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Electronic Platform for Adult Learning in Europe



EPALE Prison Education Week - what type of approach is taken in your country?

by EPALE Moderator

/epale/pt/file/prison-educationPrison Education

Prison Education


Europe’s prison population is around 640,000 and it’s estimated that only 3-5% are at a level that would allow them to progress into higher education. Low education levels affect prisoners’ employment prospects, and impact reinsertion into society and the likelihood of reoffending. To discuss prison education, we’re holding a text-based discussion here as part of EPALE Prison Education Week.

This discussion is based on a Norwegian report, “Learning Basic Skills while serving time”, which describes a specific pedagogical approach used for the provision of basic skills training in prisons. You can acess it here. Relevance, motivation and contextual learning are important issues for all adult learning in Europe today. Is this type of approach implemented in your country?

The discussion is now open, so comment or 'react' to a post to have your say. (Log in or sign up to EPALE here to take part). Follow live highlights of the discussion on Twitter and Facebook! Look out for updates via #epale2016.

** Summary of the discussion

The topics in this discussion cover:

  • Basic literacy and numeracy, including accreditation, length of sentence and embedded learning
  • Pre course assessment and motivational issues, including assessment methods, tools for motivation and the differences between basic and key skills
  • Training of service providers, such as basic prison rules and guides that have been introduced through projects
  • Evaluation of success, through analysis of recidivism rates, employment and skills acquisition

For a more comprehensive summary of the discussion on the first day, see Dr Joe Giordmaina's summary post in the discussion.

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Anthony Vella's picture

The European Prison Education Association Malta Branch was an active partner in a EU funded project that aimed to develop embedded learning in prison (both male and female).  The project was concluded in 2010.  The title of the project is Innovative Models to Integrate Working and Learning in Adult Prisons - KEYS.  The results and products of the project may be found on  

Luz Simón's picture

Hello everyone!!

Firstly, as the coordinator of adult education at the provincial department of education in Cádiz, Andalusia,Spain, all your contributions are very interesting for me and very useful in my job.

I would like to emphasise how important is to continue with their learning process for male and female inmates when they finish their stay and try to get back into society.

In our province there are four prisons with an adult education school in each one, belonging to the regional integrated public network of lifelong learning school, and three centres for young offenders. When a person first comes into prison and decides to attend  school, they get a test to establish individual skills and knowledge levels. Secondly, based on the initial results from the questionnaire, they enroll in different learning formal and non formal courses, all of them official, certified and valid to the education system.

Due to most common profiles of inmates the most demanded course are those connected with basic skills, literacy and numeracy. Other courses raising inmates interest are Spanish, English and ICT. Though internet access is not generally allowed for inmates there is a pilot experience in the last two years between a centre of young offenders and the regional e-learning regional centre (IEDA through which young inmates are being attended online using secured LMS and agreed protocols. This is intended as the first step to extend the experience to the rest of prisons that fulfill the basics mentioned before.

Another important aspect of joint coordination with the adult education regional system  is the designations of specific teacher teams from public high schools who act as a bureau to test inmates preparing to obtain official secondary and post secondary certificates.

Another major issue, in my opinion, is to provide inmates with the necessary tools and advice to manage modern society daily life once they finish their stay. In that sense it is crucial for inmates to be in the right set of pathway courses, according to their profiles, possibilities and interests  to be successful in their new lives.






Maurice de Greef's picture

Due to research of Brosens (2015) there are possibilities to realise educational activities in prisons. Based on a study among prisoners in Belgian prisons it seems that 91% of the prisoners took part in a particular activity organised in prison. Especially the library seems to gain opportunities to involve prisoners in (learning) activities, due to the fact that 85.5% of the prisoners was active in the library (Brosens, 2015). Besides, 29.5% of the prisoners joined education and 10% joined a learning activity referring to socio-cultural learning (Brosens, 2015). These results show that although their current situation prisoners still can be motivated to join learning.

This creates new opportunities for adult education providers to develop learning activities in. In order to ensure that prisoners won't be social excluded in society after their imprisonment we should consider the development of suitable learning activities. If the activities will be tailor made it is possible that prisoners can realise a significant contribution to society referring to an economic or social perspective.

Adult education providers should use their competencies in order to analyse the learning needs of adult prisoners and to develop a tailor-made learning activity, which can be attractive for prisoners. This learning activity should include transfer of the learned knowledge, skills and attitude of the prisoners into society in order to have a surplus value for the prisoner him- or herself and the society.

The challenge will be to develop the most suitable learning activities. Due to the results of the study of Brosens (2015) non-formal learning activities seems to be more attractive. But on the other hand formal learning activities can be helpful to increase the level of education and chances on the labour market. Question which should be answered is how to find a balance in these two different kind of learning activities in order to attract prisoners and to ensure an impact of the learning activity for functioning in daily society and on the labour market.

Reference: Brosens, D. (2015). Participation in prison programmes: Profile of (non-)participants, encouraging and discouraging factors. Brussel: Vrije Universiteit Brussel.

Zoltan Varkonyi's picture

Maurice thoughts made me reflect on the Hungarian situation. With a tradition inherited from the period of socialism prison education primarily focused on formal education, making elementary education obligatory for those missing the completion of the 8 grades. Since the second half of the 90-s inmates could join voluntarily to education programs, with a broadening range of possibilities in vocational, general secondary and more recently even higher education. But teachers of literacy and maths in prison education were predominantly recruited from elementary and secondary schools without having proper preparation for teaching adults, and especially doing it in the prison environment. In Hungary the prison population was 18042 inmates at the end of 2013, out of them 2069 took part in education.

In the last couple of years more and more initiatives were funded from the European Social Fund developing specific non-formal courses for prisoners with a strong focus on the social inclusion perspective.

The main characteristics of these programs (TAMOP 5.6.1, 5.6.2, 5.6.3, from 2012 - 2014) were:

- comprehensive approach to promote social inclusion, focus on complex, tailor made interventions, learning is integrated;

- strong emphases on developing social skills, conflict handling and communication skills, involving also family members, or sometimes affended citizens, or by doing volunteer work in the local community;

- literacy and numeracy learning tailored to individual needs and relevant contexts, provision of individual support to ensure progress;

- developing basic skills embedded in developing skills for the labour market, personal efficacy and citizenship (using ICT in job search/writing job application, using e-platforms for managing official affairs, managing personal finances, household economy, relevant legal issues etc);

- continouos mentoring and counselling after release from prison (supporting application of learned skills and competences after serving the time).

It will be interesting to see the impact of the learnings from these pilot initiatives on the mainstream practice of prison education.


László Huszár: Competence development possibilities in the prison environment - project experiences - (

Csukai Magdolna: Oktatás a büntetés-végrehajtási intézetekben / Education in correctional facilities / in Hadtudományi Szemle 2014/4


ZÁRÓKIADVÁNY a TAMOP - 5.6.1A-11/4-2001-0009 pályázathoz (





Graciela Sbertoli's picture

Hi, Zoltán - thank you so much for this valuable insight into Hungarian developments! I'm impressed with the wide range of themes these programs took up. The family learning perspective is also very interesting! Thank you as well for providing us with the references! Well done!

Sylvie LE MOËL-PHILIPPE's picture

Hello everyone,

It will may be sound a bit out of the place here, but allow me to share my experience here.

I went to do a presentation in Prison on January 14th, in Saint Brieuc, Brittany , France and the inmates wanted to know more about the Greek language. They were intrigued by the shape of the letters, intrested in the pronounciation and could not stop asking me what this or that word translated into Greek. They wanted to know the alphabet. So I started writting the 24 letters of the Greek Alphabet, they also wanted capital letters. One participant came up to the blackboard and showed me how he had written the letters and some words. It was actually quite good.

Some time later, the person who organize the logistics at the Prison concerning the organisation of the presentation and education programmes told me that this participant could not write any french!

This I could not have imagined because , along with the others he has discovered a new language and started at the same level as the others. So he had all his chances to do just as well as the others!

I know teaching a lesser used language is not a priority in the  prison education curriculum, but thought I might share this information with you. There is a programme ( with EU funds) concerning the teaching of Greek ( greek as a vector for linguistic and Cultural Diversity): The person responsible is Ifigenia GEORGIADOU ( The participants in prison want now to have a full week of learning Greek. I will of course contribute along with the Greek teacher that we have at the MJC (Maison des Jeunes et de la Culture:

We are also going to organize other language classes not only of less-spoken languages indeed.

We are planning a week of German, a week of Italian, a Week of Spanish and a week of Russian.

But we will start with the Greek language. Should be really nice and motivating. I really look forward to it !


Graciela Sbertoli's picture

Dear all, here comes a word of encouragement from Norway: the impact of this discussion of ours may be much greater than we think!

One of my colleagues from the Vox team following the developments in Norwegian prison education, has just had a very interesting phone conversation with a person from a municipal police department. They are working in criminal prevention and he was following the discussion here. He called to enthusiastically tell us how important this work is for all of them. So - we are reaching outside the educational sector, folks.

Keep up the good work!

Warm greetings from Oslo!

EPALE Moderator's picture

For those interested in reading more about prison education, take a look at EPALE's summary of prison education content here

Francisco Castillo's picture


Hi everyone,

I'd like to briefly share with all of you how this issue is dealt with in Andalucía, Spain, from my experience as responsible for the regional lifelong learning deparment at the regional ministry of educations in the period of 2006-2015. As you may know, the education system in Spain is decentralised, though under a national basic frame and law. There are 15 prisons spread over the 8 provinces of Andalucía,  attended by over 100 teachers (regional civil servant teachers) and 5.000 inmates. In all of them there is an adult school, with the same  course offer as the ones in any village or town of the region. Basically, and depending on the inmates starting point:

  • Basic literacy and numeracy, including Spanish for inmigrants. Because their social background, most inmmates are doing these studies.
  • Access to Secondary and post secondary official Certificate.
  • Access to vocational training or university studies  .
  • Basic ICT, English.
  • Healthy habits, Andalusian heritage
  • Others (must be previously authorized)

There are available OER online content for all the course offer that can downloaded by teachers and worked with offline ( ). Online courses are being studied with the national prison authority through “safe” LMS following agreed protocols.

This regional offer in complemented by employment courses and workshops offered by the national prison authority, together with some other socio cultural activities (flamenco, theatre, art….)

Joseph Giordmaina's picture

Please write your contribution about the evaluation of success under this heading.

Press the GREEN button REACT and write a comment/reaction.

We plan to focus on this issue tomorrow and the day after. But of course one can add comments/reactions today. 

Thank you.