Open University in Scotland

The Open University has been involved in international education work in Malawi since 2008. This includes the Malawi Access To Teaching Scholarships (MATS) project (2012 - 2016), working to support over 900 marginalised young women from rural areas of Malawi through secondary education. As well as the 2017 co-project with Voluntary Services Overseas & Chancellor College, supporting teacher education in Malawi by facilitating of a MOOC for 180 teachers across Malawi. The Open University is in the process of negotiating a contract for a new education programme in Malawi, beginning early 2020, which will continue OU's presence in country.

Project 1: Malawi Access to Teaching Scholarships (MATS)

Provide more female role models in schools in rural areas in Malawi to influence girls to stay longer in school.

Area of work: Education
Location of work:
Salima, Machinga, Zomba, Nsanje

Project lead:
Dr Lore Gallastegi
Contact details:

Partner organisation: Forum for African Women Educationalists in Malawi (FAWEMA)
Contact details:

DFID – Keeping Girls in School
More information:

Description of project

Malawi Access to Teaching Scholarships (MATS) was run in partnership with Forum for African Women Educationalists in Malawi (FAWEMA) and funded by UK Aid. It provided support to over 2000 marginalised women from rural communities to gain the skills and opportunities needed to find a route into teaching and become role models for 160,000 rural school-age girls in Salima, Machinga, Zomba and Nsanje districts.

The two-year scholarship consisted of two elements:

  • School experience placements, where the scholar undertook a supported Teaching Assistant placement in a primary school in their local area. This gave them valuable classroom experience and helped them to see what being a teacher involves, as well as providing a role model for girls in the school. An experienced primary teacher (mentor) assigned to the scholar supports them through the school experience, meeting them every 2 weeks.
  • A one-year upgrade course in specific subjects via distance learning helped the scholars prepare for taking or retaking their Malawi Secondary Certificate of Education (MSCE) exams, the qualification required to apply for teacher training college. Distance learning meant the scholars could stay within their community. Once a week the scholar would attend tutorials where they were supported with their studies by a subject-specific secondary teacher (tutor)

Study and training materials were developed by the OU in collaboration with education officials from MoEST and educationalists in Malawi. The OU provided expertise in open and distance learning, and Malawi experts provided curriculum and subject knowledge. The materials were based on the MSCE examinations syllabus in the four core subjects of English, Mathematics, Physical Science and Biology. Further training and guidance materials were also developed for facilitators and participants.

MATS was highly successful in increasing the number of female role models in Malawian schools, helping almost 1000 scholars achieving the MSCE certificate, and doubling the percentage of girls completing standard 7 and 8 in target schools.

Key successes and outcomes so far

The MATS project was completed in December 2016. The Learning Assistant programme model developed in Malawi was taken forward by the Girls Education Challenge GATE programme in Sierra Leone which has created a pathway for marginalised rural women to enter teacher training college (TTC). It supported 483 women (47% who were mothers prior to becoming a Learning Assistant) to pass the TTC entrance exam and enrol in the distance learning teacher training programme.

The learning assistant model has been taken up by the Education Commissions ‘Education Workforce Initiative’ as a promising way to create alternative routes into teaching and promote a more inclusive workforce. (

1633 scholars graduated and earned the certificate of completion, and over 600 District Officials and Head Teachers were sensitised in the importance of positive female role models in school. 930, or 54% of active scholars, achieved the MSCE certificate, significantly above target, a tremendous result for school returnees, a number of whom had not been in school for 5 or significantly more years. It increased aspirations, with 52% of those surveyed planning to remain involved in teaching, 19% wanting to pursue further studies, 27% seeking employment or starting their own business, and only 2% pursuing no opportunities.

The project also had an overwhelmingly positive impact on girls in the target schools, with 92% of teachers behaving as better role models for girls (from a baseline of 20%), and the percentage of girls in participating Standard 7 and 8 classes that completed that year of primary school increasing from 47% at baseline to 91%.

Future and ideas for partnership development

The learning resources developed for and used by teachers and teaching assistants as part of the MATS programme are freely available to download as Open Educational Resources via the OU’s OpenLearn Create portal

Future ideas:

  • Wider expansion of the learning assistant programme, or programmes championing alternative routes into teaching across Malawi
  • Provide the KGIS MATS Progression Handbook at secondary level nationally
  • Develop a subject knowledge upgrade programme for unqualified Community Day Secondary School teachers, based on the KGIS MATS MSCE study material
  • Destination study for scholars to look at the impact of the project on creating more opportunities for women in rural Malawi