USAID and FSU researchers partner to establish Nigerian Center for Reading Research

TALLAHASSEE — Acquiring reading skills can be difficult in an ideal setting, let alone an environment affected by crisis or conflict. That, however, is the harsh reality more than 2 million children living in northern Nigeria face each day.

Stephanie Simmons Zuilkowski of the Learning Systems Institute is the principal investigator on the joint project with the Florida Center for Reading Research.

With the support of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), a new partnership between researchers at Florida State University and Bayero University-Kano in northern Nigeria aims to tackle these problems by strengthening the country’s ability to provide high-quality education and improve children’s reading skills. Together, the two universities are working toward the creation of the Nigerian Center for Reading Research and Development.

“I’m excited about the opportunity to have a long-term impact on the quality of reading instruction in Nigeria,” said Learning Systems Institute faculty member Stephanie Simmons Zuilkowski, assistant professor of international education and the principal investigator on the FSU project. “We’re not just doing a few trainings and moving on to the next project. It’s a multiyear commitment to helping Bayero University-Kano, one of the most prominent universities in northern Nigeria, to become a regional center for excellence, the place where African governments and nongovernmental organizations will go to find technical assistance to improve reading instruction.”

Funded by USAID, the lead U.S. government agency working to end extreme global poverty, FSU’s Learning Systems Institute and Florida Center for Reading Research will collaborate in the implementation of the project.

Yaacov Petscher is director of research for FSU’s Florida Center for Reading Research and associate director of the center.

“Research consistently links poor reading comprehension to extreme poverty, high infant mortality and slower GDP growth,” said Florida Center for Reading Research Associate Director Yaacov Petscher. “We hope that by focusing the efforts of researchers both here and in Nigeria on literacy efforts we can make an impact on some of the issues that children in Nigeria face.”

The project is more than a quick fix, though.

Each year, an integrated postdoctoral fellowship program will welcome to FSU two Bayero University-Kano reading education faculty. Ultimately the fellowships will lead to creation of the Nigerian Center for Reading Research and Development and a master’s degree program in reading when the last two fellows return from their FSU residency.

“I look forward to assisting them in achieving their goal of creating the Nigerian Center for Reading Research,” FCRR researcher and Assistant Professor of Education Laura Steacy said. “This is an exciting opportunity to partner with Bayero University-Kano to improve reading instruction in Nigeria.”

At the end of the three-year period, FSU will assist in planning an on-campus conference in Nigeria. The conference, in which FSU faculty, the Bayero University-Kano fellows and other faculty will present research, will help establish a reputation of excellence for the Nigerian Center for Reading Research.

Laura Steacy is an assistant professor of education and a researcher with the Florida Center for Reading Research.

The conference will be at Nigerian Center for Reading Research’s new International Conference Center, now under construction.

The project with Bayero University-Kano is but one part of USAID’s commitment to the improvement of reading outcomes for 100 million children worldwide. To this end, USAID is implementing primary grades reading projects around the world.

And because of FCRR’s international reputation as one of the world’s preeminent centers for reading research and LSI’s decades of experience in international educational development, FSU has become a highly prized partner on a number of USAID reading projects.

Students in a classroom in northern Nigeria, where FSU’s Learning Systems Institute and Florida Center for Reading Research are teaming up with Bayero University-Kano in Nigeria to strengthen teacher education and improve children’s reading skills.

In Ethiopia, for instance, LSI faculty have been working for five years under the direction of Research Triangle International to improve primary grades reading outcomes by improving the quality of pre-service teacher education throughout the country, training hundreds of teacher educators and developing training modules in seven local languages. In a separate project in Nigeria LSI is working with Creative Associates International to improve pre-service teacher education as well as access to schooling among the poorest children in two northern states adversely affected by decades of civil conflict. And in Honduras LSI teams will soon partner with the Education Development Center to improve reading outcomes in that country as well.

In each of these efforts LSI faculty are bringing the fruit of FCRR research to bear in meeting USAID’s goals to improve reading outcomes worldwide.

“We are pleased about this collaboration and the development of the National Center for Reading Research at Bayero University. We look forward to seeing better prepared teachers and improved reading outcomes for Nigeria school children as a result of this program,” said Stephen M. Haykin, Mission Director, USAID/Nigeria.

While the Learning Systems Institute and the Florida Center for Reading Research have a long history of collaboration in reading research and development in Florida, this is the first opportunity for the FSU institutes to work together on an international project. “We appreciate FCRR Director Don Compton’s support for this collaboration and we are thrilled to have this opportunity to work with FCRR and USAID to bring FSU expertise to bear on the challenge of improving reading outcomes for children in northern Nigeria,” LSI Director Jeffrey Ayala Milligan said. “We hope it is just the first of many future collaborations with FCRR and other FSU research centers.”


FSU’s Learning Systems Institute aids Education Crisis Response Project in Northern Nigeria

The Northern Nigeria Education-in-Conflict Response Program (ECR) will draw to a close in October 2017. This project was funded by USAID and implemented by Creative Associates International, in partnership with the International Rescue Committee, Florida State University, and local organizations. The initiative began in 2014 to address the gaps in education that internally displaced children and youth face due the ongoing conflict in the Northeastern states in Nigeria.

Learning facilitator Mark Philemon delivers instructions to learners at the Jambutu Non-Formal Learning Center in Yola, Adamawa state, in Nigeria. Credit: Helen Boyle

Internally displaced people (IDP) have had to flee their homes due to insurgency, violence and environmental risks; schools have been burned down in some communities and have stopped operating. Thus, to address a potentially growing educational crisis, the ECR project goal was to provide technical assistance to the Nigerian state governments, by collaboratively designing and delivering instruction in basic literacy, numeracy and social and emotional learning to IDP children and youth. Working with communities with high numbers of IDPs, the project established Non-Formal Learning Centers (NFLC) in the states of Adamawa, Bauchi, Gombe, Yobe, and recently Borno. Communities participated in the establishment of the centers and assumed the day to day direction of the NFLCs. Lesson content was to include literacy, numeracy and social and emotional learning skills in an integrated fashion.

Experts from the Florida State University (FSU)’s Learning Systems Institute, were invited to work with Creative Associates International and International Rescue Committee on the design of an early grade literacy scope and sequence and then a related set of early grade literacy (Hausa) scripted lessons to guide NFLC facilitators. FSU also worked with the ECR numeracy team to provide technical feedback and quality control. The lessons were designed to align with the non-formal curriculum used by Nigeria’s State Agencies for Mass Education. In particular, FSU’s team drafted over one hundred scripted lessons, incorporating social and emotional learning messages, for Hausa and reviewed XX lessons for numeracy. The Hausa lessons incorporated existing Hausa language stories for the early grades, developed by a previous project. International Rescue Committee took part in the Social Emotional Learning. The program established learning centers complete with trained staff to teach the three subjects. The goal of these centers is to help the children transition back into formal education one day. Currently, the children come to the centers for a few hours, several days a week.

In the first year, 296 learning centers were set up and reached over 14,000 learners. In the second year, 408 learning centers reached over 25,000 children. Creative Associates International conducted baseline, ongoing, and end line assessments of the project. The results are promising. The following tables were taken from the USAID Report: “Education Crisis Response Year 2 End Line Assessment Year 2” from November 2016. See citation at the end of this article.

  • 16 percentage point increase of learners at highest literacy levels, meaning 16% more learners read at the highest level at the end of year two.
  • 45 percentage point decrease of learners at lowest levels, meaning 45% less learners read at a level zero at the end of year two.
  • 26 percentage point decrease of learners at lowest levels, meaning 26% more learners could now recognize numbers and moved the numeracy level scale.
From left, Musa Avenda, community coalition Chairman, Yola-North LGA, Helen Boyle of Florida State University’s Learning Systems Institute, and Torchau Musa, Secretary Yola-North community coalition, during a visit to the Jambutu non-formal learning center in Yola, Adamawa state. Credit: Chima Onwe

Positive change from from baseline to end line was also seen in the various Social-Emotional Learning scales. Please see results from that in the aforementioned USAID report.

The implication of the results is that the lessons were quite successful. Given that they were developed rapidly, not under the best of circumstances, since the project had to work fast, this is impressive and promising for the future of education in Northeastern Nigeria. Moving forward, the FSU team suggests expanding the centers and working with older IDP in the future.

Article refers to: USAID Nigeria. (2016). Education Crisis Response Year 2 End Line Assessment Year 2. Washington, DC: Creative Associates International.


FCR-STEM gives Duval County teachers 3-D printer know-how to use in math, science classes

Emma Pugh, at left, a mathematics coach at Westview K-8 School, and Ming Ziang, center, who teachers algebra at Frank H. Peterson Academies of Technology, learn how teachers can use 3-D printer in STEM classes. At right is Marisa Benz of FSU’s Florida Center for Research in Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics, which conducted professional development for Pugh and Ziang and dozens of other science and math teachers in Duval County.

“The idea that you give kids at a young age the ability to render things in 3D and they’ll be able to transfer that one day to the manufacturing field is fantastic,” Alexandra Vlachakis, Duval’s career and tech education executive director for STEM, IT and computer science, told the Florida Times-Union’s Denise Smith Amos.

In today’s Florida Times-Union, read about how FCR-STEM provides high-quality professional development using 3-D technology:

After six weeks of study, Egyptian educators share insights and friendships with Florida State University, Santa Fe College and the U.S. Department of State

Educators and administrators from Egypt today joined international education experts from Florida State University, the U.S. Department of State and Santa Fe College to discuss what they had learned during six weeks of intensive study of the U.S. community college system.

Since April 2, the Egyptian educators have been in Florida as part of the Community College Administrator Program, an exchange initiative of the U.S. Department of State. They began their study at FSU’s Learning Systems Institute, which included conversations with Florida Legislature leaders and senior policy-makers with the Florida community college system, then continued at Santa Fe College in Gainesville before returning to FSU for a week of review.

Dr. Mostafa Amin Hassanein Abohashema, speaking at FSU’s Turnbull Center, gives a summary of the experiences of the Egyptian educators during their six weeks of study. He is professor and director of the Egyptian National Institute of Transport.

Everyone agreed the Community College Administrator Program was a learning experience for all involved.

“We’ve learned so much from you,” said Jeffrey Ayala Milligan, director of the Learning Systems Institute. “We have made some good friends in Egypt, and you have some good friends here in Florida. We look forward to any way we can to continue to work with you in the future on projects that would be mutually beneficial.”

Wasan Tawfeeq, an FSU doctoral student studying the Arabic language who assisted as an interpreter for the Community College Administrator Program, prepared a fine Mediterranean lunch for the Egyptian educators.

The Learning Systems Institute administers the program for the State Department, working with its partner Santa Fe College. In all, the participants gain a look at the philosophy and policies that form the foundation of the U.S. approach to community colleges and get training in the day-to-day challenges of administering an open-access institution.

The program is part of the State Department’s commitment to the belief that education builds friendships and fosters cooperation nation to nation.

“This is a great opportunity to have engagement around the professional field of education and technical and vocational education…,” said Larita Campbell, Program Officer in the State Department’s Office of Global Education Programs. “It is an important area of work across the world.”

Campbell invited the members of the Egyptian delegation to stay engaged through the State Department’s International Exchange Alumni Network, an online virtual network that allows alumni from programs such as this one to connect and share insights on meeting the demands for education around the globe.

This is the sixth international group the Learning Systems Institute has brought to campus under the Community College Administrator Program. Educators from Indonesia, India, Ukraine, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru have studied previously under the State Department initiative.

The State Department, the Learning Systems Institute and Santa Fe College will continue the Community College Administrator Program with four additional nations. Educators from Pakistan will come to FSU through the State Department exchange program in October, with groups from other nations to follow.

Learn more about the Community College Administrator Program at

The Community College Administrator Program participants, and others. Larita Campbell, Program Director with the U.S. Department of State, is third from the left, on the top row; Jeffrey Ayala Milligan, Director of the Learning Systems Institute, is third from the right on front row; at center, next to Dr. Milligan, is Vilma Fuentes, Assistant Vice president for Academic Affairs at Santa Fe College.

Egyptian educators come to FSU under State Department program to study U.S. community college system

CCAP Egypt

President John Thrasher, at right, accepts a commemoration honoring FSU during a luncheon welcoming the Egyptian education administrators. From left: Dr. Nouran Abd El Hamid Ibrahim of Mansoura University; Anthony Koliha, director of the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Global Educational Programs; Dr. Ibrahim Elbesoumy of Alexandria Technical Institute; and Professor Dr. Essam Khamis Alhanash, deputy minister of higher education and research, Arab Republic of Egypt.

Florida State University President John Thrasher welcomed to campus a delegation of Egyptian educators who are at FSU to study the U.S. community colleges.

“It is an honor to host this program because we know how important community colleges can be in opening doors to new opportunities for so many people, whether in Egypt or here in the United States,” Thrasher said.

The educators are at FSU as part of a U.S. Department of State exchange program, administered by FSU’s Learning Systems Institute in a partnership with Santa Fe College.

“Higher Education is a wonderful tool of international diplomacy,” Thrasher told the 20 higher-education administrators, “and we’ve been proud to be part of this State Department effort.”

This is the sixth international group the Learning Systems Institute has brought to campus under the Community College Administrator Program. Educators from Indonesia, India, Ukraine, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru have studied previously under the State Department initiative.

The program offers international educators an intensive study of U.S. community colleges, using Florida’s colleges as a model. This week the higher-education administrators started an overview that includes conversations with Florida Legislature leaders and senior policy-makers with the Florida community college system.

“Our goals with the Community College Administrator Program include exploring aspects of the U.S. higher education system, the complexities of community college administration and the challenges of day-to-day administration,” said Jeffrey Ayala Milligan, Ph.D., director of the Learning Systems Institute. “We will also encourage ongoing collaboration between Egypt and the United States on issues involved in access to higher education.”

Later, the Egyptian educators will continue their study at Santa Fe College, with a five-week seminar on key elements of community college leadership.

Milligan noted that the Learning Systems Institute would continue the Community College Administrator Program with four additional nations. Educators from Pakistan will come to FSU through the State Department exchange program later this year, with groups from other nations to follow.

“We continue to support this model because we believe it is an effective means for us to showcase the U.S. community college system…,” said Anthony Koliha, director of the Office of Global Educational Programs in the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. “We believe the community college system is a robust segment of U.S. higher education and that it provides great solutions for expanding access to higher education, for providing vocational and technical training, for providing lifelong training and retraining opportunities and for engaging in workforce development.”

Koliha said the State Department does not expect Egypt or any other nation to replicate the U.S. system, but “we hope that in part this model will give you an understanding of things you might take back to Egypt.”

Vilma Fuentes, Ph.D., assistant vice president for academic affairs at Santa Fe College, said the program provided opportunities for Santa Fe students and faculty to connect with others from around the world, to explore shared interests and to discover common ground in the field of education.

“The Community College Administrator Program is an educational and cultural exchange program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State that allows regular Americans to engage in citizen-to-citizen diplomacy, showcase American culture and values, and extend a hand of friendship to people from other parts of the world,” Fuentes said. “It is the most personally and professionally rewarding program I have been involved in.”

Learn more about the Community College Administrator Program at

Educators from Egypt come to FSU to study how Florida provides access to higher education

Florida State University welcomes to campus 20 higher-education leaders from Egypt, who arrive this weekend to begin six weeks of study under the Community College Administrator Program, a U.S. Department of State exchange program.

Administered by FSU’s Learning Systems Institute, working with Santa Fe College in Gainesville, the program offers international educators an intensive study of Florida’s community college system and how it provides access to college study and university degrees.

Learn more about the program at

USAID publishes online elements of LSI’s work in Ethiopia

Teacher educators in Addis Ababa revise one of seven modules, or textbook chapters, developed by LSI’s team working in collaboration with Ethiopian education experts.


The Learning Systems Institute’s work in support of the READ TA project in Ethiopia is now available online from the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The documents are on the USAID’s Development Experience Clearinghouse, a repository of technical reports and other publications produced with USAID funding. USAID is the lead U.S. agency that works to end extreme poverty and to support democratic societies around the world.

READ TA — Reading for Ethiopia’s Achievement Developed Technical Assistance — is a five-year project supported by USAID and implemented by RTI International and its partners, including Florida State University’s Learning Systems Institute.

LSI supports READ TA and the Ethiopian Ministry of Education in its efforts to develop a nationwide reading and writing program in grades 1 through 8. The project is expected to reach 15 million children in all schools and all regions of Ethiopia.

USAID has placed several documents created by LSI’s team in Ethiopia of its Development Experience Clearinghouse, including:

  • Cognitive development and literacy skills Module 1: MT 201 (Latin) [Reading for Ethiopia’s Achievement Developed Technical Assistance (READTA)]RTI International, Florida State University —
  • Teaching speaking and listening in primary schoolModule 3: TMT 224[Reading for Ethiopia’s Achievement Developed Technical Assistance (READ TA)]RTI International, Florida State University

“We have been working in Ethiopia since 2013,” said Flavia Ramos-Mattoussi, Ed.D., Senior Research Associate at the Learning Systems Institute and Principal Investigator/Project Manager on FSU’s role in the READ-TA project. “First, trying to understand the context surrounding students, teachers, and those institutions responsible for producing the teachers of the future. We came to Ethiopia with a team of teacher educators and specialists in reading/literacy. Our task was to reform the pre-service teacher education system, including 36 Colleges of Teacher Education, develop course content and textbooks, and train the teacher educators to apply the new methods and materials in alignment with the primary school curriculum. Not a simple task, to say the least.”

Nearly five years later, LSI’s has trained 250 teacher educators and produced seven modules for the pre-service teacher education program nationwide.

“The FSU team worked very closely with the local people, educators and policymakers, who made sure what has been produced is relevant and culturally and linguistically appropriate to teachers and students alike,” Ramos-Mattoussi said. “And we did all this is seven national languages.”

Ramos-Mattoussi, who returns to Ethiopia next week, said she was pleased that educators worldwide now have access to the RTI International/FSU documents.

“I’m very happy when I see some of the work we did in Ethiopia, under the READ TA project implemented by RTI international, now made publicly accessible on DEC,” she said.

To see all READ-TA documents posted by USAID, visit and search  “READ TA.”

Read more about LSI’s work in Ethiopia at

LSI’s experts in international education participate in CIES conference


Jeffrey Ayala Milligan, Ph.D., director of the Learning Systems Institute, and other LSI faculty are participating this week in the Comparative and International Education Society’s conference in Atlanta, giving presentations on LSI’s work in a variety of nations.

The Comparative and International Education Society is the premier academic and professional organization for experts in international education.

In addition to Director Milligan, attending are:

  • Flavia Ramos-Mattoussi, Ed.D., Senior Research Associate and Associate Director of LSI’s Center for International Studies in Educational Research & Development. Dr. Milligan is director of the center.
  • Helen N. Boyle, Ph.D., Associate Professor of International and Comparative Education.
  • Stephanie Simmons Zuilkowski, Ed.D., Assistant Professor of Comparative Education and International Development.
  • Adrienne Barnes, Ph.D., Reading and Literary Specialist.
  • Marion Fesmire, Ed.D., Associate in Research, now retired but still active in LSI’s current projects.
  • Carla Parades, doctoral candidate in Education Policy and Evaluation, who assists with a number of LSI projects.

LSI’s history of work abroad reaches back to the 1960s with pioneering projects in Asia.

Today, LSI works to improve learning and instruction in a number of developing countries through international partners with government, universities, and non-governmental organizations.

LSI’s on-the-ground international experience is extensive. Learn more at

LSI’s Trey Foerster, other volunteers to talk about Peace Corps

This evening, Trey Foerster, FSU’s Peace Corps Recruiter and a member of the Learning Systems Institute’s staff, and some of Tallahassee’s Peace Corps volunteers will talk about their countries of service, their projects and their experiences in the Peace Corps.

Meet the volunteers, talk with Peace Corps regional recruiter Grant Matthews and learn about this distinguished form of public service at 6-9 p.m. at the Grasslands Brewing Co., 603 W. Gaines St.