In Europe, there are on average 111 inmates per 100,000 inhabitants. In Slovenia slightly less, 67 per 100,000 inhabitants. Returning convicts to the labour market is one of the main tasks of the Prison Administration of the Republic of Slovenia, in addition to striving for a safe society and ensuring their reintegration into a society where they could live in accordance with all legal and social norms. This is linked to the education of convicts, where the Prison Administration of the Republic of Slovenia has been working with the Trebnje AEC for a number of years. A majority of convicts have neither the competences employers are looking for nor the will to learn, which is why the Trebnje AEC and its international partners developed SkillHubs, an innovative model for developing key competences.
The SkillHubs model features integrative and innovative methodologies that affect the comprehensive development of the individual in their integration into society, from improving their self-esteem to motivation for activation on the labour market.
Experience shows that convicts have the most problems in reintegrating into society and the labour market. In addition, they face stigma from serving their sentences as well as their own obstacles and refusal to participate in education and training. This is exactly why the SkillHubs model was developed.
Most inmates have a number of working years ahead of them
Alenka Kraljič from the Trenkwalder employment agency noted that employers are looking to hire people with intertwined competences: literacy, numeracy, creativity, digital skills and critical thinking. Self-directed learning and research, collaboration and networking are also extremely important in her opinion.
Robert Friškovec from the Prison Administration of the Republic of Slovenia said that a majority of the inmates are between 27 and 39 years old. This means that they have many years of work still ahead of them. It would be right if they returned to society empowered and could really flourish.
They realised they were capable of more than they thought
We were attracted by the informality, by the fact the programme is tailored to the individual. The aim was to develop key competences, as we have seen a number of convicts who are completely functionally illiterate. The pilot implementation took place from October last year to the end of January: out of the 15 convicts who participated, nine completed training. We otherwise have problems motivating convicts, who cannot see any benefits for their lives, but there were three convicts in this group who attended regularly and had no doubts that they would benefit from the education once they are released.
Zdenka Nanut Planinšek, the Trebnje AEC external associate who led the group, said that the convicts were convinced to participate by the approach, which did not look like a classic learning environment. “As we were founding companies virtually, the convicts were subconsciously learning to learn, about their values and wants, gaining self-esteem, discovering their strengths and interests …” she continued. With the help of the SkillHubs model, the convicts realised that they were able to solve problems and that they were also able to learn, even though they did not initially have the desire to learn. She went on to say: “They learned to argue, analyse, think critically; they unleashed their creativity. They became more relaxed in collaborative work. They even said what else they would like to know.”
However, not every educator achieves such results, pointed out Estera Možina, MSc, SIAE. This is why only the most experienced adult educators were included in training for the implementation of the SkillHubs model, and she believes that in the future it would make sense to connect these adult education professionals into a formal community, at least in Slovenia or, better still, at the European level. In this way, they could exchange experience and good practices. It would also make achieving the goals of the SkillHubs model easier and more effectively empower inmates for life on the outside.
The Trebnje AEC has been developing different innovative approaches to building competences with Slovenian and foreign experts for the last 60 years. In the local environment, this mainly includes companies that reflect the current situation and projections of knowledge and competences. Our institution introduces foreign best practices to the region on the basis of international connections, thereby promoting the development of innovative learning environments with the latest tools and solutions.
The SkillHubs model can be adapted to the local environment and introduced to any system in Europe and beyond. Having the cooperation of local companies, which specify what competences they need, and of experienced prison education staff is essential in this respect. The project partners explained more about the recommendations for implementing the SkillHubs model at the international virtual closing conference held on 6 October. The speakers included a former convict who spoke about how education changed his life after serving his sentence.
Tanja Vrčkovnik (firstname.lastname@example.org), Trebnje AEC