The same basic literacy and numeracy tests, based on a standard design used elsewhere in Uganda, were conducted with learners in both REFLECT groups and control groups. All learners in the sample of 24 REFLECT circles passed the test except for one learner who was regarded as still being pre-literate. The test papers were independently reviewed to verify this. In the control group only 55% of learners passed. The average score of REFLECT learners was 55%, with half the learners scoring over 50%. This compares with an average score of 36% in the Control Groups.
The average REFLECT learner after one year (with a typical attendance of one hundred hours) can: a) read a paragraph aloud and understand it. She finds difficulty, however, with silent reading. b) write a letter on a familiar topic eg, letter to ACTIONAID, asking for a loan, of about one paragraph. She writes clearly and with confidence. c) copy and calculate using the four signs. Four figure numbers are handled well in addition and subtraction, and two figures in multiplication and division.
The average woman obtained a higher score than the average man, though there was a wider spread of ability (women's scores in the REFLECT circles ranged from 10% - 86%, and men's scores from 47% - 88%).
Test results were broken down into skill components:-
This was the weakest area and women performed relatively badly particularly on reading comprehension requiring silent reading of unknown material. Learners have almost no experience of this activity, and many did not attempt the task. However, it was also the last question in the test and there may have been time and tiredness factors at work.
This was a strong area, and most learners attempted some independent writing, and were not worried about spelling errors etc. They were confident about setting out their answers on a separate sheet of paper and wrote quickly and clearly. This was impressive as they had never done a test before. Only one learner seemed to be in the pre-literate stage.
Learners scored high in this area, and women did better than men. All the questions were based on conventional maths, and even if not answered accurately were set out correctly as a record. Women were more methodical than men in their setting out of the calculations. Their scores were a surprise considering that they had expressed a desire for more time on numeracy and the numeracy work had been criticised for being delinked from the graphics.
In the learners' self evaluation of progress (PRA activity), 84% were satisfied with their overall progress in reading, writing, numeracy and discussion with a slightly lower figure of 81% satisfied with their progress in numeracy.
Examination of learners' notebooks, the test results and talking to learners and facilitators, led to the conclusion that REFLECT enabled learners to achieve their maximum potential, and there were no constraints such as experienced by learners in the Control Group. The learners are encouraged to experiment with independent writing, and do so.
The main weakness of the methodology is that the course is cumulative, using phonetic languages to build up a repertoire of syllables, but there are no strategies for remedial action when adult learners miss a number of classes. Facilitators have no idea what to do except to give up their time free of charge to irregular (or slow) learners. There is obviously no reason why they should do this as an integral part of their work.
The most noticeable characteristic of Control Groups was a lack of self confidence. REFLECT learners took the papers, were happy to work on their own (indeed were anxious that other learners should not copy them!) and were certain that they would do well. In the Control Group, learners had to be persuaded to try, and were always asking for help from the instructor and each other.
"We cannot take the test. We are still in Primary 1" was a typical comment.
This lack of confidence clearly led to the test being done poorly. It showed (with the exception of some individuals with very high scores) that the learners had indeed achieved only the very limited goals set out in the methodology for Basic Literacy. They could have achieved much more in the same period using REFLECT.
Reading of exercise books in Control Groups showed that learners spent most of the time copying, and did not understand what they had written. Reading with comprehension, as opposed to merely reading syllables aloud, was rare in the sample classes. This was compounded by the problem of learners who were not fluent in Luganda which was the only language offered.
Numeracy exercises had in the main no connection with the Picture Chart or the topic, and this seemed to be due to the restriction to single figure calculations. This was recognised by facilitators to be well below learners' capacity for mental arithmetic (used to reading and calculating very large figures in Ugandan shillings), but the only practical numeracy supplied was the explanation of relevant weights and measures eg. weighing coffee on a kilogram scale.
At the end of the course, at best learners could write key words, (often only the key "generative words" which the primer had given them). They were not in a meaningful context, and it appeared
that the adult learners were being taught in the same way as a child for whom language and context are both new worlds to explore. The result was low achievement (with just 55% passing and an average score of just 36% in the tests) and little prospect with the Primer methodology of creating a dynamic process linking literacy and action (see section 4.6).
Literate habits & language empowerment
Having chosen to teach in a language that was not previously written there were (at first) apparently no materials for people to use to develop literate habits. A survey of people's habits showed that they were creatively using their skills to read some things (including Bibles, labels, signs, directions, instructions etc) often in other languages (including English). However, it is clear that their main reading activities were in the literacy class itself. This has left learners with very little conception of their future choices of reading materials and presents a serious challenge.
One learner expressed her lack of experience in reading using the following Lubwisi proverb: "If a child always eats at her own home, she always thinks her mother is the best cook."
If the literacy skills are to be consolidated into literate habits in Bundibugyo, much depends on the creation of a literate environment. There are some positive signs. There are initiatives from the communities themselves: notices of meetings, funerals and other events are being put up in the villages on improvised notice boards; an increase in letter-writing (both personal and for "official purposes"); the preparation of local project proposals and the writing down of oral histories. There is also a "demand". Many learners commented in their interviews that, following the REFLECT circles they wanted to read more, in order to feel "enlightened" about the world around, and also to gain access to practical information -even if they were usually unaware of the range of things which they could read.
From "above" as it were, ACTIONAID is responding to this by printing some of the local stories written by learners (and other local materials) in a newsletter - as well as translating texts on health, agriculture, politics (eg the new constitution) and law into Lubwisi. There are plans for simple low cost printing (eg silk-screen) facilities to be made available to each literacy class.
Maintaining a momentum and the demand for literacy is critical. This has been helped by an apparent change of people's attitude towards literacy. As one put it, the local definition of literacy is now "that people are naturally clever but they also need to learn reading and writing". The pressure on numbers for the new set of literacy classes is ample evidence that those previously uninterested in literacy are changing. Interviews with Parish Councillors and RC1s revealed that over 50% had a real understanding of the REFLECT process happening in the classes. This made their commitment to support the existing classes, as well as the new ones starting, seem more realistic and genuine.
Most significantly however is the shifting status of the main language used in the literacy programme, Lubwisi. Whereas two years ago it was unwritten and many local people commented that they felt "ashamed" to speak it in the markets (or on the few occasions they travelled outside the area), now there is a sense of pride in the language. Not only this, the language itself is gathering a momentum, with the local bank in Bundibugyo town now printing forms and cheque books in the language, government agencies starting to recognise the language and even the Ministry of Education now accepting its use in the first three years of primary school. This is a spectacular turnaround in a short space of time. The process is helped by the present political climate in Uganda which emphasises decentralisation. It would not be so easy in other contexts. Nevertheless the extent of change in how Lubwisi is identified and used can only increase the prospects of local people creating their own literate environment in their own language, consolidating their literacy skills in the process.
The same level of "language empowerment" has not yet taken place with Lukonjo (as there were only a handful of Lukonjo circles) but once the literacy programme extends to more Lukonjo speaking villages it will be interesting to observe the changes. There is certainly a danger that Lubwisi may end up being elevated above other local languages (like Lukonjo) and dialects (like Lwamba) thus disempowering or undermining other local groups. If the original pilot programme had included more Lukonjo speaking villages this danger would have been reduced. The circles which have learnt in Lukonjo have shown that the REFLECT methodology is able to adapt to such a challenge. However the need for follow up resources in printing and publishing in different
languages also needs to be considered. The cost of this would be reduced if the emphasis is placed on creating a literate environment from below through low cost village level printing.
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