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close this bookAction Research Report on «Reflect» - Education research paper No.17 (DFID, 1996, 96 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentOverseas Development Administration - Education papers
View the documentAcknowledgements
View the documentList of other ODA education papers available
View the documentAbstract
View the documentForeword
Open this folder and view contents1. Introduction
Open this folder and view contents2. Theoretical roots of the new method: reflect
Open this folder and view contents3. The REFLECT method
Open this folder and view contents4. The evaluation of the projects
View the document5. Concluding reflections
View the document6. A dialogue on reflect with critics
View the documentReferences
View the documentAcronyms

6. A dialogue on reflect with critics

Rather than write a conventional set of conclusions we felt it might be better to anticipate some of the questions that arise from this report (and which have arisen when we have shared REFLECT with people in various international workshops) and to offer some initial responses to them. The answers do not aim to be comprehensive as space will not permit this. However, they give some indication of how responses might be framed. The questions that have arisen include:

· Aren't there many other participatory approaches to adult literacy? Is there really anything new about REFLECT?

· Doesn't REFLECT require highly trained experts?

· There have been many examples of successful literacy campaigns - the history of literacy is not a catalogue of disasters - look at Nicaragua, Cuba, Vietnam, etc.

· Can REFLECT be adapted to different settings?

* urban areas
* adolescents/ children's education.

· Is it feasible to apply REFLECT on a large scale/ at a national level?

· Does REFLECT add anything to current theoretical debates on literacy? Is it an autonomous or ideological approach?

· REFLECT seems to involve initial intervention with literacy but isn't it better to link literacy to other projects so literacy come second not first?

· Could REFLECT survive outside the umbrella of an international NGO?

· Won't the REFLECT approach suffer the same distortions as have occurred with so many other good innovations?

· Isn't primary education a bigger priority when resources are scarce?

· Can REFLECT (or any other literacy programme) assist people to challenge the power structures which cause poverty?

· Can you really make claims about REFLECT based just on three pilot programmes?

· What do Freire and Chambers think of all this?

· What happens next?

· What are the areas for further research?

There is nothing so new about REFLECT. Aren't there many other innovative and participatory approaches to adult literacy?

There are indeed many other participatory approaches to literacy which have been developed as small scale pilots or experiments over the years. Most have depended on highly innovative and creative individuals who have motivated and inspired others. Most people involved in such projects will readily acknowledge that promoting such participatory approaches is extremely hard work and requires highly skilled workers who are flexible (and can work in a largely unstructured environment) and ready to adapt to changing demands.

In general participatory approaches and methodologies are seen to be in contrast or opposition to structured, vertical or pre-packaged approaches. This is rightly so in most cases. However, the lack of structure in most participatory methodologies makes them highly dependent on individual leadership or creativity - which in turn makes them extremely hard to replicate in areas where such individuals cannot be found.

What REFLECT appears to offer is a structured participatory approach. The manuals produced in each project provide a very clearly defined set of steps. There is a sequence of 20 or 30 Units and within each Unit clear steps on how to elaborate the map or matrix and how to use it for literacy and numeracy work. This is not the same as structuring or pre-packaging the content, rather it is a structure to the process. In REFLECT training we have said we want the facilitators to dominate the process or the method - but not the content.

Once this structure has been provided it is possible for learners or facilitators to break out of it at their own pace - so that some circles will re-sequence the Units, others may spend more time on numeracy than literacy, others may decide to ignore certain Units and go on to others. Groups of local facilitators can work on developing new Units or adapting Units that are in the manual. However the initial manual is sufficiently structured to be something that can be used by facilitators who are not highly trained exceptional individuals - but rather are the type of person available in most communities. There are many things to be learnt from other

participatory methodologies. The REFLECT Mother Manual has tried to draw on some of these and weave them into the wider REFLECT approach. For example, the use of local songs, proverbs and traditional dance as a starting point for literacy (cf LABE in Uganda) offers some exciting possibilities - effectively using people's own existing cultural codes as an entry point into literacy. The use of "real materials" from the local environment (brought in by the learners) is another approach. Role plays or drama can also be introduced and there are hundreds of "games" (or "dinamicas" in Latin America) for warming up which can be used within literacy circles.

All of these other approaches are compatible with REFLECT. It is not a competition. We are seeking to bring together best practice in participatory approaches and to provide these with a core structure around the construction of graphics (and the basic belief in learner generated materials). REFLECT is still incomplete. It is still evolving and will go in different directions in different contexts. It is not pre-packaged. It is not a matter of adopting it but adapting it.

Doesn't REFLECT require highly trained experts to be successful?

The literacy facilitators in each of the three pilots were local people and had the same profile as the facilitators in the control groups. Their education level on average ranged from 6th grade primary (in El Salvador) to fourth grade secondary (in Bangladesh). This is the typical education range of facilitators in most primer-based programmes. Facilitators with less initial education (eg those with just three years of primary education in El Salvador) did have difficulty with REFLECT but would almost certainly struggle with any method (their problems were largely related to their own difficulties in reading and writing).

The facilitators in the three pilots received two weeks initial training at the most. They do not therefore qualify as "highly trained experts". There was a strong emphasis placed on ongoing training through exchange workshops with other facilitators but this should be regarded as good practice in any literacy programme. No amount of initial training is a substitute for ongoing training once facilitators have field experience.

There have been many examples of successful literacy campaigns - the history of literacy is not a catalogue of disasters -look at Nicaragua, Cuba, Vietnam etc.

There is no doubt that there have been successful literacy campaigns but these are the exception rather than the rule and where they have worked has tended to be at very specific historical moments - particularly after a revolution. When other processes of radical social change are taking place then literacy can become of interest and practical use to many people. In such a context the acquisition of literacy can be rapid if there is a massive national mobilisation (eg in Nicaragua where secondary schools were suspended for the five months of the Literacy Crusade). In these cases, any literacy methodology might work, because it is the political context that is decisive.

Most countries do not have many such "historical moments" where suddenly literacy can become the focus of high profile mobilisation linked to wider social change touching everyone's lives. Should we wait for such moments or should we perhaps try to create such moments on a local scale? Moments where people, at the village level see a real opportunity to change their lives and where, in the process of learning, people organise and engage in actions which will contribute to change? If we wish to create such "moments", a primer-based methodology seems inadequate, whereas the REFLECT approach offers some positive hope.

Can REFLECT be adapted to different settings:

Urban areas

The feasibility of adapting REFLECT to urban areas was addressed in a workshop in Uganda with some fascinating and detailed results. It is a particular challenge because of the origin of many of the techniques in Participatory Rural Appraisal. However, many Units can be designed either for work in neighbourhood -based urban programmes or in employment based/ sectoral-based programmes (eg with prostitutes/ street traders etc).

Neighbourhood programmes can be designed in many cases with maps of households, human resource maps, mobility maps (identifying sources of employment and location of services), seasonal migration maps, historical maps, health and hygiene maps, land-ownership and tenancy maps, income and expenditure trees, credit matrices, preference ranking of employment, calendars of price changes, calendars of work-availability (perhaps over 5 years), neighbourhood timelines, gender workloads, venn diagrams of government and non-governmental agencies or of informal power structures in the neighbourhood, matrices analysing different types of crime or vice, calendars of cultural celebrations etc.

The list of possible Units for a REFLECT programme in urban areas could go on and on. However, there is a need to develop these Units in practice in new pilot programmes to see how they really work and identify problems which may be specific to working with REFLECT in urban areas. The REFLECT Mother Manual has a section on adapting REFLECT to urban areas.

Adolescents / children's education.

Much work has been done by ACTIONAID Nepal on adapting Participatory Rural Appraisal techniques for work with children (see "Listening to Smaller Voices" 1994). This establishes a strong foundation for adapting REFLECT to work with children. A curriculum based on REFLECT for work with children is being developed in Uganda and looks very promising. It is hoped to consolidate this into a "Daughter Manual" at some point in the future. The REFLECT Mother Manual has a section devoted to adapting the method to work with children.

Is it feasible to apply REFLECT on a large scale / national level?

Yes it should be feasible because although it is a very participatory approach it is also a highly structured approach. It would be necessary to develop either a series of manuals adapted to different parts of a country or a modular manual which had certain core Units and then a series of choices which could be made by local teams. Decentralisation in the administration of national literacy programmes is already widely acknowledged as important (see Iredale 1994, Uganda Review 1995) and this would be very consistent with such an approach. Moreover, national programmes such as that in India are emphasising inter-agency cooperation at the local level and that is certainly very compatible with REFLECT. However, until REFLECT is taken up on a larger scale some of the potential problems (and advantages) will not be fully known.

Nilufer Rahman, Director of INFEP (government of Bangladesh) and Habibur Rahman of CAMPE (NGO education network) did not anticipate a problem: "REFLECT will receive massive attention. With the pilot having been successful REFLECT will work as a paradigm not only in Bangladesh but in the whole Asia-Pacific region... The REFLECT programme will receive support as an effective instrument of mass literacy."

Does REFLECT add anything to current theoretical debates on literacy?

Is REFLECT an autonomous/ ideological approach?

REFLECT could be regarded as a methodology for the ideological approach in various respects:

· as all materials are learner generated there is more scope for participants to define the functions of literacy than if they are reading pre-packaged materials. A literate environment created from below (eg with village level silk screen printing) might reinforce this.

· REFLECT does not claim magical powers for literacy and indeed suggests that literacy in itself is nothing - but rather emphasises the wider processes involved. Literacy is not seen as the thing which leads to logical analytical thinking (Goody 1986) or as the only real knowledge. Rather the process of learning can be transformative. Some of the visualisation techniques involved with REFLECT may be of practical value for systematising and analysing knowledge within a group but this is quite different from suggesting that literacy itself transforms people.

REFLECT seems to involve an initial intervention with literacy but is it not better to link literacy to other projects (eg income generation)? Literacy should come second not first.

This is a false debate. There are development processes constantly happening in any community and so literacy (if learners are motivated to join) will always be related (in their lives) to other processes. Those who argue for "literacy comes second" seem to assume that only western inspired external interventions in a community are a development process on which literacy can then be inserted. This is an outsiders view and can be condescending. The key is for the literacy programme to respond to local conditions and the local reality. The methodology is thus essential.

As long as people are not coerced and the literacy programme does not try to pre-define the uses of literacy then the first/second debate is redundant. Besides, a broad motivation to learn is a stronger foundation in many respects than something linked to one activity. There are risks in trying to link literacy programmes to other externally induced development programmes eg income generation -as people need very little literacy for any specific activity and so there is very limited scope. Literacy needs to be looked at more generally - as something which can have an impact in various areas of someone's life. People's motivations are complex and it is naive to assume that they will want to learn only to help them in one particular activity.

Lind and Johnston (1990) identify another core problem:

"The promotion of literacy linked to income-generating projects, among women in particular, is very common today. However, most such projects do not generate income due to underfunding and underqualified staff."

It is possible to use REFLECT in a "literacy comes second" model. The Bangladesh pilot was very much of this model, working with women previously organised into shomitis. It would also be possible to work with pre-existing informal or semi-formal groups within a community (see the work of LABE in Uganda with cultural groups). The debate should be focussed on how literacy is introduced and conceived rather than on whether it comes first or second.

Could REFLECT survive outside the umbrella of an international NGO?

Yes. No special support was given to these three REFLECT pilots. Initial training was of short duration. The conditions were the same as in the control groups (which were also under the umbrella) where the results were very different. As a low cost approach (see cost effectiveness section) REFLECT should be feasible in a government programme (one is presently planned within the government's NFE programme in Bangladesh) and with local grassroots organisations (eg COMUS in Salvador where ACTIONAID's input was very minimal).

Won't the REFLECT approach suffer from the same distortions as have occurred to so many other good innovations?

Any methodology can be distorted and we have seen some examples of how this might happen in the pilot programmes (particularly in El Salvador). This needs to be guarded against. The REFLECT Mother Manual which has been prepared will be one means of communicating the essential elements of the method, but if there is no will to engage in a participatory process and empower people then the methodology will be distorted in one way or another (and probably in ways which we cannot anticipate).

What REFLECT offers is an effective approach for those who are committed to the fundamental principles behind it: for example that poor communities have knowledge and that development programmes which aim to empower them must be built on that knowledge.

Isn't primary education a bigger priority when resources are scarce?

Investing only in primary education at a time of widespread adult literacy is problematic. Parents are the ones who have to decide whether to send children to school (and often have to pay for their children's education) so they cannot be ignored. Literate adults are a key to a literate environment at home and in the wider community and can be a good guarantor of the quality and accountability of primary schools (through PTAs and school management committees). Investment in adult literacy programmes may therefore enhance the effectiveness of children's education (see section on Children's Education in Uganda). The debate should not be posed in terms of "either/or". An integrated or "inter-generational" approach should be pursued - so that adult literacy and children's education are mutually reinforcing.

Can REFLECT (or any other literacy programme) assist people to challenge the power structures which cause poverty or does it just help to alleviate the worst effects?

No methodology is the answer to everything. Much depends on context. REFLECT could be used as a means to mildly improve the lot of the poor or to challenge overall power structures. It all depends

on who is using the method and in what context. Alone it is never going to be enough to change power structures but is could act as a catalyst for people taking control of their lives and the agenda of local development. This is a strong foundation for radical change. However, a REFLECT programme may lead to frustration in some places if it is not backed up.

The evaluators in Bangladesh noted:

"The REFLECT method is not appropriate for learners at all socio-economic levels since this approach is basically designed for the disadvantaged people of society. Social consciousness created through this programme may not be acceptable to influential people. The situation could be combated through creating peoples organisations."

(Nilufer Rahman, INFEP; Habibur Rahman, CAMPE)

Can you really make large claims about REFLECT based just on three pilot programmes?

The pilots were in very diverse settings so something larger can be intimated. This is enough to warrant wider scale experimentation with REFLECT but it is certainly the case that close monitoring and evaluation of future projects is required to see whether the REFLECT approach does adapt well to different settings.

What do Freire and Chambers think of all this?

The REFLECT approach has been welcomed by both Paulo Freire and Robert Chambers. Freire commented: "This is exactly what I sought to do - but you give it more structure and stronger roots. The literacy process will be based on people's own experience, their language and their reality - so that the transition from reading the world to reading the word wilt be more organic and clearer. This is very exciting work." He later added: "Please feel free to use my name in the title of the new approach to literacy"

Robert Chambers commented: "I have read your manual with fascination and excitement. My own experiences with adult literacy programmes have been uniformly negative, and at last here is an approach which looks credible in terms of maintaining interest and commitment."

What Happens Next?

The three pilot programmes were always conceived as starting points rather than end points. It was assumed that if they were effective they would be a source of learning and could influence other literacy programmes both in their countries and internationally. This has been the case. Other literacy practitioners came to hear of the REFLECT pilots through Education Action magazine, field visits and various journals, seminars and conferences. In November 1994, it became clear that a seminar that was designed as an internal workshop between the three pilot programmes would have to be opened up and 80 participants came from eight countries. By July 1995, when a final exchange seminar was planned the event in Uganda attracted 130 participants from 19 countries. Many of these people are now planning their own REFLECT programmes.

Interest has been shown in REFLECT by most major players in adult literacy, including the International Council of Adult Education (and sister organisations ASPBAE, AALAE and CEAAL), UNICEF, UNESCO and the World Bank.

The World Bank Review of Education "Priorities and Strategies for Education" which was published in August 1995 focuses on children's education but acknowledges that the six key reforms identified "will not however, contribute significantly to solving the problem of adult illiteracy today, in a world with more than 900 million illiterates. Programs of adult education are necessary, but such programmes have a poor track record. One study showed an effectiveness rate of just 13 percent for adult literacy campaigns conducted over the past thirty years (Abadzi 1994), and there has been little research into the benefits and costs of literacy programmes.

"Several new approaches to adult literacy appear promising however, in large part because they address motivation - the key factor in all successful programmes.

"In the REFLECT program, being developed with the help of the NGO ACTIONAID in Bangladesh, El Salvador and Uganda, poor communities are encouraged to construct maps, calendars, matrices and diagrams based on their local circumstances and are helped to analyse and systematise their knowledge. The alphabet and literacy then become a more elaborate way of representing this local knowledge and literacy is linked much more tightly to other aspects of development in the local area. These new approaches will be reviewed in detail in a future World Bank paper."

There are now plans to develop Regional REFLECT Training Centres in at least six countries (in Bangladesh, Uganda, and perhaps in El Salvador, Ghana, Burundi, India, the Yemen, Peru). These centres will offer training to other NGOs and government literacy programmes in their own country and in neighbouring countries.

The scaling up process is most advanced in Bangladesh (with ODA funding), involving a training centre on Bhola Island offering extended training courses to NGOs and government personnel committed to replicating REFLECT. In the capital, Dhaka, a REFLECT Coordination Unit will identify suitable partners and provide funding and support to selected organisations for the replication of REFLECT. Shorter training courses (and issue based/ refresher courses) will be run. The exchange of experiences will be promoted through a regular newsletter as well as through workshops, evaluations and field visits. Specific research will be undertaken to determine the effectiveness of REFLECT in new contexts (eg in urban areas, within the government programme, with volunteers, with fishing communities etc) and this will be widely disseminated.

Other countries where REFLECT initiatives are underway or planned include: Ghana, The Gambia, Sierra Leone, Burundi, Kenya, Malawi, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Sudan, The Lebanon, Egypt, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Peru and Ecuador. An International REFLECT Unit is being established within ACTIONAID in the UK. This will ensure a continual flow of documentation and experiences between countries and continents; undertake cross-country research programmes; provide an international training resource; publish materials on REFLECT and liaise with other agencies.

What are the areas for further research?

There are several areas for further research on REFLECT. These can broadly be divided into two areas: continued longitudinal research of the initial pilot projects and research relating to new projects taking up REFLECT in different contexts.

Longitudinal studies of impact

The time frame of the action research project presented here was short (two years). There is a need to continue close monitoring and evaluation of these pilot projects to determine the longer term impact.

Such studies would consider the extent to which the literacy and numeracy skills of REFLECT participants have been retained or consolidated. If the skills are retained, how are they being used? What functions have been defined locally for literacy?

Longitudinal research would also consider the extent to which the empowerment of participants identified in this report is sustained. The initial impact of the REFLECT circles on community participation, local action or gender roles may decline for a number of reasons (eg backlash, resistance, frustration, exhaustion). It may, on the other hand be maintained. Determining which conditions or factors are conducive to sustaining change will be important.

Related to the above work would be a study of alternative strategies for the post-literacy phase. What approaches to creating a more literate environment have been most effective? Which strategies are most consistent with using the REFLECT approach at the initial phase? To what extent can the same methods be incorporated into a post-literacy course?

REFLECT in New Contexts

REFLECT is now being taken up in many different countries by many different organisations (see "What Happens Next?"). This opens up new areas for research. Establishing a strong international network of REFLECT practitioners will facilitate ongoing research on the relevance and effectiveness of REFLECT in new contexts.

Areas which offer immediate possibilities for research include:

· To what extent can REFLECT adapt to urban areas, having emerged from the use of Participatory Rural Appraisal techniques? Does the lack of close-knit community and shared experience in many urban contexts limit the value of the approach?

· Can REFLECT work with children/ adolescents (within formal schools/ non-formal education centres)? If so, how does it need to be adapted? Which elements work most effectively?

· Will the REFLECT approach be feasible within a government literacy programme (even on a pilot basis) where the structures involved may allow for less flexibility?

· Can REFLECT work on a large scale (either in a government or NGO programme)? Will facilitators' manuals end up with such generalised Units as to reduce participation and lose essential relevance to the participants lives (in the same way as has happened to primers?).

· Can REFLECT work effectively in the North (eg in the UK)? If so, in what contexts and how does it need to be adjusted?

· What adjustments to the REFLECT approach would be needed if working in an ideographic language like Chinese (where characters represent the meaning rather than the sound of words)?

· Can REFLECT be adapted to a wide range of different communities, such as pastoralists, fishing communities or refugees?

In each of these cases specific research projects could be framed which compare REFLECT to control groups using existing literacy methods/ materials to determine which approach proves more effective (and more cost-effective). It is likely that some work on all the above will be undertaken over the next three years.

As REFLECT is taken up in different settings the process of scaling up itself could become an area for research. Which approaches to replicating REFLECT prove successful and which do not? Is a Mother Manual sufficient for people to produce their own materials or are intensive training programmes essential? Is it better to scale up through NGOs, through governmental programmes, through the private sector or through a combination of these?

How can we find out more about REFLECT?

The main source of practical information on REFLECT is the "REFLECT Mother Manual" (published by ACTIONAID UK, March 1996). This manual aims to enable literacy planners to produce their own REFLECT manuals adapted to their own local conditions in different countries. It is practical, easy to use and available free of charge to organisations in the South (£10/$20 for organisations in the North) whilst stocks last.

Ongoing information about the development of REFLECT internationally can be obtained from:

David Archer or Sara Cottingham at: ACTIONAID, Hamlyn House, MacDonald Road, Archway, London N19 5PG.
Tel: 0171 281 4101 Fax 0171 263 7599

Information about the training centres in Uganda and Bangladesh can be found out from:

ACTIONAID Uganda c/o Anthony Wasswa / James Kanyesigye, PO Box 676, Kampala, Uganda Tel/Fax: 256 41 267738

ACTIONAID Bangladesh c/o Ton van Zutphen/ Mukul Rahman, House 9/4, Street 2, Shyamoli, Dhaka 1207 Tel: 880 2 811763 Fax: 8802813150

Further information on REFLECT is also available from the national ACTIONAID offices or partners in Burundi, Ecuador, El Salvador, Ethiopia, The Gambia, Ghana, India, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Nepal, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Peru and Sierra Leone. Telephone or fax numbers and addresses can be obtained via AAUK.

Other materials that are available include:

Uganda Workshop report - August 1995 Country by Country evaluations -1995

Bangladesh Workshop report - Nov 1994 (also in Spanish)

Original REFLECT manuals from the three pilot projects (1993/4)

Briefing Notes

Using PRA for Adult Literacy - article in PLA Notes (June 1995)

Various conference papers and presentations