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The REFLECT Approach

The Regenerated Freirean Literacy through Empowering Community Technique Approach as an Educational Alternative for Functional Literacy and Solution to Community Problems

 by Ouédraogo Germaine Ouedrago,  Executive Secretary of APENF, Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso


"Education For All" (EFA) is a pledge Burkina Faso made to address educational issues, following the recommendations of World Conference on Education in Jomtien (Thailand) in March 1990. This pledge is in line with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which advocate the creation of an environment conducive for development and poverty eradication. Education is central to the achievement of these goals (Kam, et. al, 2010). However, the effectiveness of such commitments require the reversal of deficits such as access, quality, relevance and steerage in the in the educational system. The scenarios that were developed after the general assessment of education in 1994, for example, the implementation of the Ten Year Plan for the Development of Primary Education (PDDEB) have attempted to overcome the central factors that hinder the promotion of good the educational system (PDDEB, 2001).

 The State and civil society have collaborated to make significant improvement towards the achievements of goals in the non-formal educational sector.  The non-formal sub-system is defined to include all activities of education, structured and organized training in the non-school context such as literacy, training and development of a literate environment (Education Guidance Law of Burkina Faso, 2007). A national strategy called "make-do strategy" that spells out the role of each actor has allowed them to work according their abilities and skills in the joint effort to achieve the goals of education. The civil society have thus been given the opportunity to participate in evaluation of the effectiveness and efficiency of educational processes and right to education for all and mobilization of resources  from the communities (Kam, Some, Zabsonre, & Ouedraogo, 2010).

Despite the efforts made by the State, the educational system indicators especially those of the non-formal sub-system, remain low. For example, as low as 28.4% literacy rate was observed in 2006. The promotion of the REFLECT literacy approach is among the efforts to contribute to the search for quality non-formal educational delivery. REFLECT is an English acronym for: “Regenerated Freirean Literacy through Empowering Community Techniques”, which is translated into French as Alphabétisation Freirienne Régénérée à travers les Techniques de Renforcement des Capacités et Pouvoirs Communautaires. (Pamoja-Afrique on

REFLECT is a training approach that empowers learners to develop entrepreneurial and team spirit to solve their problems. REFLECT is practiced on a transnational scale and remains one of the few non-formal educational approaches that link several people in Francophone, Hispanic, Lusophone and Anglophone African countries and others in different parts of the world. A platform for dialogue and advocacy called Pamoja has been created at the continental level (Pamoja Africa) to connect national networks including Pamoja-Burkina (Pamoja Africa Reports, 2006).

This case study attempts to highlight the most valuable aspects of the REFLECT approach as promoted in Burkina Faso. It is an approach that facilitates development of life skills useful for transforming literacy into a sustainable development tool.


In Burkina, the introduction of REFLECT began in 1998 through the presentation of the approach to the Association of the Promotion of Non-Formal Education (APENF) by ACTION AID.  APENF opened nine (9) experimental centers in three languages ​​(Moore, Jula, Fulfulde) with technical and financial support from Literacy/Training Program of Swiss Cooperation in Burkina in 2001. Of the 290 people that benefited from the training, 60% were women. The demand for establishment of more REFLECTS is growing rapidly due to the positive results achieved on the field (Study Report on the AENF formulas and practices, 2008). 

REFLECT centers are financed by the Fund for Literacy and Non Formal Education (FONAENF), which is a national non-formal fund in Burkina since the 2008 campaign. In 2009, the number of centers reached 1085 including 872 centers that were funded by the FONAENF and 213 managed by the APENF with support from the Swiss Cooperation. Currently, about 1,500 REFLECT literacy centers are created per year which is serving at least 45,000 people, of which; more than the half are women (MENA Report, 2011). The growing demand for REFLECT centers exceeds the current capacity. This demonstrates the relevance of the approach in encouraging the real empowerment of the learner.

Challenges Encountered and Possible Solutions

The REFLECT approach was introduced to address the concerns of the prospective clients of literacy programs. These were frustrated by the inadequacy of the formal, public educational system, that focus on repetition of information that is not responsive to the expectations of prospective clients as citizens and actors of their own development (Faundez, and Mugrab, 2004).In fact, learners of literacy centers remarked that learning was very theoretical, focusing on learning codes and not on relevant topics that meet their specific needs. Also, supports to vocational training were inaccessible and inadequate. Learners were interested in literacy and aimed to acquire skills to increase productivity, solidarity and reinvesting of experiences back to the community to solve problems in the community through exchange of experience and motivation. 

The REFLECT approach is perceived as an innovative and responsive approach, which:

·         places the learner in the center of his/her learning process and enables him/her to develop his/her potential skills. Unlike formal education system, the teaching/learning is done in the local language to facilitate access for the majority of learners;

·         discusses community concerns using  the Accelerated Method for Participatory Research (MARP) tool such as the discussion tree, the preferential classification methods, diagrams, planning and implementation of solutions and experiences at individual, family and community levels. Learners are organized into small groups to monitor the achievements at all levels. Observations, checklists or interview guides are used to collect data to provide feedback during the exchange meetings with communities; and

·         creates and develops mutual solidarity among members of a community to preserve their interests and assert their rights.

The REFLECT approach is based on a solid but basic diagnostic process that allows learners at each center to identify the major problems from their own perspective, analyse, priotise and plan the implementation of solutions to identified problems. After that a training program called “Study Plan” is developed. The study plan is a reference document that provides all the topics to be addressed, the activities to be performed by the learner and facilitator of the center, the appropriate equipment to be used and task to be evaluated. The study plan is specific to each center because it takes the needs of the community into account.

The problems that learners and communities are not able to solve are developed into a planning contract called “Ideas for Action”. Ideas for action contain commitments and detail information for further consideration and solution. The information contained in” Ideas for Action” are transformed into development projects. Monitoring committees are formed to source for funding to implement the projects. These reinvestments and commitments of learners and communities enable them to solve their problems.

The REFLECT approach allows communities to initiate a dialogue on major challenges affecting them which eventually will lead to finding of solutions that will improve on the livelihood of the population. The development of capabilities to read, write, count and address socio-cultural and environment challenges start with the teaching/learning process that focus on the needs of communities.

The implementation of literacy programs using the REFLECT approach is not immune to organizational and pedagogical challenges. Among the challenges confronting effective implementation of REFLECT are:

·         Inadequate training of the facilitators of the centers due to the rudimentary nature and short duration of preparation for the training. The ability of these actors to truly serve as facilitators is limited and often hampered. The training curricula are often weak and sessions are sometimes poorly implemented. Ultimately, the concerns of communities are not being fully taken into consideration. The ongoing functional training infrastructure established are expected to address the above mentioned problems. 

·         Lack of ideas for actions. Indeed, in the absence of ideas for actions, REFLECT cannot claim to be an enabling and a dynamic method.

·         Lack of funds to implement identified ideas for action means that projects capable of generating substantial resources could not be implemented.

Success Factors

The main factors of success of a REFLECT programs are:

·         The teaching / learning (study plan) programs are built out of the needs of beneficiaries. The development of problem diagnosis before learning enables actors to adapt the topic to the real concerns of beneficiaries. This makes learning more motivating, participatory and empowering ;

·         There is active participation of learners in teaching/learning process. The learner is the key player for his/her own learning process. This is in line with suggestion expressed by Pauli Freire in his book titled ‘the pedagogy of the oppressed’ to make the learner the focus of learning (Freire, 1983) ;

·         Learning in the first year is achieved without the spelling-book. This eliminates memorization by the learners since memorization does not necessarily mean mastery or control of subject;

·         The participatory  tools such as of the Active Method of Participative Research (MARP) and Gender and Development (GED) encourages participation and ownership of the knowledge acquired by learners;

·         The learning process links theory to practice. This facilitates the acquisition of skills by the beneficiaries to use instruments to achieve technical efficiency;

·         The Active participation of the community in the teaching/learning process builds a relationship between the center and village to discuss socio-economic and cultural issues in the community;

·         Combination of development and literacy. This is possible through the reinvestment of learning (knowledge, know-how) including the implementation of ideas for action, technical training and development of local dynamics ;

·         The development of a literate environment contributes to the sustainability of the teaching / learning achievements;

·         The actors responsible for monitoring and evaluation and trainers are retrained continuously.

Lessons That Could be Applied Elsewhere

·         The MARP and GED tools could be used by training institutions to conduct an in-depth basic diagnosis ;

·         The involvement of beneficiaries in the learning process facilitates the adherence of the beneficiaries in the process, active participation, and community empowerment ;

·         The development of the teaching / learning topics (study plan) taking needs of the beneficiaries into account will lead to quality teaching ; 

·         Combination of  literacy training with development to facilitates the application of acquired experiences, and the development of the socio-economic and local dynamics (Niameogo, 1998);

·         The theory and practice should be aligned in the teaching/learning process to promote the ownership of knowledge;

·         Develop a literate environment  (production of training materials by learners, which can be communicated to a larger audience) to contribute to the sustainability of learning experiences ;

·         Investment in continuous retraining of facilitators and trainers can enhance the quality of teaching/learning.


The REFLECT approach has become one of the most important educational alternatives used in non-formal education in Burkina. It takes into account the community concerns and facilitates the production of results for the communities to master the technical and instrumental knowledge to develop skills for their socio-economic development.


Faundez, A., & Mugrabi, E. (2004). Rupture et continuités en éducation : aspects théoriques et pratiques, IDEA Genève, DEDA.

Freire, P. (1983). Pédagogie des opprimés, édition la découverte, paris V. 199 p.

Kam, O. F., Some, M., Zabsonre, T. S., & Ouedraogo, Zongo, E (2010) : Capitalisation Des Expériences De Mise En Œuvre De Reflect, Rapport définitif. 

Niameogo, A. (1998). Etude sur les programmes nationaux d’alphabétisation fonctionnelle pour le développement agricole et rural des pays d’Afrique de l’Ouest et de l’Est. Etude de cas du Burkina Faso. CTA. ACP-UE.