Ethiopia: Tsigereda’s Journey Into the Light of Learning

Ethiopia: Tsigereda’s Journey Into the Light of Learning

Set in the rolling green hills of southern Ethiopia, Tsigereda’s village is a patchwork quilt of carefully tended fields, forest, and traditional homes made of earth and wood.

Nestled between the fields and the forest is a Luminos classroom full of brightly colored posters, handmade clay letters, and songs. This is where Tsigereda began her first steps towards lifelong learning—but it wasn’t always this way.

Tsigereda had spent earlier years of her life out of school, helping raise younger relatives about 124 miles away in a bustling fishing town called Ziway.

“Since she spent a lot of time in Ziway, it was hard for her to get used to rural life,” says Tsigereda’s teacher, Konjit.

Help children like Tsigereda get a second chance at education

Journey to the Classroom

After the death of her parents, Tsigereda’s grandmother became her caregiver, but with extra children to feed in her household, Adnaech had no money left over to send Tsigereda to school. Instead, she sent Tsigereda to Ziway to look after their relatives’ children. Child labor in Ethiopia can often take innocuous forms like this: caring for the children of relatives, tending to livestock, or simply helping around the home. Yet all of these tasks keep children out of the classroom, pulling them off the path of learning.

Tsigereda with her grandmother, Adnaech

Tsigereda with her grandmother Adnaech outside their home. (Photo: Mekbib Tadesse for the Luminos Fund)

This year, at age 11, Tsigereda’s uncle brought her back to her rural home village to be raised alongside her cousins. Shortly after Tsigereda’s homecoming, her grandmother learned about Luminos’ free catch-up education program for out-of-school children like Tsigereda and enrolled her.

“My favorite activity is learning by songs! Because the songs we sing have a lot of knowledge in them,” says Tsigereda earnestly. Songs in the Luminos program help students internalize lessons on a variety of topics from the sounds vowels make to the importance of learning. These activity-based lessons are core to the Luminos curriculum, allowing formerly out-of-school students to catch up on the content of three years of school in just 10 months.

Emersed in a joyful learning environment, Tsigereda was thriving—and it didn’t take long for her teacher and family to notice. “Tsigereda has shown a lot of change,” says her teacher, Konjit. “Now she enjoys learning and spending time with her friends. She loves to read and lead activities.” For Konjit, seeing students like Tsigereda improve is her favorite part of being a teacher. “I feel like all my work pays off when I see them read and write,” she says.

Tsigereda sings about the importance of school and learning alongside her classmates as they begin the day’s lessons. (Photo: Mekbib Tadesse for the Luminos Fund)

The walls of Tsigereda’s classroom are decorated with colorful posters from past lessons, and handmade teaching materials. (Photo: Mekbib Tadesse for the Luminos Fund)

Outside the classroom, Tsigereda takes a turn reading to her small group, supervised by teacher Konjit. (Photo: Mekbib Tadesse for the Luminos Fund)

In addition to her love of singing, Tsigereda proudly shares that her favorite subject is math: “I like working with numbers—it’s so much fun to add and subtract numbers!”

Tsigereda’s grandmother, Adnaech, observed Tsigereda’s rapid progress with pride saying, “They told me at her school that she is very clever—I have seen her improvement myself. She helps out others as well.” Adnaech is now very intentional about ensuring that Tsigereda has enough time for studying when she gets home. “I love to see her when she is studying, reading, writing, doing her homework at home,” Adnaech notes. “A person can only live a better life if they get an education—education is important for life.”

Tsigereda doing her homework after school. “Education is very important, because without education, you cannot get knowledge,” says Tsigereda. “Getting knowledge will broaden your mind, and you will be able to do good things for your community.” (Photo: Mekbib Tadesse for the Luminos Fund)

Looking to the Future

Tsigereda’s teacher, Konjit, goes one step further in describing the power of education: “Education is what brings you out of darkness and into the light.”

“Education is what brings you out of darkness and into the light.”

Konjit, Luminos teacher in Ethiopia

Konjit, Tsigereda’s teacher in the Luminos program. “I like teacher Konjit because she explains everything very well,” says Tsigereda. “There’s nothing I don’t understand when she teaches us!” (Photo: Mekbib Tadesse for the Luminos Fund)

That light is shining in Tsigereda as she takes the next steps on her learning journey. After gaining the foundation skills in reading, writing, and math through Luminos’ program, Tsigereda recently transitioned into 5th grade at her local government school where her teachers report she’s at the top of her class.

When asked about the future, Tsigereda confidently replies that she wants to continue her education “until I get a degree from a big university.” After that, she is of two minds—on the one hand she would love to become a teacher like Konjit “because I want everyone to learn!” On the other hand, perhaps Tsigereda will go on to become a doctor “because I want to save the lives of people.”

Whatever path she chooses, Tsigereda’s heart for helping those around her is clear and her future is bright.

Walk with Tsigereda on her way home from school!

BBC News Features the Luminos Fund in Ethiopia

BBC News Features the Luminos Fund in Ethiopia

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.

Transforming Education Systems through Innovative Government Partnerships

Transforming Education Systems through Innovative Government Partnerships

By: Kirstin Buchanan

Today, seven in ten young children in low- and middle-income countries cannot read and understand a simple story.

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.

What’s Next

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.

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.

Mignot: An Aspiring Doctor Learns to Read & Do Math

Mignot: An Aspiring Doctor Learns to Read & Do Math

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.

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

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.

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.

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.”

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

Photo credit for this story: Mekbib Tadesse

Celebrating Teachers on World Teachers’ Day

Celebrating Teachers on World Teachers’ Day

“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.

Elias inside the classroom with his students. Sofonias is pictured behind him in the pink shirt.

“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.

Sofonias outside his classroom. When he grows up, he wants to be a teacher like Elias.

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

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