EPALE summary: July 2018 focus on prison education
EPALE Thematic Coordinator Andrew McCoshan reflects on three articles published on the platform in July that help us to understand not only the landscape as a whole but how approaches, such as prison theatre, can help prisoners change course for good.
Paul Downes set the scene in terms of the European policy context; he drew our attention to the European Prison Rules and the EU Council Resolution on a renewed European agenda for adult learning, which call on governments and prisons to provide prisoners with learning opportunities and guidance support that meet their individual needs. Although there are a number of obstacles standing in the way of achieving these goals, they could be overcome with sufficient institutional national policy commitment. For example, lack of space for education could be addressed by using the buildings where prisoners are accommodated. Adopting a more integrated approach to learning across prisons and local educational institutions could help avoid the negative consequences of inmates being transferred between prisons; and developing appropriate security technologies should be a priority to enable prisoners to take advantage of web-based learning.
Georgios Karaiskos drew our attention to the fact that prisoners are amongst the groups most in need of the type of support offered through the Upskilling Pathways initiative. Basic skill levels are low amongst the prison population and prisoners are in urgent need of skills assessment so that learning opportunities can be better tailored to their needs. Unfortunately, assessment methods are still fragmented with little common understanding about the most appropriate methods across Europe’s prisons. The take-up of learning opportunities, when they are available, is also low, which suggests they are not meeting the needs of prisoners adequately. Georgios highlighted a number of EU co-funded programmes that have focused on the assessment of skills that are sure to be of interest to EPALE readers.
Markus Palmén’s interview with prison theatre Director Hannele Martikainen complements these wider perspectives by providing a close-up of an approach that can be a revolutionary experience for prisoners. In the interview, we see how voluntary groups of inmates are brought together to rehearse and stage plays under the guidance of theatre professionals. Hannele Martikainen uses a three-step process in which the director shifts the focus from individual prisoner to group to audience, ultimately taking productions out of the prison and into the wider community. The process helps prisoners develop transferable skills like cooperation, communication, trust and the ability to make compromises. ‘An inability gradually turns into an ability if the commitment of the inmate is solid. This is nothing short of a revolution in the self-esteem of the prisoner,’ said Hannele.
Andrew McCoshan has worked in education and training for over 30 years. For more than 15 years he has conducted studies and evaluations for the EU, and before that was a consultant in the UK. Andrew is currently an independent researcher and consultant, and Senior Research Associate at the Educational Disadvantage Centre at Dublin City University in Ireland.