Horticulture Instructor Jeanette Mathers and Plastering Instructor Ken Collins are seeing great results from teaching prisoners to read, write and do maths.

About two years ago Corrections started to include literacy and numeracy training in the offender employment training of prisoners. Instructors were formerly trained to embed this in vocational training such as horticulture and plastering.

Jeanette Mathers says the prisoners need to read the instructions when learning to create such a beautiful garden.

Jeanette says that having dyslexia actually helped her to teach prisoners how to spell the Latin words for plants. “I use tricks I used myself and use things that might not be obvious to them at first. When you break up sta-men' into two parts it’s easy to get that that’s the male part of the plant.

“A lot of prisoners say they’re dyslexic too but most aren’t. They just use that to hide they can’t read or write and the biggest boost they get from improving those skills is self-confidence. For me that’s the biggest benefit.

“An example?,” says Jeanette. “I have one person who has a very negative attitude as soon as he hears the word ‘assessment’. Before he even knows what it’s about, he’s already saying: “Oh no, I can’t do that!” Drip feeding lliteracy and numeracy lessons into his ordinary horticultural training is working a treat for him as I haven’t heard him say those words lately.”

Instructor Ken Collins in front of the house in which he is training prisoners to plaster. Ken Collins has noticed the same in his plastering training. “It’s all about removing the barriers,” he says. Ken includes all the formally required language tasks in his course. Reading a building plan requires literacy. But he says his guys especially benefit from the numeracy training. “For example, when you cut Gib plasterboard it’s quite handy to know how to measure correctly.”

And Ken too has an example of someone who excelled after a rocky start: “The first thing he said to me was: “No, I don’t do maths”. So I let him get on with his work and it was going quite well. Then he needed to draw a plan of a room and it took him quite a while to get back to me. When he realised one of the unit standards for maths covered measuring, we were on our way. He can now draw a plan of a complete house.”

Ken has recently been seconded to principal instructor and only has a small work party. However, he is planning to teach other instructors how to embed literacy and numeracy in their training. “It’s great because it helps them to gain their plastering qualifications and that will benefit them greatly to find work on release!”