07 SES 06 B, Narratives
A significant percentage of South African adult males spend key years of their lives in prison, removed from their family’s lives and inactive as formal workers.The prison’s population include a disproportionate number of adult men from marginalised racial groups who are illiterate or who have had an interrupted formal schooling. This situation is not unique to South Africa. International research on incarceration highlights the intersectionality of incarceration with unequal educational opportunity and civil rights abuses (Alexander 2010; Schwartz 2015; Sutton 2012). What makes the South African situation unique is the country’s history of legislated racial oppression and discriminatory laws. Because of this legacy, research about the incarcerated South African male’s educational experiences has to engage with the political and societal factors that restricted his life chances. The social and economic costs of men’s incarceration to family and society, is a global problem. In a knowledge economy, the dominant discourse is that education is the key to economic competitiveness and the prosperity of the family and the nation (OECD, 1999, 2011).
Since 1994 the South African government has been restructuring every level of education and training, from general to further and higher education. Equity and redress became the social and political drivers of the educational reform. The government of national unity pledged to equalize education (Department of Education, 1995; 2001) for all its citizens by developing an education system that respects every individual’s right to a basic education. One thus finds the discourse of lifelong learning infused in all of the country’s educational policy documents, as well as in its constitution. Act No. 108, section 29(1) of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, states that “Everyone has the right to a basic education, including adult basic education and to further education which the state, through reasonable measures, must make progressively available and accessible”. This is in line with the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (1948) and the UNESCO Convention against Discrimination in Education (1960) that affirm education as a basic human right (Swain 2005). This paradigm thus positions the educational context as an enabling environment in which equitable opportunities exist for social and cultural empowerment of students.
In the last decade the Department of Correctional Services has introduced AET programs in twelve of its prisons. The decision by government to invest in the education of incarcerated offenders is however not always supported by society. Their branding as drug pushers, sex offenders, abusers, even murderers strengthen objections by mainstream society that incarcerated men are undeserving of respect and educational opportunity, and that law-abiding citizens should enjoy priority over prisoners when it comes to the allocation of scarce educational resources. Limited research exist that explore the potential of adult education and training for rehabilitation of offenders through education, and the benefits it could hold for both the individual and society.
My research interest is the educational culture that the incarcerated individual has access to in the prison. The prison as a unique AET research site affords a valuable opportunity to investigate the potentiality of AET to decrease recidivism. The aim is to reflect on the ways in which the prison environment invest in the incarcerated learner, and explore social capital accumulation in a context where freedom of movement and educational access to resources are privileges governed by the correctional services mandates (Breen & Buchmann 2002).
The research question that I pose, is," How does the AETC culture contribute to the educational success of incarcerated adult learners?
In this case study research, the bounded system is an Adult Education and Training Centre (AETC) situated in a medium security prison. My data collection about the adult learning and educational experience was framed by a social constructivist paradigm (Mertens 2014; Creswell 2003). I adopted an interactional epistemological stance toward the men’s realities (Terre Blanche, Durrheim & Painter 2006), and through semi-structured one-on-one interviews (Patton 2002) with four inmates, two educators and the AETC manager/educator I sought to make sense of their experiences navigating AET education. As I was also interested in the culture that the incarcerated individual had access to, I observed their actions and interactions during the daily educational program. Due to my limited knowledge of prison life and the research population, the research had to be exploratory, with flexibility for modifications to the research design.
My analysis of the data shows that establishing an educational ethos in a prison is a complex process that requires buy in from all employees, not just educators. The narratives show that there are conditions under which AET education happens in a prison. Without collaboration between educators, housing unit managers and warders, educational success is threatened. The Lonehill AETC is reliant on the goodwill of the warders and the unit managers. However, when these individuals neglect their secondary responsibilities, they derail the education project. The prisoner at Lonehill spends 23 hours per day locked up in a cell, with one other male, seven days a week. The inmates’ decision to participate in AET is often motivated by non-educational factors such as the opportunity to escape from the confinement of the cell, opportunities to socialise with other inmates, or opportunities to participate in a sporting code. However, the data show how inmates’ perspective shift when they see how other enrolled students excel in class, and how their self-esteem grow. Then students start accumulating cultural capital and start using the social networks available to them. Their perseverance to stay in the programme is facilitated by many factors, such as the potential that certification and qualifications have to enhance their status in prison, and to establish validation amongst peers. The incarcerated adult learners’ engagement with others start a process of learning that shift their thinking about education’s potential as the vehicle that can transport them away from the very destructive lifestyles that landed them in prison. Education then becomes the catalyst to change their educational and life histories.
Alexander, M. (2010). The new Jim Crow: Mass incarceration in the age of colorblindness. New York, NY: The New Press. Breen, R. and Buchmann, M. (2002). Institutional variation and the position of young people: A comparative perspective. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 580, 288–305. Creswell, J.W. (2003). Research Design. Qualitative, Quantitative .and Mixed Methods Approaches (2nd Ed). Thousand Oaks: SAGE. Department of Education. (1995). White paper on education and training. Retrieved from www.info.gov.za/whitepapers/1995/education1.htm Department of Education. (1997). A national multi-year Implementation plan for Adult Education and Training: Provision and Accreditation. Pretoria: Department of Education. Department of Education. (2001). Building an ABET system: the first five years 1995-2000. Pretoria: Department of Education. Fiske, S.T. (2010). Social Beings. Core motives in social psychology. Hoboken, N.Y: John Wiley and Sons. Mertens, D. (2014). Research and Evaluation in Education and Psychology: Integrating Diversity with Quantitative, Qualitative, and Mixed Methods. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications. Patton, MQ. (2002). Qualitative Research & Evaluation Methods. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications Schwartz, J. (2015). After Incarceration and Adult Learning. Adult Learning 26(2); 51-58. South African Constitution. (1996). Pretoria, South Africa: Government Printers. Statistics South Africa (2003). 2001 Census. Pretoria: Statistics South Africa. Sutton, J.R. (2012). Imprisonment and opportunity structures: A Bayesian Hierarchical Analysis. European Sociological Review, 28(1); 12–27. Terre Blanche, M., Durrheim, K. & Painter, D. (2006). (2nd Ed). Research in Practice: Applied Methods for the Social Sciences. Cape Town: UCT Press.
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