4.7 Methodological learning
The REFLECT Mother Manual which is being published alongside this research report attempts to pull together the best practice from the three pilot programmes. It is therefore inappropriate to try to do that same process within a short section of this report. There are however, one or two points which it is worth highlighting here and these emerge particularly from where weaknesses in the methodology have been revealed.
In El Salvador we have seen that, like all methodologies, the REFLECT methodology can be distorted. The worst case of this was the teacher in COMUS who prepared the maps and matrices at home so that the literacy class would learn quicker! Within any practice of PRA, the process should be seen as more important than the product. With REFLECT, where the process is entirely internal to the community, an emphasis on product is even less appropriate.
Another key learning point in El Salvador was the need for adequately educated facilitators. Facilitators with just three grades of primary education behind them struggled with the process. This does not mean that high academic achievers are required. However, some basic literacy level (perhaps equivalent to sixth grade primary education) might be necessary for the facilitators to be able to use the approach effectively. This should not normally be an obstacle (most literacy programmes are able to recruit facilitators at this level, even if they are volunteers) and should probably never be an absolute criteria because some facilitators with third grade education may be more skilled than some with sixth or tenth grade. Basic literacy in the literacy facilitators is particularly needed for them to read the manual, prepare lessons and benefit fully from the training. Nevertheless, every effort should be made to simplify manuals (complex, technical language in the manuals was a problem in both Bangladesh and El Salvador).
One methodological learning point which emerges from all three pilot programmes concerns the use of visual cards. The cards produced by local artists in all three pilots were far too elaborate and detailed - making it hard to use them in practice because the facilitators were not able to copy them simply. The cards should be very simple outline pictures (almost symbols) which can be copied within a few seconds by someone who is not good at drawing. It would even be possible to do away with visual cards and to work purely with a reference list of (equally simple) pictures in the manual. If visual cards are used they must be colour coded and numbered so as to be easily found when needed. This is an area where practice in future projects can significantly improve on the experience of the pilot projects. Further details are available in the Mother Manual.
In reviewing training in the three pilots the universal agreement was that the focus should be put on ongoing training. The initial training period may be between ten or twenty days, with a strong focus on field practice of PRA - and discussion by trainees of how the resulting maps and matrices can be used for introducing literacy and numeracy. The facilitators manual is itself a means of ongoing support. However, regular contact between facilitators is essential (in groups of between ten and thirty - depending on the scale) - where they can review their experiences over previous weeks and prepare for the coming weeks. These meetings may be fortnightly at first and then monthly once they become more established. This appears to be good practice in any literacy programme - but is not always followed. The facilitators should be given as much control as possible over the agenda of the ongoing training so that they can mould it to their needs (indeed it is possible for this ongoing training to function without external facilitation as was the case in Uganda).
In relation to the scope of the manuals, one common criticism of the three pilot programmes (in retrospect) would be that they sought to cover too many Units. The result was that they went into too much detail on certain themes (eg agriculture) and did not even cover some other themes (eg health) within the initial time frame. This occurred partly because initially it had been assumed that each Unit would be covered more quickly. Whilst some cumulative depth of analysis is clearly desirable it might be better to "mix and match" a little more - so that everyone covers a range of core themes and then goes back and addresses each theme in more detail.
One additional criticism of all three manuals is that they were originally designed having key words for all Units, even late on in the course. In practice this was often overlooked and facilitators developed more creative reading and writing based on graphics produced by learners after the initial Units. But in other classes, facilitators followed the manuals religiously and were still picking out key words and even breaking them into syllables long after the learners had acquired basic literacy skills. This is clearly problematic. There is a case for key words and syllabic breakdown in the first few Units,
but once the basic concept (that words are made up of syllables) is clear the emphasis must be on whole words and (progressively) phrases. In all three pilots key words were also pre-chosen whereas in projects now starting up the REFLECT approach some are leaving the choice of words entirely to learners in each centre (with the facilitator keeping a note on syllables covered).
It is only through field practice that observations like the above can be made. The methodology which is now emerging and which is consolidated in the REFLECT Mother Manual has learnt both from the mistakes and successes of the pilots and should in future lead to projects which are more effective than the original three pilots.
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