Every two years, the Jacobs Foundation awards the Klaus J. Jacobs Best Practice Prizes to trailblazers seeking evidence-based solutions to education’s biggest challenges. In this series, Annie Brookman-Byrne meets with the finalists of the 2022 awards. In part 2, Annie talks to Caitlin Baron from the Luminos Fund.

Annie Brookman-Byrne: What are the biggest challenges for education globally?

Caitlin Baron: Even before the pandemic hit, the world was experiencing a learning crisis: 59 million primary-aged children were out of school. The current challenges facing global education are even more profound. When schools were closed, millions of children stopped learning to read, write, and do math. Today, it’s estimated that 70% of 10-year-olds in low- and middle-income countries are unable to read and understand a simple story.

We can emerge stronger from the pandemic, but there are no quick-fix solutions. We need commitment and innovation to extend our reach and provide quality education to the most vulnerable communities around the world. All children should have equal access to joyful, foundational learning.

ABB: What is your vision for the future of education?

CB: The pandemic offers us an opportunity to rethink how to deliver quality education to the most vulnerable students. My vision is that we reverse the current crisis, emerge stronger, and scale up proven solutions to help millions of children catch up and thrive.

CB: In partnership with governments and community-based organizations, Luminos provides education programs for out-of-school children aged 8-14 in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East. Our programs help children catch up on three years of learning in just one school year, and reintegrate into local government schools.

By building foundational literacy and numeracy skills, Luminos is helping young children learn how to learn, a skill they will use throughout their lifetimes.

Over 90% of Luminos students advance into local government schools. Even six years after completing the program and transitioning into government schools, Luminos children continue to fare better than their counterparts. Luminos graduates complete primary school at twice the rate of their peers.

Similarly, in 2020-2021, we achieved remarkable outcomes in Liberia, despite the shortened school year as a result of COVID-19 school closures. In just 7 months, Luminos students read 32 words per minute on average, compared with just under three words per minute at the start of the program. This progress is ten times faster than students in comparable education programs in Liberia.

Luminos catch-up education programs have reached over 172,000 out-of-school children, and we will continue to scale our work to reach thousands more in the years ahead. Working together with community-based organizations and governments, we envision a world in which no child is ever denied the chance to learn.

While we have a long way to go before recovering from the pandemic, I’m inspired by Luminos students who have taken part in our programs – by their ambition and hard work.

ABB: How does the Luminos Fund partner and collaborate with governments?

CB: The challenges facing young children today go beyond anything a single individual or organization can accomplish alone. In each of our countries of operation, Luminos brings a holistic approach, working in partnership with community-based organizations and national governments to return children to the path of learning, and keep them there long term.

About two-thirds of the Luminos program is the same everywhere, but a critical third of the model is developed at the country level, together with our community partners. Reading materials, songs, games, and role play are relevant to the children’s first language and culture. Luminos community teachers draw on their experience with the community and culture when teaching students.

“We need commitment and innovation to extend our reach and provide quality education to the most vulnerable communities around the world.”

Though our partnerships with governments vary from country to country, all these collaborations emphasize strengthening education systems, sharing best practices, and prioritizing shared goals.

One such example is Ethiopia, where the government has taken significant steps to roll out the Luminos model across all regions of the country. What began as a small pilot of 35 government primary school classrooms in vulnerable communities has blossomed. Today, the Ethiopian Ministry of Education has reached more than 32,000 children using the Luminos model.

This type of collaboration can serve as a model for resilient, transformative education during and after crises – and a pivotal way to reach the most marginalised children.

“The challenges facing young children today go beyond anything a single individual or organization can accomplish alone.”

ABB: What would you like to learn from the other Best Practice Prize finalists?

CB: Our collective focus on education has the potential to drive more effective solutions to one of today’s most pressing global challenges.

We are grateful that the Jacobs Foundation is shining a light on the important work that organizations around the world are doing to advance education, and we are looking forward to exchanging ideas with all the outstanding finalists. This will be an important opportunity to share best practices, innovate, and take action to serve the most vulnerable children around the world.


Caitlin Baron is CEO of the Luminos Fund, an education nonprofit dedicated to giving the world’s most vulnerable, out-of-school children a second chance to learn. 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 and built their impact investing portfolio. Caitlin graduated from UCLA in Political Science and is pursuing an executive master’s degree with the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.

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