Amid stubbornly high out-of-school rates and dismal learning levels for many children in sub-Saharan Africa, an education program in Liberia has offered hope after an evaluation showed its students made huge learning gains in just 10 months.
Pupils enrolled in the Luminos Fund’s intensive catch-up program for out-of-school children from marginalized communities could read three times more words per minute by the end of the program versus the control group, according to the results of a randomized controlled trial, or RCT, carried out by IDinsight.
Students progressed from reading an average of four words per minute at the start of the program to 29 by the end, compared to seven words per minute for children in the control group, according to the evaluation.
This means children go from not recognizing all the letters in the alphabet to reading short stories.
This translates into an impact of 1.5 standard deviations for reading fluency and comprehension, which makes the Luminos program one of the most effective to date, according to Jeff McManus, senior economist at IDinsight.
“The most important finding to me is the size of the impact estimates or treatment effects. Effect sizes were on the upper end of effects measured in RCTs of other remedial initiatives and pedagogical programs,” he told Devex.
By comparison, 40% of evaluations in the education sector show no effect on student learning, according to Luminos’ calculations, while a systematic review of education interventions in low- and middle-income countries showed average effect sizes of between 0.1-0.3 standard deviations.
RCT results show that it is possible to achieve more than the “modest” learning gains that the global education community has become used to attaining, according to Caitlin Baron, CEO of the Luminos Fund, which also works in Ethiopia, Lebanon, the Gambia, and Ghana.
“The most powerful lesson from our work is proving what’s possible.
“The global education community has been too ready to be comfortable with modest levels of progress in scaled interventions but if we are going to be crowding in new and different funding into the system we need to be thinking more expansively about what impact looks like,” Baron told Devex.
Under the Luminos program, which is also known as Second Chance, students are put on an accelerated learning track which involves seven hours of teaching a day, five days a week, in small classes of 25-30 students.
Their teachers are young people from the community trained to deliver the Luminos pedagogical program and are given weekly one-to-one coaching. The idea is to help children “catch up” to their age appropriate grade level so that they can be reintegrated into government schools.
UNESCO estimates nearly 250 million children are out of school, the majority in sub-Saharan Africa, but to date there are very few effective programs tackling the issue.
The global education community has shifted its focus from enrollment to improving learning levels in schools, leaving the most marginalized children behind, experts warn.
Furthermore, one in three children between the ages of 6 months and 5 years old has chronic malnutrition.
For Baron, a big part of Luminos’ success is in its teaching model, which involves recruiting local young people and training them as teachers.
The NGO has just signed a memorandum of understanding with Liberia’s government to fast-track credentialing so that Luminos-trained teachers can work in government schools.
“Given how difficult the task of teaching is, it’s possible to focus on all the things we don’t have, but we are saying with the right support, young people from those same communities where we find the hardest to reach kids can be true agents of change.
“We have more resources and talent on hand than we have fully activated,” she added.