5. Concluding reflections
5.1 In the three pilot programmes the REFLECT approach proved to be both more effective at teaching people to read and write and more effective at linking literacy to wider development.
5.2 Of those adults who initially enrolled in REFLECT circles 65% in El Salvador, 60% in Bangladesh and 68% in Uganda, achieved basic literacy over a one year period. This compared to 43%, 26% and 22% in the respective control groups [and a typical 25% according to Abadzi (1994)]. REFLECT was particularly effective with women (and in Bangladesh specifically with younger women in the 15-19 age group). Participants in REFLECT circles remained well motivated and dropped out in much lower numbers than those in the control groups. There were positive signs that the participants are developing literate habits but it is too early to evaluate fully the extent to which literacy skills have been permanently consolidated.
5.3 In respect of empowerment the three evaluations identified the following major outcomes:
5.4 The REFLECT approach proved to be low cost and cost effective in Bangladesh (£12 per learner) and Uganda (£11 per learner), in both cases cheaper than an equivalent primer-based programme. In El Salvador, the only pilot programme to use volunteer teachers, the costs were surprisingly higher (£34 per learner) owing to the small scale of the programme in a country where costs are high. In a REFLECT programme resources are shifted from printing to training, which makes the REFLECT approach generally cheaper than a primer-based approach at a time of high printing costs.
5.5 A process of methodological learning has taken place through the pilot programmes so that the REFLECT approach is now stronger. Certain core recommendations are made. For example: facilitators should normally have at least 6th grade primary education in order to teach other adults; visual cards should be made much more simple than in the pilots; a broad range of approaches to reading and writing integrated with the graphics should be stressed (avoiding the use of key words throughout) and training for facilitators should be ongoing. Most of these observations are relevant to making any adult literacy programme effective. The essence of the REFLECT method has been compiled into a REFLECT Mother Manual available from ACTIONAID.
5.6 Literacy does not empower people. The control groups showed very few signs of having changed peoples lives. It seems that many of the past claims about the benefits of literacy are bogus. Literacy in itself probably does not empower and does not bring benefits in respect of health, productivity or population growth.
However, this is not to say that literacy can never bring huge benefits. This research has shown that the REFLECT methodology has brought quite dramatic benefits in the three pilot projects. This appears to be because the REFLECT approach involves two parallel and interweaving processes: a literacy process and an empowering process. The literacy gives people practical skills which will help in the empowerment process (eg as they assume positions of responsibility in community organisations) and the empowerment process in turn creates uses for literacy in people's everyday lives. This mutual consolidation and reinforcement is the essence of why it makes sense to fuse the two processes. Literacy programmes, then, can be very empowering if the literacy process is interwoven with other processes through a well structured participatory methodology.
Literacy programmes in the past (especially since Freire) have tried to fuse the two processes and some have succeeded, with remarkable results. However, most have failed because they have fallen into believing that either literacy in itself is sufficient (so they have ignored other processes and focused on the product) or they have assumed that empowerment in itself is enough (but have in practice tried to "indoctrinate" people into new ideologies). REFLECT holds these two processes in an effective balance and helps them to build on each other.
5.7 There are many unanswered questions that remain. How flexible will the REFLECT approach prove to be? Will it work in urban areas, with refugees, with adolescents, within a government programme? Will it work on a large scale or will the participatory essence be lost? Will people who have learnt in the original pilots retain their skills in the longer term? Three things are needed:
ACTIONAID is planning to address all three of these in the coming three years.
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