Novus learners have been selected as some of the first in country to participate in an exciting pilot to deliver EDSQ (Essential Digital Skills Qualifications) while working through the challenges that come with a secure environment and limited internet access.
Levelling up digital education for prisoners in secure environments
Learners at HMP Buckley Hall and HMP New Hall are utilising the Open Borders HMPPS initiative to participate in the trial which has been running since April. The Open Borders programme assists in providing additional internet access to learners to meet exam criteria while still maintaining strict security protocol.
The EDSQ education team at HMP Buckley Hall have really enjoyed delivering the course. “A lot of the men have been in prison for so long that they have not used the internet or even an android phone; the skills taught were a huge eye opener for some of them.”
Novus worked with Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation (HMPPS) Content Creator Centres to produce a set of Graphical User Interface Simulations. These simulations allowed learners to practice the necessary skills while still working within the boundaries and restrictions that are imposed in a prison learning environment. The Novus Action Research Project (OTLA8), helped to inform the designs for the simulations used in the pilots.
Learners at both prisons are excited, engaged and have made swift progress through the course. Our EDSQ Tutor at HMP New Hall, is excited at the opportunities that the project provides. “At the start of the course, the women had little experience using computers and the internet, many had avoided using IT whilst studying other courses. Through the duration of the course, I witnessed the women’s confidence grow which is an incredibly rewarding feeling.”
One of the EDSQ tutors involved in the programme found the opportunity to be a refreshing change of pace from the usual learning style of a secure setting. “Open Borders is a great tool. It felt a little bit wrong to start off with, as the internet is a big no-no in prisons, but we continually tracked the usage reports to spot any misuse in the system.”
Increasing digital awareness for prison learners
Feedback from the learners on this project has been incredibly positive. Throughout the project, they have worked independently, and have been able to tackle tasks and skills that would have been impossible without the help of the Open Borders Initiative. Learners have simulated Google searches, learnt how to send emails, practiced online banking and even how to carry out online shopping.
“I thought I knew the basics, but all I could do was send messages and make calls on a phone. I didn’t have any confidence in using a computer. I didn’t know half of these things existed. I have been taught things that everyone needs to know, and I know I will use these skills when I am released.”
Perhaps most importantly, the learners have been enthusiastic and engaged, with many being excited about learning for the first time in a while.
“I have enjoyed every single lesson and learnt loads. I now know about viruses and how easily then can be sent, how to make sure I am safe when using the internet, how to make secure passwords, and adding extra security such as fingerprint or facial recognition."
The future of digital learning in prison education
Since August 2020 there has been a national entitlement to fully fund adults aged 19+ who lack basic digital skills to undertake Essential Digital Skills Qualifications (EDSQs). Due to Covid restrictions, we have not been able to take advantage of this until now.
It is recognised that there is a digital divide between prisons and the community. Prisoners get cut off from essential online services and are unable to develop the skills needed to carry out daily activities that we take for granted in the community. Being able to deliver EDS in prisons allows us to narrow the digital divide, support prisoners with resettlement and in turn reduce reoffending.
Pilots have been successful in learners achieving their EDS qualifications and feeling digitally prepared for their future. Thanks to the success we have seen from the pilot so far, Novus’ Digital Learning Team will be supporting our prison educators to roll out the project at more sites.