PCF5:The role of Open and Distance Learning in Prisons

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Discussion Session On The Role Of Open And Distance Learning In Prisons


by Anne Pike

Education is a “right for all” and for offenders it is crucial. Offenders are an extremely vulnerable layer of society; they are far more likely to have truanted or been excluded from school and are more likely to have left school with no qualifications. Often they want to use time usefully but are unable to associate with a classroom environment or the standard education in prison (where it exists) which focuses on Basic and Life Skills and may not be appropriate or at a high enough level. There is a need, therefore, to ensure they have access to ODL to develop the confidence and skills to gain meaningful employment on release and to open doors which they never knew existed.

E-learning is a vital component of 21st century education; hence the dilemma. There is wide variation in available technology across prisons. Access to computers and storage media can be a serious barrier to participation and learning. The prison service remains highly skeptical of any form of web access, no matter how secure. The need for control and protection of the public is their first priority.

The Open University (OU) in the UK, are commencing trials to investigate alternative pedagogies, either using dedicated secure web access or using off-line Open Source information on prison intranets (with plans to introduce course-specific interactive assessment material). There are those, however, who would argue that the risks of misuse and the costs outweigh the benefits for rehabilitation.

The aim of this discussion is to identify the role of HE and ODL in a prison environment; to debate the benefits and the barriers to HE and ODL for offenders, security staff and educators, to organise international collaboration to promote change and develop a future strategy. Outcomes will include a collaborative paper which could inform governments and go forward to a number of other International Conferences.

Aims of the Discussion Group


  • discuss the role of HE and ODL in a prison environment
  • identify barriers to ODL development and progress
  • identify benefits for offenders
  • identify benefits for security staff and teachers
  • share good practice and identify key development areas for future strategy
  • produce outcomes to inform UNESCO, COL, and other International Conferences:
    • EDEN Workshop in Paris (Oct 2008).
    • Education in Prison (CIEP)in Brussels (2009)
  • prove that international collaboration can promote change


Some possible themes

  1. IT and Internet access - issues of security or deployment
  2. Intranet developments
  3. Conflict of security v education for offenders
  4. HE - natural progression from mainstream education?
  5. Funding
  6. Security officer staff development
  7. Teacher training
  8. Women in prison
  9. Embedding ODL into Vocational skills development - Foundation degrees?
  10. A meaningful Curriculum eg. a curriculum for social responsibility, to rebuild self esteem, promote a positive transition to society when released

Anyone wishing to contribute further themes? - please use EDIT to add here

Confirmed Programme

Three x 90 minute sessions on Tuseday 15th and Wednesday 16th July. This will allow for further discussions, thoughts or reflections to take place and be brought back for final session. It will also allow wider participation - perhaps allowing one-day delegates to contribute.

First session Tuesday 15th AM

After an introduction to the Workshop Session by Anne Pike, UK Open University there will be a series of short presentations (max 15 mins each) followed by a discussion to identify key issues, building into the themes above. The presentations, identifying some of the problems and possible solutions, are as follows:-

The Role of Open and Distance Learning Institutions in Providing Access To Education among the Prison Inmates by Dr Rotimi Ogidan, National Open Univerity Of Nigeria

ABSTRACT Primarily, prisons are built as an institution to help control the rate of crime in the society and also reform the prisoners. In view of this, an investigation was carried out on how Open and Distance Learning institution like the National Open University of Nigeria can extend educational services that will provide access to learning among prison inmates. In most African countries, much has not been done to help prison inmates to acquire education beyond the primary and at most secondary school level. The study found out that arrangement can be put in place to establish study centres as meeting points for the learners and their instructors in addition to the method of providing support services for the learners. Suitable learning facilities to be needed were identified and how they can be made available within the confines of the laws guiding prison services. The advantages that can be derived when access to learning is provided to the prison inmates are stated in the paper. Suggestions are also made on the role of stakeholders like Open and Distance Learning institutions, the government, religious bodies, prison inmates’ relations and other relevant organizations in meeting the financial needs of learner inmates during the course of their study.. Appropriate recommendations are made based on how prison inmates can maximize the advantages of gaining access to learning through the Open and Distance Learning.

Empowering Women Prisoners Through Education: Open And Distance Learning Option In Africa by Dr Olugbenga Ojo, National Open University Of Nigeria (See http://www.wikieducator.org/images/3/3d/PID_178.pdf)

The Challenges to Networked Teaching and Learning in Prison

(abstract of paper in preparation for EADTU conference in September)

Peter Mortimer, Project Manager, Cned-Éifad

The paper examines the situation of learners in prison, their aspirations to education and training and in particular to higher education.

Who are the learners? What motivates them? What access is there to training, to guidance, to resources? What are the obstacles to learning? What is the state of higher education in prison? What allowance is made for it in relation to training in basic skills and secondary education? Why do prisoners in higher education in particular need access to networked learning?

The paper reviews the attitudes of prison staff and administration towards prisoners engaged in learning, and the mindset of society in general in this field. Should there be opportunities for higher education in prison on a par with that available to the public at large? If so, how is networked learning to be implemented? What technical solutions exist or need creating that are compatible with the level of security required in prison? How do these solutions impinge on the design of courses?

To what extent can distance learning programmes that integrate networked learning allow for the constraints imposed by prison security? What specific training is required for distance and/or face-to-face tutors dealing with networked learners in prison?

Finally, the paper will debate society's responsibility for enabling networked learning in prison, especially in the field of higher education, with a view to bringing offenders back into the swim of everyday life in the 21st century.


Second session Tuesday 15th PM

A short introduction to the Workshop Session by Anne Pike, UK Open University, followed by further presentations (max 15 mins each) followed by a discussion to identify key issues, building into the themes above. The presentations, identifying some of the problems and possible solutions, are as follows:-

Conclusions and Recommendations from UNED Project EURODESIP: Diagnosis of state of Higher Education in Penal Institutions in Europe. By Antonio Viedma Rojas et. al. (See http://www.eurodesip.org/en/?cat=4 and follow links for the 'final report' or 'conclusions and recommendations'.)

Social Justice in Education: The Role of Open Schooling A Case study from India by Dr Sushmita Mitra, National Institute Of Open Schooling, UK. (see http://www.pcf5.london.ac.uk/Abstracts/Mitra%20-%20Social%20Justice%20in%20Education.pdf)

The 'Good Relations' Agenda and the Changing Context of the Prison Officer in Northern Ireland by Dr. D Wilson and Dr. T Irwin, UNESCO Centre, School of Education, University of Ulster.
ABSTRACT The Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS) faces many challenges supporting a society emerging from a period of prolonged conflict. Having downsized in response to the release of those prisoners classified as political under the Good Friday Agreement, the Service now must adapt to an anticipated growth in the prison population, the growing diversity and seriousness of day to day crimes coming to the courts outside the legacy of political and civil conflict and the increasing diversity of the prison population including the detention of those from ethic minority groupings. The role of education in this process has also had to adapt and re-orientate to these changes.

Investigating the Digital Divide for HE students in prisons in UK (See http://www.open.ac.uk/colmsct/activities/), and results from the Offender Learning Colloquium: Meeting the Needs of Offender Learners, held at the Open University on 4th June by Anne Pike, UK Open University

Anyone wishing to discuss any of the above - Please use EDIT to add here

Third session Wednesday 16th AM

  • Resume of sessions 1 and 2 + additional reflections
  • Discuss main themes
  • Produce results, identifying key barriers and benefits, with a global message for governments, future conferences and publication.

Useful Links



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