Exploring Education in Prisons with Erasmus+
I recently experienced my first Erasmus+ contact seminar, on the theme ‘Education in Prison‘. The seminar was organised for those interested in getting involved in Erasmus+ funded projects and was the first to focus on the theme of Prison Education for a number of years. The Finnish National Agency organised the event and we were supported and funded from home by Léargas.
We landed in Helsinki and caught a one hour connecting flight to Oulu–the ‘Capital of the North’–a very pretty place with a friendly, relaxed atmosphere. On first impressions, Finland is a beautiful country, with friendly people and a reputation as a heavyweight in the education sector. This reputation is well deserved, as Finland did not disappoint! The seminar was well organised, with an interesting programme of workshops, working groups and a variety of cultural visits.
Our workshops were very relevant and covered topics such as:
- Current areas of improvement in Prison Education (delivered by the Criminal Sanctions Agency)
- Validation of prior learning (delivered by the Finnish National Agency, CIMO)
- EU support for Prison Education (delivered by prison education expert Alan Smith)
- Sustainability and Mainstreaming (delivered by the European Prison Education Association).
The cultural opportunities arranged for us included a reindeer meal in a log cabin, a roasted salmon eat-out in traditional teepee style dwellings (fire pit included!), and visits to local projects and the nearby prison. The opportunity to discuss the importance of education within the prison system across Europe, to share practices and experiences and brainstorm project ideas, was invaluable. At first I was a little daunted by an area I was new to, but there were experts from National Agencies present to advise (and counsel) those who were newbies.
As I mentioned, we had the opportunity during the course of the seminar to visit Oulu Prison. This is an old prison, dating from 1885, and is in a unique position of being less than one kilometre from Oulu town centre. It’s a medium security prison with capacity for 98 prisoners, both male and female. Oulu prison has both remand and sentenced prisoners with a re-entry unit on site; conjugal visits are permitted; and each landing comes equipped with its own sauna! Our tour included a presentation on the Special Needs Vocational Education and Upper Secondary Education available in the prison. The tour brought us through cells, classrooms, sports halls, the visiting area and administration offices. The Finnish system is impressive and well thought out: teachers are employed from external schools and contracted to teach prisoners. The teaching methods range from classroom time to e-learning through Moodle. Video conferencing is also available across six prisons throughout northern Finland. This arrangement is a result of a lifetime of collaboration between prison staff and educators, and the good rapport was evident during the visit.
We had scheduled time slots during the course of the week to gather into working groups and develop project ideas and partnerships. These working groups resulted in the development of eight new project ideas, which were presented to the entire group on the final day of the seminar. We were given space to provide feedback on the projects presented, and it was a great opportunity to get a feel for the overall energy of the various working groups. These projects will be submitted for the Erasmus+ KA2 call in March 2017. I was thrilled to get the chance to attend this seminar, and would encourage anyone interested in Erasmus+ projects to take the chance if opportunity arises.
Images courtesy of Deirdre Brennan.
This article was also published here on the léargas website 17 Feb 2017