A very good article written by Sofia Antonelli of Antigone, partner in our project, to explain the importance of education in prison To read absolutely.
A full right to education: why e-learning initiatives could represent an effective way to enhance opportunities of people deprived of liberty
Any collection of rights at national, regional and international level includes the fundamental right to education, open to all equally and without discrimination. Everyone should therefore have access to education, regardless of personal circumstances. These include, of course, also the circumstance of deprivation of liberty stemming from a criminal sentence. The state of detention should not affect in any way the enjoyment of the right to education. On the contrary, education and training in prison should play a central role in order to ensure that the time spent in prison is not just dead time but rather a period during which a person can acquire new tools to use once outside.
The European Prison Rules states that “Every prison shall seek to provide all prisoners with access to educational programmes which are as comprehensive as possible and which meet their individual needs while taking into account their aspirations” (Rule 28.1). Ensuring the full enjoyment of this right within penal institutions is not always easy, regardless of the efforts made by the people working there. Few human and financial resources and the high turnover of students are just some of the reasons that often complicate the provision of courses in prisons. These complications increase further when it comes to professional training which is usually more difficult to organise, to fund and to make it accessible to a large number of people.
One solution that can at least partly respond to these problems is the adoption of distance learning courses which, by their very nature, can more easily adapt to the difficulties inherent in detention pathways. E-learning initiatives have in fact characteristics that are usually particularly suitable to situations of frequent changes as the ones that may occur in prison. Compared to a traditional face-to face format, a well structured distance course can normally have a larger number of participants than can follow the same course, possibly even from different classrooms or from different establishments. Moreover, once initially structured, online classes usually have few costs of replication and maintenance. Lower costs also occur in the personnel involved, since for example there could be only one teacher for many classes. Distance learning consent generally to implement more flexible courses that can be adjusted in line with specific needs. If there are recorded lessons or modules that can be activated at any time, courses can be started, paused and finished more easily. Such characteristics are of course very useful for a detained person who for several reasons may need to interrupt and then resume the course. Finally, distance learning could also provide for the possibility of continuing the course also in another prison following a transfer or outside prison once the sentence is ended. Another important aspect is that e-learning may be the only way in which prisoners have access (sometimes for the first time) to programmes and technological devices, thus representing a way to reduce the digital divide that often characterises long-term prisoners from people in outside society.
These are just some of the reasons why e-learning initiatives should increase in prison. Obviously their implementation should not be an alternative to in-presence learning, which clearly retains its central importance and usefulness, but more of a complement to it.
The need for more distance learning tools became even more apparent with the outbreak of the health emergency in spring 2020. Worldwide, the Covid-19 pandemic emphasised the importance of distance learning abruptly imposing radical changes in the field of education. In prison, where the use of technology is almost everywhere strictly limited, the pandemic has even more forcefully exposed the need for modernisation processes aimed at adapting to the outside world as much as possible. With the pandemic, issues that can no longer be postponed have emerged: access to digital education, the preparation of prison staff, the basic digital skills of trainers and learners.
It is in this context that the STEP (Supporting distance Training and Education in Prison) project was conceived, namely with the purpose of supporting the use of digital tools and distance learning in prisons. To succeed in this goal, STEP aims to build a comparative research, common guidelines for the enhancement of distance learning in prison and an ad hoc training courses for prison and civilian staff working in institutions. These results will be available to all prisons interested in expanding and improving their educational offerings, with the hope of contributing to the growth of effective training and thus the access to opportunities.