Eustella Peter Bhalalusesa

Tanzania’s Vision 2025 includes the complete eradication of illiteracy. It has been decided that the REFLECT method would an appropriate way of achieving this goal. This paper examines a pilot project (Community Level Basic Education – CLBE) implemented by ActionAid Tanzania (AA Tz)1 using REFLECT methodology in two poor rural communities in Tanzania. The descriptions and conclusions given in this paper are based on an evaluative study to assess the impact of the CLBE project over the four years (1998–2002) it was in operation. Dr Eustella Bhalalusesa is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Adult Education of the Faculty of Education, University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Currently, she is also Head of the Department of Adult Education and Extension Services. She has been working closely with NGOs and government agencies involved in the education of adults.

Towards Sustainable Development through Reflect Methodology in Tanzania: Major Trends and Lessons


Tanzania’s Vision 2025 aims at a high quality of life for all Tanzanians through the realization of universal primary education and the eradication of illiteracy, among other things. Within the Vision 2025 context, education is the strategic agent for attitudinal change and the creation of a well-educated nation with the knowledge and skills to solve the development challenges which face the nation. The Vision emphasises the need to ensure that science and technology, including awareness of its application for promoting and enhancing productivity and reducing people’s vulnerability to poverty, permeate the whole society through continuous adult learning and publicity campaigns. Within the same context the Ministry of Education and Culture has decided to adopt the REFLECT methodology as an appropriate approach to the provision of adult basic education in the country. Several pilot programmes have been launched, and these have demonstrated some positive results as well as some lessons.

The approach used to collect information for the evaluation consisted primarily of a desk study and field visits to the project areas. The desk study involved detailed analyses of documents relating to the establishment, implementation and overall progress of the project. The field visit involved five comprehensive site visits during which face-to face interviews and focused group discussions were conducted with REFLECT instructors, participants in the REFLECT circles, district officials and community leaders. Interviews were also used to collect information from officials within the Ministry of Education and Culture (Adult Education Unit). The field visit provided an opportunity for direct observation of REFLECT circles and activities.

The paper begins by highlighting the origins of the REFLECT methodology. It then looks at its development in Tanzania. This provides the basis for a description of the implementation of the CLBE project. The next part of the paper illuminates the main achievements and problems. The last section lists recommendations for improved practice.

The Origins of the REFLECT Approach

REFLECT is the acronym for “Regenerated Freirean Literacy through Empowering Community Techniques”. It is based on the theory of conscientization, pioneered by the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire. The emphasis is placed on dialogue and action, awareness-raising, cooperation and empowerment. Adult learners explore development challenges and find ways to overcome them. Such issues become the basis for learners to be taught literacy and numeracy skills. Communities are also encouraged to use these skills to generate income to improve their livelihoods. This empowering process gives an opportunity to freely discuss any issue including sensitive cultural traditions. The main task of facilitators is to keep the interactive dialogue on track.

REFLECT was developed by ActionAid in 1993 and first used in El Salvador (South America), Bangladesh (Asia) and Uganda. REFLECT is now used in over 60 countries to tackle problems in agriculture, HIV/AIDS, conflict resolution and peace building.

Development of the REFLECT Approach in Tanzania

Immediately after independence in 1961, the government adopted the Fundamental Education Model promoted by UNDP/UNESCO during the period 1946–1964. Adult basic education was restricted to the acquisition of reading and writing skills by as many learners as possible but did not take into account their different needs, interests and characteristics. At independence, 85% of the total population (80% of men and 98% of women) did not know how to read and write (Nationalist Newspaper, 24 August 1967).

Following the Teheran Conference of 1965, UNESCO in collaboration with UNDP launched an Experimental Functional Literacy Programme between 1967 and 1972 in 11 developing countries, including Tanzania, to find out the most effective means of eliminating illiteracy. This model, modified from the Fundamental Education Model, assumed that there was a positive correlation between literacy and socio-economic development.

In practice, functional literacy tended to be restricted to improving vocational skills and work-oriented aspects of literacy programmes related to issues of priority to the nation in the area of economic development. Tanzania’s three Five-Year Development Plans (19611974), for example, underscored agricultural productivity, particularly related to cash crops, without taking into consideration the fact that the majority of people were still subjected to poverty and miserable living conditions. Learners, most of whom were women, became demotivated and withdrew from classes.

As a response to the Jomtien Conference on Education for All in 1990, and following the findings of studies conducted in the early 1990s and the national literacy survey of 1992 which showed that adult basic education activities had almost ceased to operate, Tanzania had to reconsider the functional literacy approach. The country adopted UNESCO’s concept of adult basic education as educational provision to meet adults’ basic learning needs.2 The government designed Integrated Community Based Adult Education (ICBAE) in 1993 to increase access to sustainable basic education for adults and out-of-school youth, through the development of a learner-centred, community-based approach. Four wards were selected for the pilot phase (Kiroka in Morogoro, Kishinda in Mwanza, Soni in Tanga and Sembeti in Kilimanjaro). With financial assistance from the African Development Bank (ADB), ICBAE was scaled up to another eight districts in Tanzania. These were Masasi, Newala, Songea Rural, Tunduru, Nachingwea, Liwale, Biharamulo and Kigoma.

In recognition of the positive impact of REFLECT methodology in other countries, Tanzania decided to adopt the REFLECT approach in the ICBAE pilot areas in 1998. In the same year, Action Aid Tanzania began undertaking a long-term community-based education programme (Community Level Basic Education – CLBE) in two rural districts (Kigoma Rural and Liwale) of Tanzania. The project was for four years (1998-2002) and was funded by DFID.

The CLBE Project and Implementation of the REFLECT Approach

The purpose of the CLBE initiative was to enhance provision of basic education for poor people through the introduction of complementary, flexible educational initiatives linked to the formal school system of Tanzania. The focus was to provide basic literacy and functional skills to people aged between 15 and 50, with a special emphasis on girls and women. The project was taken as complementary to the key issues which the Ministry of Education and Culture (MoEC) was trying to address through the Education Sector Development Programme (Ed-SDP).

The REFLECT approach to adult literacy was a sub-component within the CLBE project, designed as a developmental tool to facilitate the 3Rs and to enable communities to realise that they were responsible for their own development. REFLECT circles were meant to be the nuclei for identifying and discussing community problems at village level and to offer opportunities to share, discuss and learn about practical issues that were important in people’s lives.

The REFLECT circles multiplied, with the result that the number of participants attending sessions and interest among educational officials increased. By December 2002 there were about 42 REFLECT circles (14 in Makata and 38 in Ilagala) with an enrolment of 1324 learners and 64 facilitators, as indicated in the table.

Table 1: Total number of adult learners and facilitators in REFLECT circles by December 2002

Project Area


  Female Male Total Female Male Total
Makata (Liwale) 115 126 241 13 6 19
Ilagala (Kigoma) - - 1283 13 32 45
Total     1324 26 38 64

Each of the REFLECT circles was managed by a committee of about five people. Members met at least twice a week for about two hours. Some of these REFLECT circles undertook projects in farming, gardening, carpentry, brick-making, dairy goat and poultry keeping as income-generating activities. Efforts were made to get the groups to move further and become more involved in exploring poverty issues. At times, the circles provided advice on community activities. For example, due to the failure of crop sales in one season in one of the project areas (Nambunju in Liwale District), the REFLECT circle suggested rehabilitating the road leading to the village. Villagers undertook this work and were able to sell their crops in the next season, because vehicles were able to get to the village.

Elsewhere, REFLECT circles mobilized villagers to clean well water, and in Makata village, REFLECT circles inspired the village community to start using bricks in construction of their houses, something which had not been done before, and the circle sold materials for the brick-making industry.

REFLECT relies on volunteer facilitators chosen from among men and women in the community who can read and write. The CLBE facilitators received a honorarium of Tshs 10,000 (equivalent to US $ 10) per month from Action Aid Tanzania. The communities were supposed to contribute the same amount or to give nonmonetary support to the facilitators.

Summary of Achievements of the Project

Overall, the REFLECT methodology demonstrated positive results:

  • REFLECT circles became focal points for discussion of community problems such as water, roads, soil fertility, health and HIV/AIDS, agriculture, and the factors causing poverty.

  • Small-scale income-generating activities were initiated. These created an opportunity to explore effective collective action, which would not have thrived in the migratory life style which had characterized the pilot project areas.

  • Gender disparity was reduced among REFLECT members. Families learnt to share the work-load and to plan together in the best interest of the family. There is now increased confidence among women to participate in meetings, and talk in public. Women have become able to participate effectively in discussions, contest leadership positions and make their voices heard.

  • There is increased awareness among people. They now know that problems are not God-given. This awareness is not the result of telling people “how things are” but a process whereby people learnt through experience, which allowed them to question their reality independently. One participant from one of the project areas had this to say: “REFLECT has indeed opened up our eyes. It has changed our attitudes and the way we look into things. Now we know that there is a lot we can do for ourselves instead of waiting for the government to do everything for us.”

  • REFLECT circles were the best-organised groups in the villages, and could be used in the annual planning process and to analyse community problems.

Issues to be Resolved

The project was not free from challenges, however, which affected it negatively from time to time: 
Scale of projects in REFLECT circles: although income-generating activities were initiated they were too small to have a serious impact on poverty: gardening, for example, or keeping 15 chickens for a group of 25 participants. If the REFLECT methodology is to achieve the expected outputs as a developmental tool, participants need to move into larger projects, but these need considerable capital investment and skilled, innovative and knowledgeable facilitators capable of leading the participants in critically analysing their problems, identifying viable projects and writing project proposals. Continued technical and material support is imperative.

The balance between literacy and other pressing community problems: although REFLECT methodology demonstrated the ability to assist communities to analyse, plan and implement community actions, the REFLECT circles were used more as a “social or community forum” than for literacy learning. Whereas the participants in the REFLECT circles appreciated the importance of being literate, they also felt that this alone would not solve their immediate pressing problems. They found it more urgent to learn how to design and run small income-generating projects. This is a big challenge given that Tanzania has to improve by 50% the current literacy rate from 68% to 84% if it is to satisfy the goals of the Dakar Framework for Action on Education for All by 2015. The gap that existed in 2000 is supposed to be halved. REFLECT methodology in its ideal form, however, is meant to help participants to tackle practical development problems, among which literacy may not be a priority.

Acceptance and ownership of the project by its beneficiaries (sustainability): in Tanzania, experience demonstrates that many donor-funded projects fail to continue once donor assistance is reduced or withdrawn. This project was community-based, and hence its ownership was supposed to rest upon the community. However, the impression from community members was that they were unsure whether they were truly ready to accept and take over the responsibility of sustaining the programme. Using its funds from DFID, Action Aid Tanzania provided technical support (training workshops) and allowances for facilitators – something which the local communities would not be able to sustain. An alternative would be for the district councils to take over these responsibilities. But this is also uncertain given that adult education activities in the country are currently inactive and receive little government support.

Recommendations for a Way Forward

Overall, it would appear that REFLECT methodology can, when properly implemented, be a viable vehicle for sustainable development. Through its process of analytical dialogue people learn not only to share ideas but also to realize that there is much they can do for and by themselves, even about what may appear to be insuperable problems. However, REFLECT methodology is not a simple operation. Certain conditions have to be met for successful results, and these offer good lessons for Tanzania in its efforts to scale up REFLECT methodology nationwide:

Social mobilization and advocacy: REFLECT is still in its early development. As a new approach, it involves a significant change process and a new learning experience within the education system. Successful implementation depends on a number of interrelated variables including clarity about its meaning to potential users, the degree of difficulty experienced by users, and analysis of social conditions, and of planned and unplanned activities that may or may not influence the productivity of a given change. While Action Aid Tanzania has produced several documents in English and Kiswahili about the implementation of REFLECT methodology in Tanzania, the Ministry of Education and Culture needs to take a more proactive role in social mobilization and advocacy.

Political commitment and government support: REFLECT methodology needs considerable capital investment for recruitment of competent personnel and financial support to initiate income-generating projects. In a world of harsh economic realities and insufficient resources, government needs to revive its commitment to the adult education sector. Otherwise, the good philosophy of REFLECT methodology will remain merely on paper.

A holistic multi-sectoral approach: education alone is not a panacea for every problem. Poor communities have multiple interrelated problems calling for a multi-sectoral approach. The government and other interested parties need to look for alternative funding to allow more investment in diversified programmes that address other aspects of peoples’ lives such as HIV/AIDS and improvements in agriculture.

Trained and skilled facilitators: REFLECT methodology demands skilled, knowledgeable and innovative facilitators. Unfortunately, in Tanzania, adult education activities continue to rely heavily on untrained volunteer facilitators, most of whom have very low educational attainments, and on primary school teachers, who have proved to be unsuited to working with adults. The Ministry of Education and Culture therefore needs to collaborate with ActionAid Tanzania to improve the capacity of facilitators and practitioners through training in REFLECT methodology, project identification, design and management, and in cross-cutting issues such as HIV/AIDS. Initial training should be followed up by in-service training at regular intervals and motivational incentives.

Context-based REFLECT practice: experience gained from Asian countries with a long tradition of REFLECT practice indicates that although literacy is always a key element, the emphasis differs from context to context. The local model may focus on literacy as a tool of empowerment, on community action or on human rights. Tanzania needs to learn from such experiences, and the REFLECT approach has to be modified to suit the social, economic and political realities of Tanzanian communities. In places where there is still high illiteracy, for example, emphasis on the 3Rs (reading, writing and numeracy) is recommended, while in other places the community-focused REFLECT approach could be adopted.

Partnership and collaborative effort: Action Aid Tanzania has clearly demonstrated that NGOs are making considerable efforts to address development issues such as education. By their nature and mode of operation NGOs work very closely with the target population and their impact is directly felt and appreciated by the communities. In this pilot project Action Aid was able to penetrate the remote and isolated areas of the country where government provision of basic education and other necessary social services was not available. However, sometimes NGOs are mistakenly perceived to be operating another, parallel system. There is therefore an urgent need for the government to recognise the role played by NGOs where they add value to development, and to coordinate them and work with them in partnership.


1 ActionAid is an international non-governmental development organization working with poor communities in more than 30 countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America, to eradicate poverty and its causes.
2 Basic learning needs include both essential tools (such as literacy, oral expression, numeracy and problem solving) as well as basic learning content (such as knowledge, skills, values and attitudes) required by human beings to be able to survive, develop their lives, make informed decisions and continue learning.

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