they realize that the ability to learn has been inside all along. What
they needed was a little help to unlock the light within them. And that is
precisely what joyful learning does. It helps children make holistic
connections with their intrinsic power to learn.
We see this in so many profound examples of learning and life at Luminos. In my opinion, most resonant among these is the way our classrooms in Lebanon use psycho-social support and art therapy to help Syrian refugee Second Chance students work through the incredible trauma of their dislocation. There is great power in the act of using one’s own creative flair to make connections between the past, the present, and the future; great freedom in finding expression for one’s thoughts and emotions. Our students do so, not only through spoken and written words, but also through the much more communicative dialogue of markers, Crayons, and paint. As a testament to their resilience, artwork by some of our Syrian refugee students was celebrated recently at Christie’s, a pinnacle platform for global art.
Elsewhere recently, there was a different-yet-connected
celebration of the arts. Just this week, global newspapers announced that
certain iconic statues of the Zimbabwe
Bird, which had been stolen during colonialism, are now being returned home.
As a person of Zimbabwean heritage, who, among other things, also writes about
Zimbabwean history, this news was a source of joy for me. There is no deep
comparison between the trauma experienced by Syrian children and the journey of
my early childhood. However, there is some small connection in our stories. I
was born in exile as my parents, members of Africa’s formidable freedom
generation, worked with their peers to bring independence to Zimbabwe. I
therefore have a modicum of experience – not equivalent to our students in
Lebanon, but a modicum nevertheless – of what it feels like to be dislocated.
The joy I have regarding the return of the Zimbabwe Bird
statues is intertwined with my appreciation for the reconciliation the gesture
forges with the past. Their repatriation provides Zimbabweans some degree of
closure on a historical puzzle board that still has many missing pieces. In my
thankfulness, as I absorb the significance of this moment, I find myself
thinking about the eleventh-century artists who chiseled, shaped, and shined
formless slabs of soapstone into these magnificent sculptures. I marvel at what
thoughts, plans, ideas, hopes, and aspirations they might have sought to
reconcile for themselves through the expression of their incredible art. These
sculptures have provided an entire nation a great gift lasting many centuries. It
makes me wonder what sort of education these sculptors would have experienced
as children to make their work so brilliant.
I think that is why I feel so privileged to work at the Luminos Fund. In personal terms, Luminos is a place where I can contribute to the work of reconciling Africa’s past with its future. In broader terms, Luminos is also a platform upon which I can participate in helping children across the world unlock the light of learning in their lives. I derive pride that, in joyful learning, Luminos unashamedly embraces the arts as essential connective fiber in the holistic tapestry of relational discovery. I am also glad that in some small way, Luminos is playing a part in helping our Syrian refugee children build lifelong, stone-strong legacies that – like the Zimbabwe Bird – will similarly stand the test of time.