Observations on the progress of REFLECT circles
Rate of progress
By November 1994, just four months into the literacy course the learners had covered about ten Units, representing a much more rapid progress through the manual than in Uganda and El Salvador. Partly this was due to the regularity of classes (six days a week compared to two or three days a week in Uganda and El Salvador). In November various circles were visited by participants from India, Uganda, South Africa, El Salvador, Spain and the UK - all of whom had come for an International Workshop on REFLECT held in Dhaka. Whilst probably disrupting progress a little this also added to the motivation of learners - a feeling that they were part of a much wider experiment with REFLECT.
By February, the time of the first evaluation, most circles had reached Unit 14 and by May (the time of the second evaluation) most had reach Unit 19 or 20. No attempt had been made in the design of the manual to determine what time period was required to cover each Unit or the whole course. This indeed had been actively resisted as it was felt inappropriate to impose timing on a method which had no previous field application. Moreover, it was felt that literacy programmes which define a time period (whether 6 months, 9 months or a year) run the risk that learners will feel they have finished at the end of the period and will leave the Centre, only to lose their skills a few months later. Success in adult literacy depends in part on continuity.
In the evaluation visits during a three to four hour meeting with the REFLECT Centres (involving construction of matrices, structured group discussion and interviews), notes were kept on the level of participation of different women. This may not be a fully accurate reflection of participation in the normal functioning of the circle (which would perhaps be higher) as it involved dealing with male outsiders to the community.
The high level of participation is striking and the table below, though impressionistic, reflects what many people have observed in practice. This is in clear contrast to the Control Group centres where levels of participation are more muted and the confidence of women does not seem so high.
Observations on the methodology in practice
The evaluators reviewed each map and matrix produced by seven of the literacy circles and a mark out of ten was given based on the following criteria:
The results of this review are detailed overleaf (each literacy circle is referred to by the local shomiti number):
(M = Moslem group. H = Hindu group.)
It is interesting to note that whilst there was some variation between Centres the variations were not huge. Learners and facilitators in all Centres had succeeded in constructing effective maps and matrices.
It can be seen that certain Units were more effective than others. For example the Household Map, the Basic Commodities Calendar, the Income and Expenditure Calendar, the Health Calendar, Curative Matrix, Herb Matrix and Health Map were all of consistently high quality. Some Units proved too complex and require simplification, particularly:
Generally the learners are very enthusiastic about their maps and matrices and quite rightly proud of their achievements. When challenged about the purpose of the graphics they are quick to respond and justify the work they have put into them. The learners seems to have become the biggest promoters of REFLECT. On one occasion we asked "why waste your time on all of this? What is the point of all these lines on this piece of paper?" The response was immediate from one learner, leaning to point at a part of the calendar on display: "that's not just a line, that means we don't have enough food to eat in that month!"
One remarkable feature of REFLECT in Bangladesh compared with Uganda and El Salvador is the quality of the maps and matrices produced by the learners. These are usually kept in pristine condition and are full of colour and detail. In most cases the learners themselves have drawn them, having initially etched them in the mud of the compound and illustrated them with seeds and other materials. The learners' books are also full of drawings whether of birds, animals, flowers or ornate patterns. There is a feeling of "release"- a sense of wonder at what can be done with just a pencil and a blank page - and there is a real joy in many of the images. The learners' books in the control groups have none of these pictures and seem full of copied words in comparison. The value of allowing, indeed encouraging, the development of drawing skills within a literacy class is not usually recognised - but the evidence here seems to strongly indicate a role for drawing - both for increasing motivation of learners, enabling them to have fun and at the same time providing them with the manual dexterity skills necessary for writing.
Another striking element about the REFLECT workbooks in comparison to those usually found in literacy classes is that there is a lot of writing. Rather than just having repetition of letters or syllables (of which there is very little) and rather than having words and phrases that are routinely copied (so all books are the same), each book has different phrases and different work which appears to show an emphasis on creative writing - based on the learners' own thoughts. There are also a lot of numbers to be seen, particularly with copies of the calendars or matrices and with calculations based on these.
Enrolment, attendance and drop out
The table below provides basic details about the 10 REFLECT Centres: the number enrolled, level of permanent drop out, average attendance after 6 months and average attendance after 10 months.
It should be noted that "Average attendance" was defined as the average number of learners in the circle over the previous month. It usually represents fewer than the total number who are still attending and indicates irregularity of attendance of different individuals for various reasons. This is analysed in the next section.
In total 78% of those who initially enrolled are still attending the literacy circles (though some are irregular). This compares to just 55% of those in the control groups. Three of the ten control group centres were closed down after four months owing to virtual non attendance.
The 22% (34 women) in the REFLECT circles who permanently dropped out over the ten month period were followed up to determine their reasons -which are classified below:
The first three factors are largely beyond the control of the learners and can be considered external. These external factors account for 59% of permanent drop outs. It should be noted that opposition of husbands or fathers was the most serious cause of drop out and did in various cases include beatings. In spite of such opposition some women have continued to attend.
It is also revealing to explore the reasons for irregular attendance. Through interviews the following were identified as the major reasons:
Some attendance dropped during Ramadan but it picked up again afterwards.
The loss of the Education Coordinator who had translated the manual, coordinated the initial training and was providing follow up to the circles affected the REFLECT programme seriously. His departure threatened the continuity of the circles, particularly as another key staff member (the Monitoring and Evaluation coordinator) was not able to dedicate the amount of time needed to provide permanent support. Two new staff members became involved. Whilst both were very committed and capable staff neither had a background in education (one was previously working on credit, the other on tubewells) and neither had received the initial training in REFLECT. They learnt on the job and in the circumstances have done admirably in practice.
A wider problem that affected the programme indirectly involved staff morale within ACTIONAID Bhola. Following an external review of future options for the whole development programme in July 1994 the prospect of phaseout became associated with fears of widespread redundancy. There was also no Project Director in Bhola at this time which added to the confusion and loss of morale. Only with the appointment of a new Project Director did the mood improve (from January 1995). Once the strategic direction of the Bhola programme was re-defined morale was fully restored as staff became committed to a new vision of creating a People's Organisation which would continue after the departure of ACTIONAID.
[Ukrainian] [English] [Russian]