The work of the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire (1921-1997) was very influential in the development of Reflect. His thoughts and vision help us to clarify many complicated questions related to life, learning and liberation. The central premise of Freire's theory is that no education is neutral - it can be used for domestication or liberation. Fundamental to Freire's educational philosophy is the notion of collective action and continuing struggle on the part of the oppressed to liberate themselves from all forms of domination.  The oppressed are active subjects in their own struggle.

Freire criticised what he termed "banking education" in which students learnt by rote and were seen as empty vessels to be filled with learning. He called for a liberating education based on dialogue between teachers and learners - a learning process that respected people as active and creative subjects. Rather than seeing the teaching of literacy as a technical transfer of skills, Freire argued, "Learners must see the need for writing one's life and reading one's reality".

There are various criticisms of Freire. Some focus on the limitations of his writings (for example his failure to address gender issues in his earlier work, or that at times he appears to respect non-literate people and regard them as knowledgeable, while at others he portrays them as powerless and ignorant). Others highlight the fact that while many groups claim to work with his methods most use primers (with bland phrases replaced by more socially-based words) and many struggle with the idea of dialogue.

Reflect builds on the theoretical framework of Freire working with participatory methodologies; encompassing a broad conception of literacy as one of many communication practices; and focusing explicitly on power analysis.