The Women Making a Difference through Prison Education

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Helena Wysocki | 06 March 2020

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This International Women’s Day, we take a look at what some of PLA’s 2019 award-winning prison educators have to say about working in prison education, and how they have seen education change people’s lives.

In an environment built around and for men, we found the stories of the women that went out of their way to bring out the best in other people moving and inspirational. We hope to shine a light on their commitment and passion to supporting other women and men, and on the life-changing impact this has.

Helping people to achieve their goals

Common themes we found across many of the stories were inclusivity, an aspiration to bring out the best in people, and a sense of joy from helping others to grow their confidence.

Rachna Moudgil, winner of an award in the Young People’s Estate category, is an English, Maths, Art, PHSE and Employability Skills teacher at HMYOI Feltham. She talks about the joy she gets from helping others to achieve.

Once my learners achieve their set academic objectives or goals it feels like it’s my achievement too. We have mutual respect and appreciation for each other and share in each other’s achievements. I am quite proud of helping the learners.

Dionne Emmanuel, who also works at HMYOI Feltham, feels similarly proud of seeing young people achieve their goals.

The biggest highlight of my job is seeing the young people I work with achieve goals and push limits that they thought they would never reach. Seeing their confidence and pride brings me joy and I would not change it for anything.

Not just about qualifications

Rowan Mackenzie is completing a PhD at the Shakespeare Institute, and works with groups of men and women in prisons to adapt, rehearse and perform Shakespeare. She said,

I love working with the men and women in the prisons I work in and it is a delight to see them develop their skills and confidence as we work together to support each other and put on productions of Shakespeare. There is immense emotional support for each other within the group and they describe us as a family within the prison estate.

One of her actors describes the impact of her work.

With her unrelenting spirit, Rowan has given to us the gift of language, the gift of voice [and] the gift of Shakespeare

Linda McLoughlin, a teacher at HMP Bronzefield, talks about the wider benefits of education, challenging the idea that the only outcomes are acquiring knowledge and achieving qualifications.

According to Linda, although some people do not immediately make the connection, “English and Mathematics are the foundation to deliver the pathway to rehabilitation”. One of the most important aspects of Linda’s role is to “build trusting relationships with [her] students by treating them with respect and dignity”.

Once she has the trust of her students, she can take the next step to

Demonstrate to them the importance of English and Mathematics (contextualised in real-life topics) alongside the importance of respect and emotional intelligence as the main driver for positive rehabilitation.

This way, education has helped many of Linda’s students to navigate through life, develop social skills and change their self-image.

The life-changing impact of learning

Linda collected quotes from some of her students, which really demonstrate the life-changing impact her teaching has had.

  • “Now I can do the math, I will help my children with their homework”
  • “I now read well and understand academic vocabulary, I will be able to talk to my son’s doctors about his ADHD”
  • “I could correctly infer meaning from a legal document, which helped me to discuss the in-depth issues involved with my case – I am proud of myself”
  • “The peer mentoring role in education has saved my life”.

Thank you to everyone who, through teaching and learning, helps to bring out the best in people and make prisons a place where people can find meaning and allow their confidence to grow.

Happy international women’s day!

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