PAN and A Ray of Hope - Brussels

Thursday, December 06, 2007

ARTS & LITERACY

IN EUROPEAN PRISONS
 
If you can't read or write, and you're not into TV or music, you're in trouble. You'll get depressed and wound up.”
[Prisoner in Wakefield Prison, England:
quoted in “A Day Inside”, The Guardian, March 2007]
 
            On the 21st November 2007 the PAN Coordinator, Dr Alan Clarke, addressed the Annual Open Forum of the ‘Dyslexia International – Tools and Technologies’ (DITT) in Brussels, attended by around 60 delegates. The invitation came as a result of PAN’s affiliation to A Ray of Hope and its role as a UNESCO Youth Ambassador for the Culture of Peace.
Under the title of ‘Dyslexia discovered - Dyslexia ignored: two sides of the coin’,  Alan followed an informative presentation by Dr Michael Thomson, Principal of East Court School, a specialist school for dyslexic children, with a presentation on how the arts can support literacy teaching in prison.  
 
He started by raising questions about the purpose of prisons, the kind of people who find themselves behind bars, and the negative effects prison has on them. In particular he emphasised the loss of self-esteem and the lack of opportunities to communicate at anything other than a superficial level. He outlined the high level of illiteracy amongst offenders and the need to stress the positive qualities amongst dyslexic people. He then went on to emphasise the importance that education, and the arts in particular, can have in overcoming these problems. He gave a number of examples of this, including the work of the London Shakespeare Workout and the Varderteartret of ex-offenders in Oslo.
Finally he outlined the impact that the PAN & The Will to Dream projects can have in these areas, including improving literacy skills amongst inmates.
 
In a report on the meeting Daphne Davies quoted Alan’s comments:
 
“The most important aspect of prison learning is related to self-esteem. ... For many of the inmates, school had been a nightmare, so the aim of (the prison teachers’)  work is to ‘take the stigma out of learning to read and write ...’”
 
And in her thank-you message the meeting organiser, Judith Sansom, wrote:
“Your presentation was thought-provoking and people are still discussing the issues you raised.”
 

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