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Embedded literacy and numeracy education upskills prisoners

05 September 2013

Embedded literacy and numeracy education upskills prisoners

Prisoners who have poor reading skills, cannot use a ruler or struggle with calculating numbers are getting a boost with an initiative that embeds literacy and numeracy education with trade training and achieving nationally recognised qualifications.

A large number of prisoners have low literacy and numeracy skills, which affects their educational achievement, job prospects and wellbeing.

Corrections began tackling this problem by ‘embedding’ literacy and numeracy into trades training programmes. The embedding can be explicit, or can use ‘stealth mode’, where the learner is unaware they are being trained in, say, the numeracy required to bake a large batch of bread.

“Corrections is committed to reducing re-offending by 25% by 2017. We know that assisting prisoners to reintegrate into the community through giving them opportunities to learn valuable skills, achieve nationally recognised qualifications, and helping them find sustainable work after release, they are less likely to re-offend,” says Kris Dahl, Manager Offender Training and Education.

“Corrections has long known that low levels of literacy and numeracy among prisoners are among the major barriers to educational achievement and finding sustainable jobs upon release.”

“Embedded literacy and numeracy has been shown to increase learner engagement, and course retention and completion rates. It is considered a non-threatening way for adults to engage in literacy and numeracy educations, as it removes, or minimises, the stigma associated with poor literacy and numeracy skills.”

Embedded literacy and numeracy education is now delivered by instructors in sectors as diverse as horticulture, farming, laundries, painting, grounds maintenance, catering, engineering, printing, forestry, joinery, carpentry and construction. As at June 2013, 1,690 prisoners had taken part in trades training education embedded with literacy and numeracy.

Eighty-eight Corrections instructors have been trained to deliver embedded literacy and numeracy by completing the National Certificate in Literacy and Numeracy Education level 5 (Workplace/Vocational). This qualification is now being piloted with staff working closely with offenders on the frontline, such as corrections officers, youth tutors, probation officers and community work supervisors.

Results for offenders are encouraging. Instructors report a higher level of engagement and comprehension among prisoners, with fewer dropping out of programmes due to literacy and numeracy issues. Prisoners are more able to cope with the theoretical aspects of trades training, are more enthusiastic about completing homework and better able to progress onto higher level qualifications.

After improving their literacy and numeracy, many of the prisoners have progressed onto completing higher level nationally recognised qualifications that are being delivered by both Corrections’ instructors and tertiary education organisations registered and accredited with the New Zealand Qualifications Authority(NZQA).

Embedded literacy and numeracy occurs in addition to Corrections’ core intensive Foundation Skills literacy and numeracy initiative.

Seventy percent of prisoners function at a less than an adequate level of literacy. Adequate literacy is the level at which a person is “able to cope with the demands of everyday life and work in a complex, advanced society”.

Embedded literacy and numeracy education takes place in all Corrections’ prisons. Examples are:

Tongariro/Rangipo Prison: An instructor has developed an abacus to teach mathematical concepts. The abacuses are being made by prisoners in the carpentry workshop at Spring Hill Corrections Facility.

Auckland Prison: A mechanical engineering instructor is incorporating reading, writing and numeracy into teaching engineering design and manufacturing.

Hawke’s Bay Prison: A painting instructor has developed a portable classroom to teach numeracy concepts and terminology around the painting trade. A joinery instructor is teaching numeracy to offenders in the youth unit as part of a Limited Credit Programme in wood manufacturing.

Auckland Women’s Prison: A horticulture instructor is embedding literacy and numeracy education in work with high security prisoners.

Northland Region Corrections Facility: A Senior Corrections Officer used the embedding technique to develop a resource to help prisoners with writing their Parole Board applications.

Rimutaka Prison: An instructor in the Print Shop has been developing resources, such as times tables posters and word games, to increase literacy and numeracy of prisoners.

Waikeria Prison: Embedding literacy and numeracy has been used by catering and dairy farming instructors.

Christchurch Men’s Prison: An automotive engineering instructor is incorporating reading, writing and numeracy into teaching mechanical engineering.

Otago Corrections Facility: Engineering, grounds maintenance and catering instructors are using embedded literacy and numeracy education.

Invercargill Prison: Two catering instructors are using embedded literacy and numeracy education.


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