LSI Makes Significant Strides On The USAID STEP Activity In Malawi

  • One of the participants in the foundation literacy course training. He has a glove on one hand with words written on the palm and fingers of the glove.
May 8, 2024

Blantyre, Malawi – In 2022, the Learning Systems Institute at Florida State University was chosen to lead a U.S. Agency for International Development sponsored project to improve teacher training in Malawi. The Strengthening Teacher Education and Practice Activity aims to strengthen the higher education system that trains primary school teachers in the country as well as the professional development practices that support teachers through their careers.

When the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) chose the Learning Systems Institute (LSI) to lead the project, Dr. Adrienne Barnes-Story said, "We will be impacting every single teacher that teaches primary school in all of Malawi, which means that we will impact every child. It's just mind-blowing that we're going to have the opportunity to impact the entire primary education system while strengthening the higher education network of institutions necessary to carry this work forward."

Now in its third year, the Strengthening Teacher Education and Practice (STEP) Malawi Activity is continuing to meet expectations and making successful strides to impact the entire primary education system, as project lead Dr. Barnes-Story discussed just over two years ago.

On a recent visit to the southern region of Malawi, the USAID team got a firsthand look at how the STEP project is faring. In their report, the team listed six significant successes that have been achieved. First, they wrote that Foundational Literacy Course (FLC) materials have strengthened the Teacher Training College (TTC) language curriculum. The team also reported that improved instructions in the TTC classrooms have led to language departments performing well among TTC departments and the performance (grades) of student teachers have improved.

"After completing the course, the Languages Department has emerged number one in last year's final examination results," reported Etta Chagona of the Phalombe TTC. "The College gave the department a trophy and some money as a token of appreciation. The FLC has helped the language lectures to improve in their teaching."

The report cites a culture of collaboration that has been established and is producing results among the other major successes. According to the team, most TTC teacher educators are sharing notes on innovations they learn. That collaboration facilitated the orientation of the whole college in FLC activities. They also noted that Participatory Action Research (PAR) is becoming a dominant practice.

"The FLC has also assisted the language lecturers to acquire knowledge on PAR," said Chagona. "After conducting the PAR in FLC, we informed our fellow lecturers of the findings of our studies and explained to them how we conducted the PAR. The lecturers are now interested in conducting PAR in their different departments. Because of this research, the college has organized continuous professional development outside the college where all lecturers will be oriented on how to carry out PAR so that they can use the knowledge in carrying out PAR in their different Departments. FLC will assist the teaching and learning at our college."

One of the STEP team's other significant accomplishments has been their ability to discover innovative ways to compensate for shortages in teaching materials due to a lack of resources. To acquire the teaching and learning materials they need, teachers must create them out of locally available resources under a process and approach popularly known as teaching and learning using locally available resources (TALULAR). For example, the STEP team collected thousands of bottle caps to teach phonological awareness and phonics lessons via Elkonin boxes. 

"My colleague (Christopher Mpakeni) used the Elkonin box to teach phonological awareness, and I noted students could manipulate sounds to read or spell words with ease," said Kingsley Dunga of the Chikwawa TTC. "Different materials acquired from FLC are indeed enhancing the TTC language curriculum, making learning fun and exciting."

STEP is a partnership between USAID, LSI at FSU, the Ministry of Education, and Malawian Teacher Training Colleges. To implement the project, FSU works with School-to-School International, The University of Malawi, Development Aid People to People and CharChar Literacy. 

LSI is at the forefront of developing innovative solutions that bridge theory and practice in education. For over 50 years, LSI has delivered systems that measurably improve the learning and performance of organizations and individuals here in Florida and globally. Our experts' advanced research provides state-of-the-art methods and a clear path for implementation. To learn more about the STEP Activity or LSI, please visit for information.