Introduction I work at Hindley HMP YOI, Europe’s largest juvenile estate, which caters for male 15 – 18 year olds. Its catchment area embraces prisoners from England and Wales, inclusive of the home counties. This results in a diverse population with a mixture of cultural and social backgrounds and range of life experiences. The course I teach is Social Life Skills to the academic standards of Adult entry level three and Adult level one. The education department within Hindley is committed to providing a learning environment where the physical, mental and emotional well-being of the learners is intrinsic to everything we do.
The provision of the Social and Life Skills curriculum meets the outcomes in a number of ways through units such as Healthy Living, Healthy Eating/Food and Nutrition, Food Preparation/Hygiene and Introduction to Drug and Alcohol awareness. In particular, these units promote positive sexual health and relationship choices through education about STI’s, responsibilities in a relationship as well as challenging the increased risk of sexual activity under the influence of intoxicating substances.
These units also highlight the physical and emotional risks of using both legal and illegal substances and encourage positive lifestyle choices. This paper intends to examine how the subject offers an experiential and learning forum designed to enhance academic learning, increase knowledge, build strategies and provide learning for life. However does the environment in which I teach can ultimately affect the end result? Experiential Learning Activities based around subjects such as ‘Healthy Lifestyles’ , ‘Drug and Alcohol Awareness’ and ‘Sexual Health awareness’ strengthen the practical elements of the course and learners gain essential life skills that are an integral aspect of the overall aims.
This encourages young people to think about the reasons for which they engage in risky behaviour and allows exploration of alternative ways of gaining, for example, confidence and excitement. Throughout the course I try to promote self-esteem of the learners and highlight that substance misuse is not the answer to their problems. The negative psychological effects on a person’s mental health are also discussed and learners are encouraged to think about this both short and long term.
The course also addresses the physical effects that substance misuse can have on a person, encouraging awareness of the damage that can occur so that they can make positive choices to avoid drugs or alcohol in the future. This increases the young person’s awareness of consequences of risky behaviour and promotes positive choices in relation to avoiding harmful substances. “As many as 90% of prisoners have a diagnosable mental illness, substance abuse problem or, often both.
Among young offenders and juveniles that figure is even higher, ninety five per cent” (Department of Health and Prison Service, 2001) The course also covers the importance of maintaining personal fitness in promoting good health and how this can be achieved. It also makes learners consider the basis of healthy eating and how to create healthy balanced meals. The skills and knowledge gained through the course should empower the learners with the ability to make positive lifestyle choices which they can then use in their everyday life upon release.
An opportunity to have this learning experience is essential to them moving forward into further opportunities and avoiding distraction that could hinder their eventual progress. The design and development of the ‘Life Skills’ curriculum within Hindley HMP does not escape the influence of a social and political agenda. It is not education for purely academic motives or for expanding the educational perspectives of the learner. The course has a firm learning towards establishing society’s norms and expectations and avoiding anti-social and anti-establishment practices.
The term ‘rehabilitation’ assumes that things have already gone wrong and requires intervention. The most dedicated teacher employing sound and universally recognised theoretical perspectives can become embroiled in the pursuit of good and productive citizenship. To assist and help our learner group requires the recognition that they are, in the main, troubled young people who are in danger. Amongst a range of issues, a lack of, or failure to engage in the educational process has been a contributing factor and in the main, they have missed out on inspirational teaching in their formative years.
In addition, they may have not have experienced the influence of ‘significant other’ motivation and support within an education setting. “We all have a wealth of talent, skills, knowledge and unique personal qualities. In some of us, these gifts may be as yet untapped, unrecognised, hidden or ignored. ” (Magrill, Sanderson and Short, 2005) A great deal of the information delivered on the courses within my subject are essential knowledge for all young people and can been seen as fundamental within the range of sub cultures in a juvenile prison setting.
The course assessment criteria can evaluate that the student has studied to a specified degree through portfolio completion, an observable demonstration that learning has taken place. It is only through the delivery, encompassing an extensive range of discussion, sharing of experiences and remedial review that can provide insight into internalisation and understanding. The most difficult aspect to assess is the extent to which increased knowledge and awareness will lead to any significant changes in immediate or future behaviour.
Experience indicates that to attempt to preach adherence to society’s norms or adoption of moralistic viewpoints may risk immediate rejection. Barriers Although many institutes of learning are subject to the influences from a range of issues including environmental, social, cultural and in some cases the extremes of deprivation, all these factors and more are compounded within the prison system. In addition, our service can be far greater influenced, restricted and inhibited by political conditions and learner inhibitions.
The utilisation of an extensive range of planning, delivery and evaluation theory does not always ensure that learning takes place. In many cases, our service users are placing a much greater emphasis at the lower end of the Maslovian scale with physical and safety needs at a higher level of necessity than investing in the rehabilitation process of which education is a component. “What is necessary to change a person is to change his awareness of himself.
” Abraham Maslow When a young person enters the prison system they enter an environment that imposes significant influences on their day to day lives. Aside from the regime that inflicts rigid routines and restriction, they are also subject to the overt and covert sub-cultural expectations and alliances required to conform within that distinctive community. Many of the young people have extensive experience of operation outside society’s norms in an environment where adherence to the group and its values is paramount.
Therefore, the educational system tends not to be an ideal forum of a captive audience, keen to utilise their time to enhance knowledge they may view as irrelevant to their present of future lives. In order to be an effective teacher within such an environment requires a range of skills and abilities. The knowledge and understanding of teaching theory is a necessary component to enhance delivery and promote learning. It is vital also to fully embrace the principles of non-discriminatory and non-judgemental practice.
In addition, the tutor needs to be aware of their own value system and ensure they do not taint their teaching. The individually developed process to connections and engagement can inhibit or enhance the bond of trust that increases the possibility of a credible acceptance of hypothesis and factual information yet with all components in place, there are no guarantees that learning will be viewed as necessary of valid. An example of this is a learner who achieved high standards in the ‘Healthy Lifestyles’ module. He fully understood the concepts of diet, exercise and safe sex practices.
He put many of the theories he had learned into practice including an extensive exercise regime. However, when asked whether he would continue with his healthier approach he replied, “I doubt it. When I get out I will probably be back on the drugs and sleeping rough if I’m on the run! ” He would return to the same environment as before prison with the same peer group. The influences would be far stronger and for him, the reality of his situation. Conclusion Many other issues that individually may not be unique can combine and contrive to create serious barriers to the learning process.
In addition to the aforementioned factors, language barriers, cultural issues, regional and even postcode and gang affiliations all bring contrasting and sometimes conflicting agenda’s to the classroom. Due to operational issues, the instances of session or course interruptions can be greater than is the norm in most other forms of learning. The range of subject specific experience and knowledge can often match or even exceed the subject matter. In the case of drug awareness, a number of the learners have been heavily involved in the drug scene for a number of years.
They have first -hand experience encompassing the range from heavy recreational use, through addiction and even sophisticated drug preparation and dealing. As a result of these and many other mitigating factors one could question the validity of presenting the course to the identified group within identified environment. On the contrary, I feel that these very barriers make it essential necessity to present the facts, issues, consequences and alternatives. This will enable the learners to make considered and educated choices in their present and future functioning.
The teacher works within a prison environment needs to recognise the difficulties involved in attempting to provide a programme of life skills education without having the opportunity of observing of their topics of choice have or will have any long effect or trigger a real change in long term behaviour. It is vital that the educator remains confident that their contribution to the overall rehabilitation process is enhancing the prospects of the students to achieve their potential. In conclusion, Social Life Skills is not any exact science with predictable outcomes based on formulae or pre-determined rules of order.
It’s effect and influence cannot be easily gauged nor can success be readily evaluated. Learning for life it certainly is with a hope that some if not all the students will utilise the learning to promote positive personal benefits. Bibliography * Inspiration: Your Ultimate Calling – Wayne W. Dyer p130 * Changing the Outlook – A Strategy for Developing and Modernising Mental Health Services in Prisons – p3 * Developing access to Skills for Life for offender learners with learning difficulties or disabilities – p27.
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