A new basic literacy programme delivered at Otago Corrections Facility by the Methodist Mission has produced its first graduates.

Sixty-five prisoners have achieved NCEA credits with five graduating with basic foundation literacy skills this year.

 Methodist Mission Foundation Skills Tutor Dawn Stanton works with a prisoner.

The partnership with Methodist Mission involves prisoners learning skills that will help them better participate in the community and access employment opportunities. Methodist Mission is contracted by Corrections to deliver this tertiary education-funded programme in Otago Corrections Facility (OCF). Te Wananga o Aotearoa provides the programmes in other NZ prisons.

“Literacy and numeracy skills are essential for working and living in today’s world,” says Otago Corrections Facility Interventions Coordinator, Sacha Bignell. “Without the basics, the opportunities can be very limited.”

These skills are also essential within the prison. Basic literacy helps engagement in trade training and rehabilitation programmes that aim to help prisoners address the behaviours that lead to their offending.

Over 65% of prisoners have literacy and numeracy skills below the standard for NCEA Level 1. This means they could not read the road code, a job application form, or a legal document – all things that would help with their rehabilitation, reintegration and ability to maintain a life without crime, on release.

The men on the Methodist Mission programme have achieved certificates marking the completion of their Step Up or Foundation Skills programmes. The prison held a graduation ceremony to mark the achievement.

“It takes a lot of courage to undertake a course like this,” says Sacha. “These are, in the main, men who haven’t been encouraged in education when they were growing up. They may have moved around a lot or had unidentified learning difficulties. They have often had few positive educational experiences that have encouraged them to engage or re-engage with learning.”

“Many have become very adept at hiding their inability to read or write. This can result in low levels of self-esteem or even violence due to their frustration.”

Charles Pearce of the Methodist Mission says, “It has been a very positive and successful experience working with the men to improve their literacy and numeracy and to see themselves as learners. OCF staff have been a great help to make these programmes happen.”

The graduation included 26 prisoners who had completed either NZ Certificate Foundational skills levels 1 and 2 or Step Up NCEA compulsory literacy/numeracy credits, which often hold prisoners back from completing their NCEA. Each course is 60 credits and takes up to six months to complete. It is delivered in a mix of one on one tutoring, group learning and self-directed learning.

Jerry* is one of the men graduating the programme. With the help of Methodist Mission tutors he has completed his foundation literacy skills and gone on to achieve NCEA levels 1 and 2.

“It means a lot,” he says, “I can be proud of what I have achieved and I finally feel I have accomplished something.”

Jerry says that at school he couldn’t focus well and didn’t learn much. He feels that this course was his second chance.

“Some assessments were harder than others,” he says. “But with the help of my tutor, towards the end I started learning really fast!”

“Just the other day, I advised my partner about how to properly write a CV, and this could lead to her getting employment,” he says.

Another graduate was particularly proud to be the first on the course to complete NCEA levels 1 and 2 and who, when first interviewed for eligibility to attend the programme had no credits.

“He has worked very hard and now has a qualification that will give him a step up into aspects of life and employment previously unavailable to him,” says Sacha.

“This is life changing for the men. Being illiterate can be incredibly isolating. Education opens up a whole new world for them; reading, writing to family, further study,  the ability to connect at a whole other level with the world around them.”

“It’s a great second chance for these learners,” says Sacha. “Ultimately, through their improved lifestyle choices, they can help make the community a safer and happier place.”