Building on these different theoretical foundations ACTIONAID developed the REFLECT approach in pilot projects over a two year period (October 1993 - September 1995).
Rather than start from a primer, with the REFLECT approach, each literacy circle produces their own learning materials analysing their own village and their immediate circumstances.
Instead of starting each lesson with a so called codification, each Unit starts with the construction of a map, matrix, calendar or diagram. These are constructed on the ground using whatever materials are available locally - sticks, stones, seeds or beans, For example, in constructing a household by household map of the village the group may use sticks to represent the roads and paths, stones to represent houses, beans to represent the number of men in each house and seeds to represent women.
These techniques come from practitioners of Participatory Rural Appraisal. There are many different types of map and matrix, for example:
Household Maps - showing all the houses in the community and for example, the number of people in each or the type of housing.
Agricultural Maps - showing the location of different crops and, for example, changing trends over the years or the level of productivity.
Natural Resource Maps - identifying sources of wood and water, to lead into discussion of environmental issues.
Land Tenancy Maps - to represent the ownership of land, whether individual, cooperative, large landowners and, for example to match land ownership to land use.
Rainfall Calendars - which represent climate patterns/ trends and can lead to discussion of responses to droughts, floods.
Agricultural Work Calendars - on which the different activities (eg clearing, planting, weeding, fertilising, harvesting, storing, selling) associated with each major local crop are plotted.
Gender Workload Calendars - which represent the main activities of men and of women plotted through the year and which can lead to very structured reflection on gender roles.
Health Calendars - on which all principal local illnesses are identified and their relative occurance through the year is represented (leading often to very focussed debate on why different illnesses occur more often at different times).
Income and Expenditure Calendars - to explore patterns for a typical family through the year, itemised by source of income and type of expenditure
Crop Matrices - in which participants analyse each crop they grow against a set of criteria which they generate themselves
Health Matrices - where participants tabulate the curative strategies they follow for different illnesses (eg herbs, medicine, traditional healer, hospital) or analyse their understanding of the different causes of illnesses.
Credit Matrices - which involve participants listing the sources of credit that they have (eg family, friends, money-lender, credit union, bank) and the uses they make of the credit. Matrices of Household Decisions - on which, for example, women represent their involvement in discussing, planning and implementing decisions in different areas of household life.
Chapati diagram of Organisations - where participants represent on a venn diagram all the organizations within the community and those external organisations with an influence. Diagrams of Informal Power Relations - which explore the powerful individuals within the community and their groupings, splinters, interrelationships etc.
Timelines - of a village or an organisation or an individual.
Transects - cross-sectional walks.
Flow Diagrams -to represent different processes.
All the learners can participate in helping construct one of these "graphics" on the ground and the graphic can be changed until everyone agrees it is accurate. Then, rather than go into someone's notebook (which is sometimes the case with PRA practice), in the literacy circle a copy is made on a large flipchart. But how? We can't use words and can't just put sticks and stones - we need pictures. But literacy teachers are not artists!
Fortunately we can anticipate many of the crops, illnesses, objects and activities which will come up in the construction of the different maps and matrices. So, a set of about 100 visual cards is developed in each project area, drawn by a local artist (and field-tested) in each case. These are very simple outline drawings which can be easily copied.
These cards enable the transfer from the ground to paper and increasingly can be used to help construct maps etc on the ground. Each time a card is introduced for the first time it is discussed with the participants until it is recognised and accepted. After a few Units words are put alongside the pictures. Additional cards can be drawn by the participants or facilitator if other pictures are needed.
One phenomenon here is that drawing humbles the facilitators as usually they can't get things to look right. It is just like the way that learners can't get letters to look right and the pen for them is a clumsy tool at first. So even in the supposed area of expertise (with pen and paper) the facilitator is not seen as the only expert (indeed sometimes the other participants, though illiterate, are better at drawing). In the process there is also often a lot of humour.
The shift from three to two dimensions using pen and paper is the first step towards literacy. Participants gain confidence in using images and become more visually literate in the process.
Key words are then introduced on the map or matrix. We can anticipate many of the features that will come up and can therefore sequence the words to be introduced. The selection of words could be left to the choice of learners and in some cases is - but there is an advantage to planning in advance which words will be used at least in the first Units - to ensure that the most regular and basic syllables are introduced first - and that the first words are not too long or complex. Clearly the spatial location of the words on the maps or matrices, next to the simple pictures, helps participants to recognise and recall them -especially as the maps or matrices are kept on permanent display.
In the first Units the words can be subjected to a syllabic breakdown much like in other literacy programmes - with a big emphasis on rebuilding new words (not the rote chanting of syllables). However, a variety of approaches to work with reading and writing are used, even early on. The learners are asked to agree a few oral sentences describing the map they have produced and the facilitator writes these up and uses the material for reading practice (which can include asking learners to identify the syllables or words they know).
As the Units proceed so does the reading and writing. Rather than having just one word on a map or matrix, several words will be used (initially with the visual image alongside) providing the participants with vocabulary around the theme being discussed. This enables the participants to construct phrases independently from an early stage - based at first largely on words that have been generated by their own graphics. With each learner writing simple phrases and then all learners exchanging what they have written, a range of literacy skills can be promoted (creative writing, copying, reading ones own writing, reading others etc). With the focus on the language experience of the learners and their own creative, self-generated materials, the learners can rapidly advance to working with sentences, paragraphs, letters and basic documents.
There is a strong emphasis in REFLECT on the "active" process of learners' writing (rather than the comparatively "passive" process of reading). By focusing more on writing, reading comes comparatively easily. Self-generated writing helps people gain confidence, increasing the likelihood that they will acquire literate habits. The provision of supplementary reading materials for home reading is encouraged.
As every participant is encouraged to make a copy of the map or matrix in their book and then write associated phrases (and eventually sentences etc) they end up producing a real document of their own rather than have just having an exercise book full of scribbles.
REFLECT also places an emphasis on numeracy work which is sometimes overlooked by literacy programmes - even though numeracy skills are often of great practical value. But we do not treat adults like children as happens so often in numeracy work. Adults have highly developed mental arithmetic skills. ln REFLECT, the focus is on practical skills and numeracy work arises directly out of maps or matrices participants have produced - or deals with themes explored in each Unit.
So what about that elusive ingredient, dialogue? Producing the maps and matrices itself depends on discussion and dialogue - and is structured by the task that the group collectively face. The literacy facilitator does not have to constantly guide or push the discussion in an artificial way as the discussion gathers its own momentum around the task. Focussed questions afterwards can explore key issues but are always directly related to the participants' lives and village because the framework for the discussion is the map or matrix that they have produced themselves. Participants feel the issues are theirs not someone else's and as a result they are much more likely to engage in local actions.
Whether the issue addressed is deforestation or soil erosion, health problems or community organisation, agricultural practices or population growth, the starting point for discussion is the participants' existing knowledge - and this knowledge is permanently recorded and displayed through the maps and matrices. We should never underestimate this - the learners are immensely knowledgeable - having both inherited community knowledge and knowledge accumulated through their own life experience. This existing knowledge must be the starting point of any effective development programme.
So, in a REFLECT programme, "literacy" does not come in from outside pretending to be the only worthwhile knowledge. Reading and writing are not seen as the only real skills and the participants are not made to feel as if they or their knowledge are invalidated. Literacy skills are thus more likely to fit into an existing framework of other skills - as another capacity of technique which will help them to systematise, analyse and apply their knowledge and their viewpoints.
This method means that participants are working collectively and actively producing a product with pen and paper. Each participant, by copying the maps in their own books can share them at home or with others to develop discussions outside the circle. At the end of the course in the three pilot projects each village had between twenty and thirty graphics produced by them about their own village - which is a wonderful resource for them to establish priorities and plan appropriate activities.
Those who organise a REFLECT programme, whether NGOs or government, also end up with a detailed survey of the area - which can serve as the basis for planning health, agriculture or other development programmes - knowing the starting point, knowing the existing knowledge of the communities, the gaps, the priorities, the attitudes of people and even their prejudices. The potential link to other aspects of development is clearly strong.
But sometimes we miss the most obvious. Perhaps the most important factor about the new REFLECT approach is that it is extremely enjoyable. REFLECT circles are relaxed environments, not threatening ones, and the learning is done alongside much good humour and laughter. Participants remain motivated and even excited by the literacy circles and in the process they build up a lot of self-confidence - particularly confidence in dealing with group situations. This is of fundamental importance, particularly for women. Learning to read and write is a difficult process and adults will not persevere unless they remain motivated and enjoy the wider group dynamics.
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