5 questions with 2017 WISE Awards winner: Luminos Fund's Speed School

The CEI Team

The Innovator Interview blog series is a platform for program managers to share successes, challenges and key lessons learned from operating their programs with other members of the Center for Education Innovations (CEI) community.

CEI spoke with Caitlin Baron, Chief Executive Officer for the Luminos Fund, which manages the Speed School program. Speed School, a 2017 WISE Awards winner, operates in Ethiopia and Liberia and works to bring out-of-school children into local schools through an innovative pedagogy with an intensive instruction calendar that covers the first three years of national curriculum in just one year.

CEI: Congratulations on your team’s selection as a winner for the 2017 WISE Awards! What aspects of your model do you think resonated most with the WISE selection committee?

Caitlin Baron: We're so honored to be selected for this award.  It's just great to see the hard work of our team and implementing partners in Ethiopia recognized in this way. 

We feel there are a few factors that factors resonated most with WISE.

  • The Luminos Fund takes a holistic approach to reaching out-of-school children impacting both the school and community children live in. At its core, the Speed School program is an accelerated learning program that targets children who have dropped out of or have never attended school and helps them cover three years of schooling in one year and transition back into public schools to join their peers. The program also engages deeply with parents and community members to ensure long-lasting support for the children and for the idea that every child can learn. Finally, as part of the program there is exposure training provided to teachers in government schools that our children transition into.
  • 2017 WISE Awards winner Luminos Fund's Speed School accelerated learning program international development educationThe program has been positively evaluated by the Centre for International Education at University of Sussex – over 90% of the children who start the program transition into government schools. University of Sussex, describes Speed School as a place where children 'learn how to learn'.
  • The program has been running at scale in Ethiopia since the past 5 years and we have recently scaled it to Liberia. 100,000 children have been brought back to school with the help of the Speed School program. There is huge potential for a program like this to scale in any geography as the pedagogy is universal and the curriculum can be adapted to the national curriculum in any country.

CEI: How does the Luminos Fund team identify and pursue awards opportunities like WISE? What tips do you have for the 2018 cohort?

Caitlin Baron: We are always on the lookout to share our model with the international education community. The WISE Prize was a particularly appealing opportunity because of the organization's prestige in our field and the prospect of presenting the program at the annual WISE Summit. When we consider applying for awards opportunities, we like to think about how the award could help us amplify our mission and share our learnings with other practitioners. Our advice to the 2018 cohort: pay attention to the WISE goals and mission, and make sure to draw direct connections to your program. The application is relatively short, so you need to get straight to the point. If you are selected as a finalist, take advantage of the diligence site visit to demonstrate your program in practice, not just theory.

CEI: What aspect of the global debate on reaching out-of-school children do you think needs more attention?

2017 WISE Awards winner Luminos Fund's Speed School accelerated learning program international development educationCaitlin Baron: The UNESCO Institute of Statistics published a report in 2015 calling for "targeted interventions…to reach the most marginalised children…We can no longer only rely on 'business as usual' strategies based on more teachers, more classrooms and more textbooks".

While the MDG's and SDG's have helped drive progress in the push for universal primary school enrollment, efforts to end inequality of access have stalled in the last decade. There needs to be a concerted effort from the education community to ensure the last 10% of out-of-school children who don't have access to education due to poverty, conflict or discrimination get a chance to learn. 

Simply advocating for more investment in education, or building more schools alone won't close the gap for the most marginalized.  We need true focus and real innovation to figure out how to bring quality education to the hardest to reach.

CEI: Building a foundation of trust and openness is key to the Speed School program’s sustained impact. How do you work to secure buy-in with the local community members you engage, and the teachers that you train?

Caitlin Baron: The long term success or failure of a program like this heavily depends on the buy-in at the community level. We implement the Speed School program in partnership with the local government through a network of local NGO partners. The community chief and the local public school authorities are involved in identifying the most vulnerable out-of-school children. The community/public school provides the space to run the Speed School classroom.  We hire our teachers from the community as well and train them in the Speed School pedagogy.

Our ongoing engagement with the parents is also customized to address the specific concerns of the parents, and, in doing so, we further contextualize the program to the community. We cannot solve for all issues that parents face in sending their children to school, but we can build a community of parents who are passionate and dedicated to work together and push each other in helping their children stay in school.

CEI: With this new recognition and support from the WISE Awards, what is next for the Speed School program?

2017 WISE Awards winner Luminos Fund's Speed School accelerated learning program international development educationCaitlin Baron: We are truly humbled to win the WISE award. Building off the success of the existing Speed School program in Ethiopia, we are still learning and adapting the model to Liberia which is significantly more under-resourced.  So step one is getting replication of the core program right in new countries.

Beyond that -- one of the reasons the model has achieved such strong results is because of its child-centric, activity-based pedagogy. We are working to understand whether there is a way to translate the learnings we have had with the Speed School pedagogy to Early Childhood Education. Also in the pipeline is potential expansion to Northern Nigeria where we would run a version of Speed School focused on out-of-school adolescent girls.

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Caitlin Baron is the inaugural CEO of the Luminos Fund. She spent the previous decade as a senior leader within the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, helping to grow the organization to steward over $1 billion in charitable giving. She founded and led the foundation’s office in South Africa, building large national partnerships with the Department of Basic Education and creating the Dell Young Leaders scholarship program, which has awarded over 500 scholarships to some of the poorest South Africans.

Photo Credts (top to bottom): Lloyd Massah / Speed School; Rosie Hallam / Speed School ; Rosie Hallam / Speed School ; Lloyd Massah / Speed School.

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