South African Reflect Network (SARN)


SARN is a network of Reflect practitioners formed in 2005 by organisations who piloted the Reflect approach in South Africa. Reflect developed out of Action Aid International’s approach to adult learning and social development in the 1990s, which draws on Freirean adult education and Participatory Rural Appraisal. Reflect (Regenerated Freirean Literacy through Empowering Community Techniques) was developed due to failures of other literacy programmes that had aimed to empower people and develop communities.

The aim of formalising the network of Reflect practitioners through the establishment of SARN was to expand and deepen Reflect practices in South Africa in response to development and literacy needs.


SARN’s purpose is to promote Reflect as an educational approach to contribute to the realization of the rights and capabilities of the poor and the building of vibrant, democratic society.

SARN aims to develop a significant number of Civil Society Organisations, which practice the Reflect approach and are able to share their strengths and experiences with each other.

  • Specific aims of SARN are outlined as:
  • Strengthen the capacity of organisations to mainstream HIV and AIDS and gender into their adult education and development work
  • Facilitate and promote processes that improve the capacity of poor and excluded people to play a more effective role in influencing policies to overcome poverty
  • Foster and promote processes that strengthen literacy and communication skills of poor and vulnerable people, particularly women
  • Develop a resource of trained and skilled Reflect practitioners
  • Increase opportunities and access to share Reflect training, mentoring and learning experiences
  • Coordinate a forum for lobbying and advocacy to influence policy and practices that disadvantage women

Target participants

SARN works with adults, youth and children in civil society organizations, community organizations and community groups, mainly in the KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape and Western Cape Provinces. SARN often works with vulnerable, insecure rural communities and mostly with women.

Participating organizations include Tembaletu Trust; Family Literacy Project; Women’s Circle; Philisa Abafazi Bethu; and SHARE Adult Learning Centre.

Focus areas

SARN focuses on a range of socio-economic issues that affect the everyday lives of poor communities. Communities themselves decide on the issues that are most burning for them. Examples of topics covered include:

  • HIV and AIDS
  • Abuse and women and children’s rights
  • Drug and alcohol abuse
  • Health and wellness
  • Nutrition and food security
  • Employment/income generation/skills development
  • Literacy (including numeracy and communication)
  • Arts and crafts
  • Youth development


Reflect is an approach to adult learning and social change. The key principles underpinning the approach are:

  • Developing power and voice: Reflect aims to strengthen poor and marginalized people’s capacity to communicate.
  • Political process: Reflect understands social change as a political process and therefore any educational processes that aim to contribute towards social change cannot be neutral.
  • Democratic space: the creation of a democratic, participatory and dialogical space in which all are valued as equal is integral to the process.
  • Grounded in existing knowledge: Reflect respects and values ordinary people’s existing knowledge and experiences that they bring with them into the learning space.
  • Reflection and action: Reflect involves a continuous cycle of reflection and action in order to effect change in the world.

The approach aims to enable people to participate in discussing the issues that affect them and empowers them to take action. The Reflect approach brings together the ‘word’ and the ‘world’, linking learning to issues and challenges that affect people in their everyday lives.

Tools and processes

Reflect employs a number of educational tools, including:

  • Graphics, such as calendars, maps, and trees
  • Audio-visual media
  • Role-play
  • Song
  • Dance
  • Art

The Reflect process usually consists of a group of 10 to 20 participants who meet twice a week for 2 hours for at least 6 months and then on a less intensive basis for further months. The group decides on the learning space and the key issue(s) to start with. The facilitator develops a learning unit to guide the process. The process starts with the issue then moves to question-posing and analysis. Sometimes a resource person from the community is brought in to give an input. From analysis and a deepening understanding, the group plans and decides on actions. Thereafter and continuously, the group evaluates and reflects. Throughout, literacy and numeracy is developed e.g. vocabulary that is relevant to the issue is learnt.

Understanding of popular education

Popular Education is understood as an alternative to formal education. It is a learner-centred approach that tries to build active participation, democratic spaces, critical reflection, and the powers and capacities of the poor to bring about social change. Popular education challenges the status quo.

Type of organisation: