REFLECT – Non-primer Based Approach of Adult Literacy

a non-primer-based approach for adult literacy is REFLECT approach; Photo source: Friendhsip NGO
a non-primer-based approach for adult literacy is REFLECT approach; Photo source: Friendship NGO
Aklima Sharmin
Written by Aklima Sharmin

Generally, non-formal literacy programs are primer or text book dependent in Bangladesh. Primer is the book which used for adult literacy. Here the contents of the primer and the learning method are determined by the respective organization. There is a little role of learners to determine what they learn and how they learn. Primer based adult literacy approaches are—

(a) Alphabetic approach
(b) Entire word approach
(c) Entire sentence approach
(d) Phonetic approach
(e) Psycho-phonetic approach
(f) Language approach
(g) Eclectic approach

Above them, a non-primer-based approach for adult literacy is REFLECT approach which introduced by ActionAid Bangladesh. This article mainly discusses the non-primer-based approach REFLECT. Here REFLECT approach is defined in the view of ActionAid Bangladesh because in Bangladesh it is the prominent organization that used it as their delivery approach.

REFLECT is an acronym for “Regenerated Freirean Literacy through Empowering Community Techniques”. The REFLECT concept is based on the Theory of Conscientization. A Brazilian Educator “Paulo Freire” conceptualized and pioneered this approach. “Action-Aid” then further developed this approach with its programs in 1993. The first application of this innovative approach was in El Salvador (South America), Bangladesh (Asia), and Uganda.

REFLECT Approach

First of all, it should be mentioned that REFLECT is not merely a literacy program. It is an empowering process for disadvantaged people. In this empowering process, literacy is one of the most important components. Though REFLECT is used for literate adult people, literacy is not the end of REFLECT program. Empowerment of the poor and marginalized people is the end of the REFLECT program. In REFLECT process verbal activities are more emphasized than providing so-called literacy. But as an adult literacy program, it is more popular now. REFLECT assess sometimes as a process, sometimes as a program, sometimes as a method or approach.

REFLECT relies on volunteer facilitators chosen from among men and women in the community who can read and write Emphasis lies upon dialogue and action, awareness raising, cooperation and empowerment. It opens new horizons for exploring development challenges and to find ways to overcome them. The empowering process gives an opportunity to freely discuss any issues including sensitive cultural traditions.


At present REFLECT is just referred to as REFLECT but initially REFLECT was the abbreviation of “Regenerated Freirean Literacy through Empowering Community Techniques”.  REFLECT is an innovative and integrative approach for adult learning, empowerment, and social change. REFLECT enables people to plan their development activities based on local needs and reality. This also enables people to get involved in life-oriented actions through the attainment of empowerment skills. This approach offers creative learning as a communicative means that gives them the strength for raising voices against the injustice and inequality that exists (AAB, 2000).

Theoretical Background

REFLECT combines particularly Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) with the theories of Brazilian educationalist Paulo Freire. The Freirean approach of adult literacy education bases the content of language lessons on learners’ cultural and personal experiences. Pedagogy of literacy education of Freire involves reading the word and the world. This involves the development of critical consciousness, which allows people to question the nature of their historical and social situation to read their world with the goal of acting as subjects in the creation of a democratic society. For education Firere implies a dialogic exchange between teachers and students, where both learn, both question, both reflect and both participate in meaning making.

Core principles

David Archer (Overseas Development Administrator, ActionAid) selected ten core principles for REFLECT approach. These are –

1. Reflect is a political Process
2. Reflect is an approach premised on the recognition that achieving social change and greater social justice is fundamentally a political process.
3. Reflect is not a neutral approach that seeks to promote a neutral vision of ‘development’ based only on improving people’s immediate material conditions or providing short-term responses to their basic needs.
4. Rather it is an approach that seeks to help people in the struggle to assert their rights, challenge injustice and change their position in society.
5. It is action oriented, not passive or detached.
6. It involves working with people rather than ‘for’ them.
7. Creating democratic spaces Reflect involves creating a democratic space – one in which everyone’s voice is given equal weight. This needs to be actively constructed as there is almost nowhere that people have an equal voice (people everywhere are stratified by gender, age, hierarchy, status, ability etc.).
8. As such it is counter-cultural – always challenging local culture to the extent that power relationships and stratification have created inequality.
9. It is never easy and may never be perfectly achieved but it should be a constant focus.
10. The facilitator plays a critical role – exploring power dynamics within the group as a basis for deepening analysis of power in wider society.
11. Conflict resolution becomes an increasingly important skill.


The REFLECT process involves a 24 months journey encompassing a three-month pre-month pre-circle preparatory period, a 9 month basic circle (BC) period followed by a terminal evaluation and 12 month post circle (PC) period. In REFLECT, the word ‘Circle’ is used instead of ‘Classroom’ to emphasize that REFLECTS is a very different type of learning process the schooling. ‘Learners’ in a REFLECT are termed as ‘Participants’. In REFLECT Circles, facilitators facilitate the participants to analyze their own community and their existing situations with the view to identify their own problems.

Then the participants jointly start constructing graphics and simultaneously dialogue goes on among them as they analyze their existing situation. Through these, the participants try to find out the different causes and effects of the selected problem. Accordingly, they take up different Action Points for solving those problems. The graphics that the participants develop generally cover: household map, social map, health calendar, income-expenditure tree, workload calendar, mobility map, land use, land tenancy, credit source, preference ranking of crops, and many more. After deciding on Action Points from each graphic, the participants select an important word that has influenced their analytical discussion.

This word becomes the keyword for learning creative literacy, which first introduced in the form of a picture drawn by any participant on the board. Then the facilitator writes the keyword beside the particular graphic. The facilitator facilities splitting the word into individual alphabets and signs and introduces them with the sounds that they already know. Thus the participants learn the alphabets with their corresponding phonetics. As participants pick up the alphabets and signs they combine these with different variations to reproduce words from their own contextual vocabulary. Then the participants attempt to develop meaningful sentences with these vocabularies. Participants also learn numeracy almost the same way.

REFLECT Circles (RCs)

REFLECT program forms circle with two phases—basic circle (BC) and post circle (PC). In basic circle there could be maximum 25 participants. Circles could be formed exclusively with female, male, female adolescents or male adolescents.

In the Basic circle, the participants acquire reading, writing and numeracy—3Rs. The participants also take up action points (AC) pertaining to their individual, household livelihood security, personal hygiene, gender, and also rights-based incentives.

In the Post Circle, the REFLECT graduates (those who complete the BC) take the activities which make them literate to a sustainable level through consolidation and reinforcement of hteir learning so that they may develop permanent habit and parctice of utilising the skills attained from the 9 months BC time. In the PC, the participants implement their acquire 3Rs for lifelong quality education, awareness about gender, empowerment, governance, rights for sustainable development and livelihood security.

Now REFECT has used as a unique process for adult literacy as well as for concerned people about their basic rights.

About the author

Aklima Sharmin

Aklima Sharmin

Aklima Sharmin is working as a Divisional Education Coordinator (Dhaka and Chittagong Area), World Vision Bangladesh, Dhaka, Bangladesh.

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