BBC News Africa featured the Luminos Fund’s program in Ethiopia, highlighting how we address challenges of child labor by ensuring all children have equal access to joyful, foundational learning. Watch the segment to see inside our classrooms and hear from Dr. Alemayehu Hailu Gebre, Ethiopia Country Director & Regional Strategic Advisor for the Luminos Fund.
A summary of their report was also shared on the BBC News Africa Facebook page.
The profound learning crisis facing young children today is not one that any single organization or government can address alone. Bringing children back on the path of learning and strengthening education systems to keep them there in the long term will require innovative partnerships built on mutual learning and trust.
This belief was the impetus for a powerful peer-to-peer exchange between the Ministries of Education in Ethiopia and Ghana, facilitated by the Luminos Fund in July 2022.
A Holistic Approach
The Luminos Fund takes a holistic approach to education that works in tandem with all levels of society and is supported by a network of partnerships, including with ministries of education. Though these partnerships vary from country to country, they have common goals: strengthening education systems, sharing best practices, prioritizing mutual goals, and building capacity to bring joyful, transformative learning to millions of vulnerable children.
In Ethiopia, the government first began adopting the Luminos program into government public schools in 2017 with a small pilot of 35 classrooms. Today, the Ministry of Education (MOE) is implementing our approach across the school system, and as its preferred solution to reach out-of-school children.
Inside a Luminos classroom in Ethiopia, students work in small groups as their teacher, Tegistu, walks around to support students who need help. (Photo: Mekbib Tadesse for the Luminos Fund)
To accelerate this process, the Ministry created the Accelerated Learning Unit—to which Luminos provides technical support on curriculum development, strategies, and national education policy—to oversee the delivery of across government schools. Partnerships such as this enable Luminos to deliver quality education at scale while prioritizing an approach that puts the interests and needs of local communities at the center of decision-making. They also serve as a testament to the value of government partnerships in bringing about systems change.
In each program country, working closely with governments is key to ensuring the long-term sustainability of the Luminos program.
What Can Ghana and Ethiopia Learn From Each Other?
In addition to partnering with ministries of education on the delivery of the program, Luminos also convenes governments and other key stakeholders to champion proven education solutions and share best practices for scaling accelerated learning programs that ensure all children have equal access to joyful, foundational learning.
Luminos Ethiopia Country Director and Regional Strategic Advisor, Dr. Alemayehu Hailu Gebre, greets Mr. Francis Asumadu, Acting Executive Director of the Complementary Education Agency (CEA) for the Ghanaian Ministry of Education. (Photo: Obeng Baah for the Luminos Fund)
In July 2022, Luminos facilitated a learning visit for members of the Ethiopian MOE to explore our newest country program in Ghana and meet with their peers in Ghana’s Ministry of Education. This learning exchange was a unique opportunity to share best practices from Luminos’ flagship program in Ethiopia and bring visibility to the ongoing work within the education sector in Ghana. The visit included four days of highly productive workshops, meetings, and classroom visits. Here are three key takeaways:
1. There’s a strong desire for collaboration.
Both Ministries are keen to find innovative ways of strengthening government-to-government and multistakeholder partnerships, and leveraging these partnerships to provide quality education to out-of-school and marginalized children. Building relationships with other ministries and partners that are providing social services to the most vulnerable families will be critical to ensuring holistic, sustainable support for all learners. The Ghanaian and Ethiopian Ministries of Education are also keen to continue to forge collaborations on key sector issues including improving student retention and strengthening monitoring and evaluation within government schools.
2. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to program delivery and scaling.
To develop high-impact and contextually relevant education solutions to the learning crisis, catch-up education programs will need to be adapted based on the needs, capacity, and context of the communities they serve. Building and strengthening engagement with community-based organizations, parents, and other members of the community is key to ensuring the effective delivery of programs.
3. Accelerated learning programs must be aligned with national strategies, policies, and goals.
Rather than working in silos, nonprofit organizations and ministries of education must work together within a framework established by government, which can generate impact in both informal and formal education systems.
To tackle today’s education crisis, we must act together. Increasingly, our work with governments forms a fundamental piece of the puzzle in scaling our reach and impact. Through these partnerships, we are embedding effective accelerated learning and teaching strategies into the fabric of education systems and creating structures that ensure out-of-school children remain a priority for national education planning. It is only through deep, innovative partnerships with government, local communities, and key education stakeholders that we can truly transform education systems in service of the most vulnerable children.
In Ghana, Luminos regularly hosts parent engagement groups to help parents better understand the value of education and share in their children’s learning progress. (Photo: Obeng Baah for the Luminos Fund)
During the recent MOE learning visit, ministry officials from Ethiopia and Ghana were invited to attend a parent engagement meeting. (Photo: Obeng Baah for the Luminos Fund)
At parent engagement meetings, teachers and parents share any challenges they are experiencing with the group (for example, late attendance) and then discuss potential solutions. (Photo: Obeng Baah for the Luminos Fund)
After the parent engagement meeting, ministry officials joined students in the classroom to experience joyful learning for themselves. Facilitating exchanges such as this is one way the Luminos Fund works to build local ownership of our education programs and is part of our broader community-driven approach. (Photo: Obeng Baah for the Luminos Fund)
Across our programs, classrooms are taught by high-potential local young adults who are trained by Luminos. (Photo: Obeng Baah for the Luminos Fund)
Through efforts such as these, the Luminos program is shining a light on innovative new pathways in the education sector–for children, teachers, and families. (Photo: Obeng Baah for the Luminos Fund)
Kirstin Buchanan serves as the Development & Communications Associate at the Luminos Fund where she amplifies student voices and program stories, in addition to helping drive content, messaging, and fundraising strategy. She holds a MA in International Affairs and BA in International Relations from Boston University, as well as a certificate in Latin American studies.
Over 200 miles south from Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, a Luminos classroom is buzzing with learning.
Out-of-school children who either never enrolled in school before or dropped out are taking their second chance at education and running with it.
Mignot, a ten-year-old girl, is eager to share what she loves most about the classroom.
“My favorite activity is singing songs because I learn about so many things when I sing the songs. And I never forget the songs, so I never forget what I have learned,” she says.
Luminos classrooms are joyful, safe environments where learning is interactive and engaging.
Our free, one-year catch-up program has been a transformative experience for Mignot, who dropped out of a government school a few years ago.
“She couldn’t read or write, but now she loves to read when she gets home,” beams Mignot’s mother, Alemitu.
Letters of the alphabet decorate the inside of Mignot’s classroom.
“Mignot is one of my students that really excelled. She is now one of the top students in this classroom. I am very proud of her.”
Derese, Luminos teacher in Ethiopia
“Mignot is one of my students that really excelled. She is now one of the top students in this classroom. I am very proud of her,” says her teacher, Derese. “The best thing about being a teacher is seeing my students improve. It is quite amazing how they transform within such a short period of time.”
He adds, “Educating girls is important for our country because they make up half of the population and can have a huge impact on the community.”
The Luminos program is transformative for vulnerable children like Mignot. Children learn to read, write, and do math, and over 90% of Luminos students continue their education after our program: advancing into government schools with their peers.
Setting up impactful classrooms like this is ambitious and necessary, especially in today’s global learning crisis — and occasionally met with skepticism.
“At first, I thought it was impossible. I just couldn’t accept it. I had so many questions about the program,” admits Mesfin Yacob, the government’s district-level Team Leader who provides support to all the classrooms in Mignot’s community. But after seeing Luminos students and teachers interact with enthusiasm and determination, and the dramatic learning gains that Luminos students make, Mesfin changed his mind.
“After I saw the results, I believed in the program,” he explains.
Mesfin Yacob, Sodo Zuria Woreda School Improvement and Supervision Directorate Team Leader.
“I have been able to see closely how the lessons are given and how the teachers are committed. The follow up by teachers is quite amazing. They do much better than the regular teachers. Even highly paid teachers do not show this level of commitment and output. The classrooms are lively and have a lot of learning resources,” says Mesfin.
He adds, “I am now a champion of the program.”
Mignot has every intention of continuing her education until she can reach her dreams.
“I would like to become a doctor,” she says, “so that I can be able to help people and save their lives.”
Mignot with her mother, Alemitu. When Alemitu describes Mignot’s progress through Luminos’ program, she says, “She [Mignot] couldn’t read or write, but now she loves to read when she gets home.”
“He helps us understand what we cannot understand. He responds to our questions always.” These are the words of eleven-year-old Second Chance student, Sofonias, describing what he likes best about his teacher, Elias (pictured above). It is also a perceptive description of the importance and power of a teacher: bringing understanding and answers to thirsty learners. Elias, like so many teachers around the globe, has quietly transformed his students’ lives forever.
Take Sofonias as an example. After losing his father at age seven, his mother needed him to help her make ends meet for the family. School was not an option; a cost that could not be afforded. Still, Sofonias was eager to learn, picking his friends’ brains to understand basic addition and subtraction when the pandemic forced schools to close. Yet before joining Luminos’ free Second Chance program, Sofonias was still unable to read and write at age 11.
Today, Sofonias says reading and writing are his favorite subjects, “I like doing classwork—especially when I receive a check mark from my teacher! Coming to school gives me some pride.” Learning to read, write, and do math transforms a life forever—and teachers like Elias are the ones who make it happen.
Elias became a Second Chance teacher four years ago after finishing high school. Originally unable to place into the government university or afford a private university, Elias’ career options felt limited. Part of Luminos’ unique model includes recruiting young adults in the communities we serve as teachers and providing them with rigorous training and ongoing coaching. Our primary requirement is a 10th-grade education, creating a career path for promising men and women. Elias was a perfect candidate and grew into a remarkable teacher.
“I enjoy teaching all subjects,” Elias says. “When I started, I was inclined to reading and writing but now I enjoy teaching every subject.” Elias’ students see him as warm and friendly, someone they enjoy learning from.
One of his students, an eleven-year-old boy named Mussie says, “He always advises us not to be afraid and to be confident. I like that.”
With an anticipated global teacher shortage of 69 million teachers according to UNESCO, tapping into the potential of local young adults like Elias has never been more important. In the May Devex piece “How to treat the learning crisis like a health crisis,” Luminos CEO, Caitlin Baron, expounds upon this point noting, “If the global community truly wants children to catch-up in COVID-19’s aftermath, we must fill the global teacher shortage to power this effort… Building a workforce of community teachers is an urgent opportunity, as stretched systems grapple with learning loss.”
Today, on World Teachers’ Day, we celebrate the incredible work our teachers are doing in classrooms around the world. To our all our teachers: thank you. You inspire us every day with your devotion to the students in your classrooms and your dreams for their futures.
After a long, dark year, 2021 promises hope, joy, and possibility—the chance to start imagining the world both as what it used to be and what it can become. When the Luminos team gathered virtually for the first time this year, CEO Caitlin Baron asked everyone to share one reflection or insight from 2020 that we wanted to carry forward in 2021. Team members shared diverse reflections, including the joy of reconnecting with old friends and building deeper relationships with our colleagues around the world thanks to video platforms and texting apps.
Nikita Khosla, our Senior Director of Programs, noted that even with all its challenges, 2020 enabled us to support our Luminos students and their families more deeply and holistically. When stay-at-home orders rolled out in the communities we serve, Luminos stayed close every step of the way to understand the impacts of this new reality: lower incomes, less food, and psychological strain in addition to the COVID-19 health crisis. How would our programs in Ethiopia, Lebanon, and Liberia adapt to better serve their needs while remaining true to our mission of unlocking the light of learning in all children? As Liberia Program Manager, Abba Karnga Jr., reflected, this year strengthened Luminos’ ability to adapt rapidly in changing contexts. Thanks to our Liberian team’s innovation and generous, flexible support from our supporters, we were able to assist communities with sanitizing stations and emergency food relief, in addition to providing distance learning.
Yet throughout this period of emergency response, the future of the children we serve loomed heavy in our minds. Education is critical to ensuring today’s children are prepared and empowered for the future. Learning to read unlocks the door to progression through education and on to achieving their full potential. For every extra year of schooling, there is a 9% increase in an individual’s hourly earnings. Yet for every three months out of school, children can lose up to a year of learning. And according to a recent World Bank report, COVID-related school closures risk pushing an additional 72 million primary school children into “learning poverty”—being unable to read and comprehend a simple text by age 10—exacerbating a learning crisis that existed long before COVID-19. At Luminos, our mission to ensure children everywhere get the chance to experience joyful learning is now more urgent than ever before, and we have the tools to help.
As Michelle Kaffenberger of the Research on Improving Systems of Education (RISE) Programme noted to CNN recently, “The crisis doesn’t end when schools reopen. The crisis is going to keep going, if adequate remediation is not taken when children come back.” As schools reopen, it is critical that educators meet children where they are. In our Second Chance classrooms, this means continually assessing students to ensure everyone is progressing and providing extra support to those who are struggling. For example, in Liberia, in addition to twice-weekly hour-long sessions where teachers help students who are struggling, we are also holding short weekend classes to help students keep up with the curriculum in this uniquely shortened 2020-21 school year. Our focus on basic literacy and numeracy skills ensures that students have the foundation to thrive in the future. Critically, our program teaches students how to learn, a skill that can be applied both in their continuing education and throughout their lives.
As we look to the year ahead with a sense of hope and optimism, our students remind us that they are eager to learn. Before our Second Chance classrooms reopened earlier this month, a Liberian student named Charles told us, “School is preparing me for tomorrow. I love this school because they are helping me be good for tomorrow.” Our students have hopes and dreams for incredibly bright tomorrows. In a recent Luminos survey, over 35% of Second Chance students in Liberia dreamed of going into a medical profession to help those around them. Others dreamed of becoming president and holding public office, traveling the world, or becoming business professionals. We can’t wait to see what they do.
As our Communications Director, Maretta Silverman, noted in our team’s round-robin reflection, 2020 reminded us how important it is to show others what they mean to us and how much we care, through new ways and old. So, as we head into 2021, we at Luminos would like to thank you—our supporters, partners, advisors, and friends—for joining us on this journey. When we envision what could be, we see a world where children everywhere experience joyful learning, and no child is ever denied the chance to learn. Let’s get to work.