4.4.2 progress and problems in Uganda
Observations on the progress of REFLECT
Sixty-five classes started up in January 1994. However, due to loss of facilitators through mortality and dismissal by learners, the total number reduced to sixty-one by mid 1995.
The majority of classes had been running for one year, when graduation to took place. In that time, they had covered ten or eleven units as follows:
The analysis of health issues had been done by some groups as a response to the epidemic of fatal dysentery in the period immediately preceding graduation. Facilitators had discussed whether or not to bring forward the unit in their parish groups, and then taken a decision with their learners.
The rate of progress through the course had not been part of the original REFLECT design, and in general ACTIONAID staff had encouraged facilitators to let the learners take their time, and not to feel that it was a mark of their own success to have pushed their group further through the course. This would have led to superficial discussions and easily-forgotten literacy skills.
It was very fortuitous, however, that learners were of a standard to graduate, at the same time as they were about to start the part of the course devoted to Savings and Credit management. This will clearly give a renewed sense of purpose to the circle meetings, (which will otherwise follow the same format).
The graduation ceremonies for learners were held in March - May in all four parishes. Facilitators had assessed their learners on a continuous basis: testing the reading aloud of words, sentences and paragraphs; writing letters in class, completing calculations on the blackboard, and understanding of the graphics. They discussed grading criteria in parish groups and with ACTIONAID staff, and categorised learners into pre-literate (did not graduate); low literate; mid literate, and high literate.
The majority of learners therefore received a certificate, and all agreed that no-one should be chased away from the class. It was considered important to show appreciation for learners' achievements, and the community felt it was inappropriate to start new literacy classes before current ones had graduated, so learners and facilitators organised a big ceremony in each parish. These ceremonies included drumming, dancing and drama focused on creative interpretations of REFLECT units (Hungry Season Song, women and men singing together to show new unity, Family Planning role-play etc) and testimonies on the value of literacy. All the messages presented showed articulate communities recording changes they perceived to be the result of REFLECT, and were thus considered to be snap-shot evidence for the evaluation process itself.
Observations on the methodology in practice
In all the sample classes visited in Bundibugyo, evaluators looked carefully at the maps and calendars drawn from each unit and asked learners to interpret their work. This was in order to assess the understanding of the learners and their facilitator of the process of graphic construction, and the analytical discussion vital for consolidation onto paper. This understanding was again explored in all interviews.
In almost all cases, the sequence and clarity of the annotated graphics was satisfactory to the evaluators. The consensus of all those questioned, was that the process assisted the learners in looking objectively at the advantages and disadvantages of specific aspects of their environment, and representing these in a visual code. "We know where we are...and where other things are." said one learner to explain this point. The graphics have the power of a collective view or decision - even before any actions are taken. They are perceived as records of discussion, and as frames of reference for the future (literally hanging on the walls of the literacy shelter).
Learning to read and write using annotations to the accumulating graphics, and learner-generated language from the free-ranging but related discussions, seemed to be an established process in all classes. Exercise books showed that with the exception of words and sentences freely formed from syllables covered, writing was based on unit discussions, and action points. The learner's level did not seem to make any difference to the perceived connection with the graphic and discussion. Whether writing single words or mini project proposals, learners presented themselves as being fully participating members in a dynamic group process.
The same could not be said about the role of numeracy in the REFLECT process. The basic writing of numbers was related to calendars (eg. marking months 1-12) and to the household by household map through the counting of different categories of people. This map also allowed the introduction of the multiplication table in a meaningful context. After this stage, however, there was no evidence of numeracy activities relating to agriculture, gender, hungry season etc. Learners were practising the four calculations in the abstract and it was hard to see how they would either remember or apply the skills in a practical context.
In general, especially as regards meaningful reading and writing, there was understanding and satisfaction in the community. Several facilitators made unsolicited comments on the effectiveness of the method, in relation to how it could be used to improve methods currently used in primary schools, showing their own understanding of the principles of the work. The only people who did not have much insight into the REFLECT process were some of the Parish Councillors and RCs. This was balanced, however, by those leaders who were actively involved themselves as learners or facilitators, or through having close family members in these roles.
To determine the learners' interest in different activities in class a table was constructed to see how much time they would like to spend on each in an ideal classroom setting. The aim was to test whether learners saw graphic construction and discussion as either a waste of time compared to acquiring "real skills", or whether they were interested in these activities to the exclusion of literacy and numeracy. The table showed that learners would like to spend more time on graphic construction and discussion, but not as large an increase as desired for literacy and numeracy skills. In general there was a relative level of satisfaction with existing time allocation.
It was noted that no-one in the community had received any exposure to other literacy techniques, and had an enthusiastic tendency to regard REFLECT as the only method, the best method and their own. This certainly reduced their ability to look at the method itself objectively. The evaluation team tried to provide a balance by reading exercise
books looking for relevance, and by asking challenging questions about the maps and calendars. Learners were impressively articulate in explaining the graphics and the contents of their own books.
An examination of similar questions in the Control Group brought very different answers. There seemed to be no dynamic process around discussion of the Picture Charts (large posters with different pictures of everyday life which were used as a supplement to the primer). These were generally described as mere illustrations for the lesson; presenting situations either well known and obvious to the learners or unrealistic pictures, difficult to interpret. As codifications brought to the class for learners to deconstruct, they seemed to fail. There was no strategy for stimulating discussion. It seemed clear that most instructors would be able to spend very little time listening to learners before delivering their own pre-set conclusions on the topic for the day. It seemed possible for only an exceptionally knowledgeable and charismatic instructor to manage the class so that learners both developed analytical skills, and reached the required conclusion for the topic.
One instructor interviewed had used her own creativity by preparing songs and role plays to begin lessons in a different way, avoiding the tedium of always starting in the same way. However, it seemed to place a heavy burden on individual instructors and made the REFLECT method, where the pressure is equally balanced between learners and facilitator look much simpler to practice.
Enrolment, attendance and drop out
The coverage of the pilot, and the success rate in statistical terms, are shown in the table below.
There were many significant incidents in the area whilst the literacy programme was underway. Almost immediately after the programme started there was a large scale influx of refugees from neighbouring Zaire (pushed over the nearby border following increasingly intense fighting between the Zairean army and guerrillas). Most refugees were Lubwisi speaking and integrated with local communities, sometimes joining the literacy circles. However, a couple of months later the refugees were collected together and moved into refugee camps further inside Uganda. This caused some drop out and loss of momentum.
Meetings with the local Resistance Councils in May helped to revitalise many circles, but then in July came the "hungry season" - the time of year when there is least food or income available and many people have to migrate or work extra hours as day labourers to survive. At this time there was also a serious epidemic of cholera. In some villages the circles were actually closed down for a period -particularly when facilitators were recruited into a government "defence" campaign for 3 weeks.
By October the literacy circles had picked up again and were running well, but heavy rains in late November and December, building up to the Christmas break caused some new reductions. In early January 1995 new meetings were organised with local government all the way from village level through parish and sub-district to district level - in order to re-mobilise the circles. Attendance rose well. At the time of graduation in February/ March each literacy circle had an average of about 25 participants (having started with between 30 and 35).
Whilst all of the above "special" factors influenced attendance the "everyday" factors must also be considered. Finding time for literacy when there are so many other responsibilities is not easy. Other priorities often have to take precedence, whether producing crops, selling and buying goods, producing and caring for children, taking community roles, and coping with emergencies. Non-literates in Bundibugyo (as elsewhere) are usually the least powerful and therefore most heavily burdened members of the community, and an examination of registers revealed that the typical learner was indeed irregular, and attended approximately 100 hours of classes out of a possible 208 hours. The main reasons for irregular attendance as expressed by learners in interviews are classified overleaf:
It was noted from learners and female facilitators, that a healthy pregnancy and delivery was not considered a barrier to attending literacy classes. Usually pregnancy necessitated only a month's absence. This had previously been considered a "problem" of the woman learner. The unreliability of the facilitator was not considered a barrier by any learner interviewed (in contrast to the control group). Lastly, heavy rain, holiday periods and so on, tended to cause class to be cancelled altogether, rather than individuals not attending.
In the control groups in Mityana the drop out of learners from the centres was a major problem. It proved difficult to maintain learner motivation and only 40% of the learners were still attending the centres after a year (compared to 69% in the REFLECT circles). The causes of drop out were similar in some ways (eg workload) though there was some evidence that learners left the controls groups through frustration with their lack of achievement (which was not a factor in the REFLECT circles).
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