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EPALE - Electronic Platform for Adult Learning in Europe


Basic skills training in Norwegian prisons

by Astrid Krohn
Language: EN

In the period 2009–2013, the Vox - Norwegian Agency for Lifelong Learning supported a number of education and training projects in Norwegian prisons. The programs have focused on basic skills training in a collaboration between the prison school and work programs.

Below are examples and experiences from these projects along with references to relevant learning resources. The aim is to give advice and tips about how training in basic skills can be conducted by making use of the work programme as a learning arena, e.g. in the kitchen and laundry, cleaning services, workshops and gardening. It involves seeing opportunities and making systematic efforts to give the inmates practically oriented education and training.

Vox’s involvement in the correctional services is in cooperation with the County Governor of Hordaland and the Directorate of Norwegian Correctional Service (KDI).


The Oslo prisons department A and the Grønland Adult Education Centre (GVO) have collaborated on practice-based education and training for inmates working in the cleaning services. The project received funding from Vox - Norwegian agency for Lifelong Learning.

The goal was to develop a pedagogical and organizational model that could be transferred to other parts of the work programme in the correctional services, e.g. the kitchen and workshops.

The participants in the training have had little schooling. They did not speak Norwegian and had very limited knowledge of English, but they had a need for English as an everyday language and as a teaching language

Local curriculum

The Grønland Adult Education Centre has developed a local curriculum based on key competence goals in the subject of English. The operative training plan consists of sub-goals from the local curriculum and learning objectives in basic skills for cleaners in English. Only some parts of the local curriculum were used, primarily oral skills. A couple of the learning objectives were related to literacy and numeracy.

In order to fill their roles as colleagues and partners, participants need a social language. To perform a job, they need a working language.

Check the curriculum: Basic English for Cleaners Curriculum (pdf).

Examples of local learning objectives

  • Oral – to politely greet colleagues, describe a room in which you are going to work and describe a cleaning activity.
  • Reading and writing – to read a list of job tasks and tick off the relevant (the right or correct) job tasks they have completed.
  • Arithmetic – to learn to count to 20. Learn which day of the week it is and how much time it takes to perform some of the most usual cleaning tasks.

Education tools and methods

How was the training conducted?

The inmates were offered four classes of English every week. The vocabulary from the picture cards was drilled in, and the communicative skills as shown in the table above were practiced in class. E.g 2e - I can follow instructions, I can ask if I don’t understand and relay simple instructions.

The day started with a morning meeting where the cleaning tasks were reviewed by pointing to the pictures and explaining the tasks in simple English. The supervisor made sure that the instructions and messages were understood. Then the cleaning was performed with supervision. When the tasks were completed, they were inspected. Based on the result, the inmates might tick off the satisfactory completion of the task on a form, either by themselves or with assistance.

The training plan for the project was based on a four-week period, where three weeks were devoted to training in the cleaning trade and one week to showing what the participants had mastered in terms of practical skills after the final training. They attended courses three days a week for a total of six hours. Attending and completing the training provided a basis for a training certificate.


All attendees were awarded a training certificate in Norwegian and in English showing which cleaning tasks they had been taught, e.g. cleaning of a toilet, waxing of floors and treatment of various surfaces. The training certificate also showed which learning objectives had been achieved in the English language teaching.
The participants were extremely eager to obtain the training certificate. Some of them expressed that this was the first certificate they had ever received to document their skills. Others, who planned to return to their homeland, suggested they might be the only ones there to have this cleaning expertise. In total, the project was regarded as useful and valuable by participants and staff. 


Excerpts from a working paper from the Nordland Research Institute:

‘It is the little steps that make a difference.’

Increased knowledge about practice-based education and training in basic skills in the correctional services. Working paper from the Nordland Research Institute published on 10 February 2015.


This working paper presents the results from a study of practice-based basic skills training in the correctional service, which was conducted during the period from November 2014 to February 2015 on commission from the Directorate of Norwegian Correctional Service (KDI).

In this study, we have examined a selection of projects that were conducted and partially carried on in five Norwegian prisons on the basis of funding from Vox, the Norwegian Agency for Lifelong Learning. These projects entailed providing education and training in basic skills, i.e. literacy, numeracy, and digital and oral skills integrated into the tasks in the prisons’ work programme. The study was conducted by means of qualitative interviews with inmates and employees at the selected prisons, either at face-to-face meetings or by telephone. In addition, with employees from KDI, Vox and the County Governor of Hordaland.


In the period 2009–2012, Vox, the Norwegian Agency for Lifelong Learning, has provided support to 12 projects on practice-based basic skills training for inmates. Participants in the projects had poor basic skills in literacy and numeracy. Many of them have bad experiences from previous schooling and little formal education. The goal of these projects was to improve skills and motivate inmates to undertake further schooling by closely linking the education and training to specific job tasks as well as improving the cooperation between the prison school and the work programme.

In the autumn of 2014, the Nordland Research Institute conducted a study of seven of the Vox projects at five prisons, four of which have a high security level. Two of the prisons had female inmates only. The main objective of the study was to obtain knowledge about what must be done in order for practice-based training in basic skills to work in prisons. The database consists of interviews with inmates and employees in the prison school and work programme, together with key staff at Vox, KDI and the office of the County Governor of Hordaland.

The working methods from three of the seven projects have been carried on. The other projects have not been continued, or if so only to a limited extent. The study of the effects shows that the projects have yielded many positive results. The inmates in one of the projects or in the continuation of the working method experienced the training as a positive learning process. The practical orientation enabled them to see the use of basic skills, which gave them higher motivation to learn more. Many stated that the participation has given them greater self-confidence and a feeling of coping. Teachers and workshop staff were regularly referred to as helpful, supportive and good at providing motivation. Taken as a whole, our informants have particularly emphasized that the projects and the continuation of the working methods have had the following results:

For the inmates:

  • The inmates have gained feelings of coping and increased self-confidence, they have been motivated to take more education and many have developed better basic skills, e.g. in numeracy and writing. This also applies to inmates who do not meet the necessary requirements for taking part in the normal education and training programme in the prison and inmates who have negative experiences from previous schooling.
  • Many inmates have gained better opportunities to get a job after completing their detention.
  • The daily life of inmates has been made more meaningful while they are serving their sentence.

For the prisons that completed the projects:

  • Employees from the prison work programme and school cooperate to a greater extent.
  • Employees from the work programme and school have gained greater insight into each other’s work areas and resources.

There has been an increasing awareness of the importance of practically oriented education and training of inmates in prison, in both the prison work programme and school.

• Good experiences with the educational tools from Vox.

• The workshop staff involved in the work programme and the teachers at the prison school have increased their competence.

• The working methods from the projects have been carried on in other prisons. In some prisons, other departments in the work programme have introduced education and training in basic skills.

• Increased security and a better working environment in the prisons.

For Vox, KDI, FMHO and other prisons:

• Vox has achieved its objective of having the educational tools that it has devised tried out and documented. At present, many of these tools and profiles for basic skills and learning objectives have been completely developed and are available on Vox’s website.

• A framework is now in place for the work on education and training in basic skills in prison, and experiences and competence have been disseminated in academic seminars and project meetings.

• The competence building and enhanced cooperation has also occurred at the administrative level among Vox, KDI and FMHO, while they have also gained greater insight into the criteria for success and the obstacles to practically oriented education and training in basic skills in the prisons.

Factors of importance for the implementation of the projects:

Our informants from the prison school and work programme emphasize certain factors that they think are of great importance for whether the prisons have managed to achieve a good collaboration between the work programme and school, whether they have succeeded in the projects in making the education and training in basic skills more practically oriented and whether they have managed to carry on the working methods from the projects.

• A prison culture that facilitates cooperation between the school and work programme. Putting cooperation into practice and a common understanding of the importance of cooperation in order for the education and training to be made more practically oriented.

• Flexibility of the employees, e.g. being able to change the group of participants.

• Experienced and skilful teachers and workshop staff who manage to relate theoretical education and training to practical job tasks, to motivate and to be patient with the inmates.

• Good contact with and follow-up from Vox.

• Find good solutions to the challenges presented by the distance between the premises of the school and those of the work programme and by the requirements for maintaining security.

• Access to equipment and suitable premises for the education and training.

• Sufficient resources with a view to employees and a good utilization of resources.

• Manage to motivate the inmates to believe in themselves and to want to take part.

When it comes to cooperation between the work programme and the school, the employees have different experiences. Some think that the projects improved the cooperation, whereas others call for a better cooperation between the two institutions. Among other things, the challenges related to cooperation involve an inadequate culture of cooperation and practical obstacles related to premises. The security considerations are of great importance for the ways in which the education and training can be organized in prison. The challenges related to practically oriented education and training are greater in high security prisons. Among other things, the practical limitations resulting from a high security level affected the cooperation between the school and work programme. For example, it is more difficult to transport seven inmates between the school and work programme in a prison with a high security level than in a prison with a lower security level, where the inmates can walk by themselves from one department to another.

Recommendations for ways in which to succeed with practically oriented education and training in prison

On the basis of our study of the prison projects, we offer the following recommendations for ways in which to succeed in the future with practically oriented education and training of inmates in prison: 

• A good collaboration must be established between the prison work programme and school.

• The workshop staff and teachers must have the necessary competence related to practically oriented education and training.

• It is important that sufficient resources are available. This entails both the ways in which the prisons prioritize their resources and the ways in which the resources that are allocated to the school and work programme are utilized.

• The prison school and work programme must have access to suitable premises and equipment for practically oriented education and training. It will be advantageous if there can be a co-location of the school and work programme.

• Practically oriented education and training must be firmly supported by the prison administration. A good knowledge of practically oriented education and training in the administration can play an important role, e.g. in the allocation of resources and in facilitation.

• The inmates must be given a secure framework for learning. That entails creating situations where the inmates feel secure with the employees and the other inmates and where they are motivated to take part in education and training and can feel that they are coping.

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