Recognizing prison education allows learners to improve the quality of their lives and enables them to upskill themselves in a holistic way. The model aims to be thrived in many representatives countries, giving evidence of growth for an entire social system.
Work has begun in earnest with the SkillHUBS prison education model being introduced and trialled by the pilot project teams in prisons across Europe. The SkillHUBS model is an innovative and transformative adult-centric teaching and learning methodology expressly designed for the prison education context. Early reports point to significant progress, as well as pragmatic insights for further improvements to the model.
Earlier this year, around 20 representatives from the SkillHUBS partners in Slovenia, Romania, Belgium, Malta and the UK gathered in Leicester, England, for a 5-day training programme in applying the SkillHUBS teaching and learning model. This model, referred to as ‘The Engine’, is designed to be used in the context of informal, short, vocationally-embedded courses themed around topics including the Arts, Personal Social Development and Family Learning. The emphasis is on key functional skills such as numeracy, literacy and critical thinking. The team’s objective is to reform functional skills teaching and learning in prisons across Europe. The aim is to better equip offenders with the right kind of skills, competency and experience to gain worthwhile employment when they leave prison.
The Engine is about far more than functional skills. This novel transformative adult learning methodology is designed to educate the whole person, helping individuals to develop the kinds of self-efficacy, confidence and social skills they need to re-integrate positively into their communities and society.
This is an ambitious and unique project which ultimately seeks to influence future developments in penal reform, detention and prison education in the context of rehabilitation.
The pilots swung into action immediately following the Leicester training week with the aim of concluding by the end of 2019. The Engine comprises three main integrated components: employer research to identify the skills requirements of local employers; the teaching and learning model itself; and, the introduction of a distinctive Individual Learner Record which is transferable, shareable and evidence-based.
In Romania, for instance, a SkillHUBS program based on the Engine has been developed and implemented in 12 sessions between now and the end of the year. At the end of the pilot project, the team’s plan is to submit the programme to the National Prison Administration for their approval to introduce the model across the entire Romanian prison system.
In Malta, planning has been completed for the employer research and the introduction of a Theory of Change-based programme. A gap analysis has also been completed to identify any gaps between employers’ skills needs, internal prison education provision, and external training providers, and a full Engine-based curriculum has been developed.
We recently caught up with Zdenka Nanut Planinšek, Centre for Education and Culture Trebnje, who is leading on the employer research component in Slovenia. Zdenka shared some insights about the challenges of engaging with local employers to get information on their future skills’ requirements. “This was difficult”, she says, “but that was expected”. A main challenge is convincing employers to take an interest, get involved and give some of their time to work with researchers. Zdenka set a target of engaging with 12 different local employers. In the end, she managed to connect with 9, which is an impressive result considering the difficulties.
An interesting insight is that, for the most part, the employers themselves were unable to give specific details about the types of skills and competencies required for their employees. “Instead, I contacted the employees themselves – the people who actually do the jobs – who were able to give me the level of detail needed,” says Zdenka, demonstrating the kind of resourcefulness that is the mark of a top researcher.
A further positive result is that the employers who did agreed to get involved in the Slovenian pilot broadly gave their support to the Engine approach. They emphasised that while new employees need to have basic competencies, individual on-the-job-training can be given to develop new job specific skills. Learning how to learn on the job is precisely what the Engine is designed to deliver. This is a useful and interesting insight because it teaches us that the foundational approach developed by the Engine – learning how to learn – is itself giving people the kinds of learning skills that they will need in their future employment.
Lesley Crane PhD – Learning and Work Institute