The Social Challenge

Out-of-School Children

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered classrooms around the world, low-income countries faced a severe learning crisis. According to UNESCO estimates, 59 million primary-school-aged children were out of school, over half of them in sub-Saharan Africa. Today, fragile education systems continue to buckle under the relentless weight of disruption from epidemics, climate change, conflict, displacement and other crises. Tragically, 98 million children are still excluded from education in sub-Saharan Africa, and these numbers continue to grow.

In Ethiopia, it is estimated that over 4.5 million children of primary school age are out of school. For the most marginalized children, the effects of missed education extend over a lifetime, with intergenerational impact. As conflict and climate-related disruptions increasingly threaten children’s futures, the Ministry of Education (MOE) in Ethiopia is prioritizing innovative approaches to nonformal education as part of its efforts to expand education access to out-of-school children.

The Partnership

Accelerated Learning Program

The Partners

  • The Luminos Fund
  • The Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, Ministry of Education

The Idea and the Action

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.

Luminos runs innovative catch-up education programs to ensure the world’s most vulnerable out-of-school children get a second chance at education. To date, Luminos has supported over 218,000 children in Ethiopia, Lebanon, Liberia, Ghana and Gambia with transformative education. In each country of operation, Luminos works in close collaboration with ministries of education from the very beginning, with a goal of strengthening education systems, sharing best practices, prioritizing shared goals and building capacity to bring joyful, transformative learning to millions of vulnerable children.

Ethiopia is Luminos’ flagship program, with the strongest internationally evaluated evidence base and most advanced government partnership. In Ethiopia, the Luminos-MOE partnership began in 2017 when the government invited Luminos to train teachers to deliver a pilot of the Luminos model in 35 primary school classrooms in vulnerable communities. Today, the MOE is rolling out the Luminos model nationally as its preferred solution to reach out-of-school children through a program known as the Accelerated Learning Program (ALP), which has served over 65,000 children to date. Supporting the refining and scaling of the government’s adoption of the Luminos model is a major focus of Luminos’ efforts in Ethiopia and a key goal of this ongoing partnership.

The Impact

Luminos’ expertise in delivering foundational learning to the most marginalized out-of-school children, combined with the tactical, contextually relevant knowledge and resources of the Ethiopian MOE, enables the delivery of quality education at scale. To date, the Accelerated Program has supported over 65,800 children with joyful, foundational learning and trained more than 2,100 government teachers. In the 2022–23 school year alone, the government reached over 30,000 children through Luminos-supported government adoption. Furthermore, the Luminos curriculum is now endorsed and approved for use in government schools by most regional education bureaus, creating the potential for even further scale.

Luminos has commissioned several external evaluations by global and local research partners to measure the program’s impact. The results consistently show that the program’s pedagogy — and specifically its ability to build learners’ confidence by helping them learn how to learn — is a key factor in the success of the model. Over 90 percent of students persist in school, often outperforming their peers. According to a longitudinal study of the program by the University of Sussex, 75 percent of students continue in school four years after the program, and students complete primary school at almost twice the rate of their peers.

Furthermore, the Luminos partnership with the MOE involves integrating proven strategies for accelerated teaching and learning into the very fabric of Ethiopia's education system. The partnership helps to create structures that ensure out-of-school children remain a priority in national education planning.

The Faculty Insight

Bringing “out of school” children into the classroom is the basis to ensuring social and economic development for the future of countries across the globe. The Luminos Fund is addressing this challenge with on-site work directly with children and the Ministry of Education in Ethiopia. The importance of this work has been recognized by the United Nations in its Social Development Goals (SDG 4) highlighting education. “According to the UNESCO report, countries anticipate that the percentage of students achieving basic skills in reading at the end of primary school will increase from 51 percent in 2015 to 67 percent in 2030. Despite this progress, an estimated 300 million children and young people will still not have the basic numeracy and literacy skills they need to succeed in life.”

The first step in reversing this inequality is to make a difference in communities and in schools with tailor made, educational initiatives designed for the specific demographics they serve. Yet, one of the greatest challenges with such initiatives driven by foundations and nonprofit organizations is ensuring long-term impact. Establishing long-term impact requires a strategy built on a national level based on policy development and the identification of resources, both financial and human, that will place these initiatives on the national agenda. We have seen that governmental partnerships are paramount to the success of these long-term initiatives. Luminos states that “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.”

Knowledge sharing and trust are key to any successful partnership, both personal and professional. As one of the co-founders of Darden’s Partnership for Leaders in Education (PLE), I saw firsthand how powerful it can be to work within both school districts and the halls of government, getting all actors on board to develop initiatives that truly make a difference. Our goal in the PLE and other educational programs at Darden is to be a conduit for the government at the university level. Darden brings federal, state and local governments together with schools to build bridges and create training for teachers, school administrators and government officials.

Yet, there is often one element that is forgotten to ensure success — the families. Although not always easy, I find that getting the families involved in their children’s development is integral. How we interact, connect and involve them in their children’s development brings us back to the keys to successful initiatives: knowledge sharing and trust. With time, they become the most effective ambassadors to promote and be engaged in the growth of the programs. 

“According to a new UNESCO report, if countries do not take additional measures, only 1 in 6 will meet Sustainable Development Goal 4 and achieve universal access to quality education by 2030. There still will be an estimated 84 million children and young people out of school by the end of the decade,” according to the 20 April 2023 Global Education Monitoring Report.

Luminos’ work with the Ethiopian Ministry of Education, as well as with local communities, could pave the way for generations of children to have easier access to basic education and change the face of the country for years to come. 

The Darden School of Business’ Institute for Business in Society partners with Concordia and the U.S. Department of State Secretary’s Office of Global Partnerships to present the annual P3 Impact Award, which recognizes leading public-private partnerships that improve communities around the world. This year’s award will be presented at the Concordia Annual Summit the week of 18 September 2023. The five finalists will be highlighted on Darden Ideas to Action on Fridays leading up to the event.

This article was developed with the support of Darden’s Institute for Business in Society, at which Maggie Morse is director of programs.

The P3 Impact Award
Recognizing leading public-private partnerships that improve communities around the world
About the Expert

June West

Marjorie R. Sands Associate Professor of Business Administration

West is an expert on organizational communication, particularly during times of change.

West was instrumental in the 2003 inception of the Darden/Curry Partnership for Leaders in Education (PLE) to strategically combine the most innovative thinking in business and education to provide education leaders with skills necessary for managing schools. West served as the academic director and continues to be active in the PLE’s School Turnaround Specialist Program, now the most established turnaround program in the country.

She is the university faculty liaison to the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Virginia. West also directs a Darden faculty team that teaches in the summer orientation program for the Secretary of Defense Corporate Fellows program that places active-duty military officers in corporations for a one-year fellowship.

West has consulted for many organizations, including the Louisiana Department of Education and Mississippi State University Colleges of Business and Education.

B.S.Ed., The University of Tennessee, Knoxville; M.Ed., Kent State University; Ed.D., Lehigh University