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e-Platforma za obrazovanje odraslih u Europi



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

by EPALE Moderator

/epale/hr/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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Slika korisnika Joseph Giordmaina

A summary of the discussion so far can be read at the very bottom of the page. Thank you all for participating and for your continuous participation today. 


God evening everybody!

My name is Juan Carlos Martínez and work as school headmaster in the prison of Almería (Andalucía, Spain). I'd like to show my interest in this activity since education in prison may often be considered as minor education, but moreover, it is of paramount importance if we want to increase reinsertion and avoid reincidence.

Our school is located inside the prison, with 13 teachers currently working, and it offers exactly the same educational programmes as any adult school in Andalucía, from basic literacy and numeracy to access to secondary or vocational training certificates, as it has been stated in a previous thread by my colleague Francisco Castillo.

To answer to some of the questions initially posed in theme A, we have foreigner students who can access the basic curriculum as soon as they can reasonably manage with the Spanish language, that is why we place emphasis on this basic literacy in Spanish.

Students can use computers without an internet connection, so that they can work with the content of the courses offline.

Teaching is mainly formal, although we take advantage of more informal teaching situations that may turn out (visitors, exhibitions, non-prpfit organisations...).

As for theme B, teaching is offered to all inmates, even those on remand, although we have to face the difficulties derived from this situation of short serving. More than 60% of the inmates express their wish to follow some of the school programmes; they are then given a placement test to fulfil and, together with the academic information they bring with them, they are informed of the possible educational pathways they can follow and then registered in a suitable plan.

Slika korisnika Graciela Sbertoli

Gracias, Juan Carlos! :-) Muy interesante! We are particularly interested in how you teach the literacy and numeracy classes for inmates with low levels of basic skills. Could you explain a bit more? Do you do any "embedded learning" (basic skills linked to vocational learning)?

Slika korisnika Francisco Castillo

Graciela, there is an official formal curriculum for basic skills (Formación Básica as it's called over here) divided into three scopes of knowledge (comunication, social and scientific-technological) that develop key competences, including lireracy and numeracy at two levels and with the same structure as secondary for adults, so those who pass it feel comfortable in a silimar continuing scheme. Though adapted to the different possible contexts and profiles it's used as a reference/ goals to reach. There are also materials that develop it thoroughly, available for teachers through the web.

The work done by teachers in this context is overwhelming. On a visit to Juan Carlos' school, a former rumanian inmate in his third degree who  had attended the prison school was invited to talk about his experience to other inmates. He had  begun learning Spanish, then got his secondary and post secondary certificate and was by then studying to be a teacher, with the idea of working there as a teacher himself and help others as he had been helped not long before. Nearly a miracle, but real and possible!!!!


Slika korisnika Graciela Sbertoli

Thank you for the very interesting information - and even more for the example you have shared. We need from time to time to hear concrete examples of what education can mean in a person's life. Well done, Spanish colleagues!

Slika korisnika Jan van Nuland


Bastoy prison is a very special setting. As an ambassador of literacy improvement possibilities of people with dyslexic like traits, I appreciate the basic skills training mentioned in the article. It uses interest in the subject and gives the oppertunities to experience success in practical challanges. This is valuable for every "student", but especially for people who may have enough intelligence to learn but for whom "regular education" didn't fit. As being a dyslexic myself, I think this could be part of the problem. It struck me that in literature it seems people with likewise traits are over representated (3x more) in prison.

In many Dutch prisons, both the work setting is different and the education possibilities are different. In 2012 we have done a pilot in 3 prisons to implement a 6 sessions course to introduce the idea that learning basic skills can be fun. Because we didn't have the oppertunities to be as close to the daily life as in Bastoy, we introduced a Multiple Intelligence test to look at the better sides of a person; this helped people to come up with a subject they think they are good at and have interest for.: their passion. This subject is than helping to make them to stay involved in the following steps in looking at reading and writing in a different way. Giving them success experiences in this. And working to a final presentation of 3 minute on there subject of passion was maybe likewise inspiring like the daily challanges in the Bastoy case. For all of them doing a presentation gave them great pride.

In 2014, we have dissiminated this experience in a Grundtvig workshop ALIPPE. The 16 prison teachers from 10 countries have appreciated our approach. Some of them have even translated the student book in their language (Swedish, Italian, German). More information on this:


kind regards,

Jan van Nuland

the Netherlands

Slika korisnika Jan van Nuland


Where a high percentage of prisoners have learning difficulties, it may be a good thought to promote a course about a different way of learning for prisoners. Not always the reason behind bad results in primary school is low intelligence or bad social backgrounds. Maybe half of those with learning difficulties who end up in prison, became frustrated in school because of a misfit of teaching and learning style.

When one focussus on this different learning style and each student's passions one could reduce resistance angainst studying an let hesitant adult learners experience success which will help them into further works.

Slika korisnika Luz Simón

Hello everyone!!

The teacher profile

Prison education requires an initial specific training to get in context:

  • With inmates profiles and prisons atmosphere and special circumstances.
  • Inmates interests, their motivation, needs, etc..
  • Adapt to inmates reality, sometimes moving from one place to another. Sometimes they need access permission and it takes time.
  • Priority of security and prison rules, to avoid further problems.


For these reasons posts in prisons as teachers are voluntary and they usually have previous experience in adult teaching..

However, new teachers receive a training course on the aspects mentioned above, usually delivered by the lifelong learning school management team, who has experience in these aspects.

I would like to remark that in general the teachers who work in prisons are very respected by the inmates and they enjoy their job.

Slika korisnika Valborg Byholt

I am Valborg Byholt and work at Vox together with Kari, Tanja and Diana.

I really do agree with your statements above on motivation. The import thing to remember is that the inmates are all individuals with different needs and interests. It is worth the effort to try to find what makes each one of them tick. It may be art, theatre, kithen work or as someone else has mentioned, foreign languages.

Slika korisnika Anthony Vella

The European Prison Education Association Malta Branch is currently working on a EU funded project that aims to define the skills and competences that a prison teacher should have.  As you all know living in prison is like being on another planet in spite of all the changes that evolved over the last 50 years.  Teaching in prison requires teachers to have attitudes, skills, competences that go beyond those required to teach in schools and colleges.


The competences were set in three groups namely Generic competencies, Specific competences and supportive competences.  The project partners produced a number of modules that can be provided both 'in class' and online that prison teachers and prospective prison teachers may work on in order to raise the level of competencies. You are very welcome to write to us or