Interactive Training for a Better Future: eLearning for the Socially Excluded
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Open minds in a closed world
Prisons are closed societies that, due to security reasons, have a restricted access to the outside world. The re-integration of inmates back into society is a progressive process that has to be developed from within the special conditions that are very different from what inmates are going to find after they have spent time in prison.
Training can be a means of rehabilitation for prisoners. But most of the times, young offenders are not familiar with any sort of learning process. The limited learning experience and interest of the target group make their education quite difficult and an inadequate training could be not only unattractive but even harmful. Education methods in prisons are frequently too traditional, very focused just on reading textbooks, with no experimental activities. The learning process in prisons should be a constructive activity where students play an active role in the acquisition and utilisation of knowledge and new technologies can help trainers to develop pedagogical initiatives contributing to re-integrate young offenders back into society.
HOPE: e-learning as a solution for the training of young prisoners
HOPE is the name of the e-learning platform aimed at improving the training process of socially excluded individuals, especially young prisoners. HOPE is a project partially supported by the European Community under the Information Society Technology programme and is also a member of The Learning Citizen cluster.
The demonstration and validation of the results of the project are achieved through three pilot experiences, which are being carried out on two European countries: Greece and Spain.
During the trials, the HOPE system is tested with real data and real users (groups of young offenders). Specialised psychologists and researchers in pedagogy study the impact of HOPE on trainees, their behaviours and attitudes.
The user requirements collected at the beginning of the project are compared to the actual results of the project in order to evaluate whether the final results corresponds to user requests.
To better understand the advantages of the HOPE system in comparison with other methods, let’s describe the previous Education situation in prisons within these countries:
· In Spain, young offenders and prisoners are offered primary and secondary education and vocational training in a traditional face-to-face manner. They are also offered distance education possibilities for higher education level, but following traditional educational methods, such as books.
· In Greece, distance learning has not been yet introduced within institutions for young offenders. The current learning process of young inmates is quite poor and is based on traditional methods. Only a very small group of detainees are given the opportunity to attend higher level courses taught by visiting teachers, colleges and/or universities outside the prison.
How HOPE works?
The HOPE system is an intuitive, flexible and easy-to-use tool that opens a whole new concept of education within prisons. HOPE helps by improving pedagogic and social objectives of the prison environment. It is a far from the usual concept of education within prisons. HOPE will have a great impact on trainees, their behaviours and attitudes. It will improve trainees’ knowledge and skills, increase trainee motivation and interest in e-learning, fortifying a sense of responsibility and reinforcing their self-esteem.
Using HOPE, trainees in prison can maintain their personal profiles, access lists of available courses, take courses and check their own progress, reviewing their exam result history. They can easily communicate with the tutor or educator to ask them questions, clarification of any unclear concepts or send suggestions and comments. Motivational techniques have been incorporated like: the use of video, text and audio, so that the visual design is in accordance to the tastes of younger students. The personal preferences of the trainees have also been integrated, adding personalization and attractiveness to the interface.
The trainer who is using the HOPE platform has the possibility to access a list of all trainees, their profiles, their test scores as well as details regarding their participation in the course like, for example, when they last accessed the course or how long they spent on it, or any comments from the trainee regarding the course. This will help the educator closely monitor the progress of each trainee as well as support him within a secure environment.
An authoring tool is provided for the development of courses. No special knowledge of a programming language is required for it.
The training Manager is responsible for all the training process and Training Plans. He handles all the information for managing the courses and tracks and controls educators and trainees participation in each course.
HOPE pilot sites
The HOPE pilot sites are the: Centro penitenciario Madrid VI (Aranjuez, Spain), Avlona Young Offenders Institution (Atenas, Greece) and Papafeio Youth Care Institution (Thessaloniki, Greece).
The first aim of the Centro Penitenciario Madrid VI (located in Aranjuez, Spain) is to help young offenders modify their delinquent behaviour and offer them an opportunity for social reintegration. The idea is to stimulate the inmates, increasing their participation skills in social life.
Avlona has been chosen as one of the HOPE pilot sites in Greece. It is the biggest youth offenders institution in Greece. Since April 2001 ARSIS has been organising training lessons in the Avlona institution on the use of computers.
Papafeio is the other pilot site of the HOPE project in Greece. It is a care institution in Thessaloniki for children and juveniles up to the age of 18 years old. The Papafeio institution has been organising training lessons on the use of computers since September 2001.
During the first pilot project, we have tested three courses developed by the University of Athens and the TEI:
· The Multimedia course is focussed on multimedia applications, and explains all the concepts necessary for the understanding of the subject. For young prisoners in this institution, it is one of the most attractive and fashionable subjects.
· Computer Applications is very practical and refers to the Personal Computer environment, the basic tools of office automation and graphic design.
· The Labour Insertion course is especially interesting in the education of young prisoners. The given information comes from real life situations and is presented in an intriguing and entertaining manner. Trainees get all type of new terms and concepts crucial for survival in a rather complex world.
The HOPE Consortium
The project is composed of the following partners:
· SchlumbergerSema is a high experienced consulting and IT company managing the project and also participating in the development of the platform.
· CC and Yaroslav State University are institutions located in Central and East Europe. They play a role in the commercial exploitation of HOPE and they help disseminating the results of the project.
· ENRED is a Consulting company giving support to the Spanish pilot site, managed by ALPAO.
· ALPAO is the "Autonomous Labour & Penitentiary Assistance Organisation" and provides Spanish Penitentiary Institutions the necessary resources for the education and training of prisoners. ALPAO is the Institution in charge of the pilot activities in the Penitentiary Center located in Madrid.
· The Association for the Social Support of Youth (ARSIS), works with young people threatened by marginalisation in the open community and has been developing training and creative activities in all prisons where young persons are detained. ARSIS leads the implementation efforts in the Greek pilot sites.The picture that ilustrate this article was taken from the The Learning Citizen website.