A project of a different kind: Digital skills for offenders

By Selina Rapulane 02 December 2021

Mr Lenn Modise: Facilitator, conducting a pilot digital skills training to inmates

During the week from 10 to 17 November, the NEMISA Northern Cape/Southern Gauteng E-Skills CoLab, hosted at the Vaal University of Technology, conducted a pilot digital skills project at two of the Department of Correctional Services’ rehabilitation centres, Zonderwater and Boksburg.

The pilot project was able to reach eighty-three offenders.

The participating groups consisted of forty medium security inmates from Heidelberg and from Zonderwater (Cullinan), there was twenty from medium security and twenty-three from maximum security.

The programmes were facilitated by Mr Xolani Nyathi and Mr Lenn Modise, who are both facilitators at the NEMISA NC/SG CoLab based at VUT.

The CoLab Director, Ms Antoinette Lombard and the NEMISA National CoLab Director, Mr Rorisang Molukanele, were present at the sites during training, to open and to welcome as well as to oversee the process.

The aim of the pilot project was to explore the feasibility of rolling out online learning for offenders and to offer various digital skills programmes.  The expected outcomes of the training and learning were shared with offenders in the morning of the first day, to make sure that they understand what the training entails and how they would be assessed.

“The broader objective is to increase participation of offenders in skills development programmes, to provide national digital skills training for the proper use of technology, to improve the quality of life of all people in South Africa, as well as to give access to education and promote lifelong learning through digital platforms. This pilot project was the starting intervention”, said Ms Lombard.

The agility of the CoLab was put into action to accommodate the rules of the prisons, including very limited access to internet for the inmates, and teaching an otherwise, online program.  Facilitators used videos, practical exercises and various languages to facilitate, support and simplify the training for the inmates on day one. On the second day, offenders were handed laptops/ tablets to complete the final assessment online. For a number of them, this was their first interaction with a laptop/tablet and it created an exciting vibe amongst the inmates.

The training went smoothly as the offenders were able to ask questions for clarity, respected the facilitators, followed instructions and engaged when required to do so. There was a high level of interaction and inmates were eager to receive further training in digital skills. The DCS personnel at operational level were supportive and provided necessary security for the CoLab staff.

After this pilot programme, DCS recommended that these programmes be considered as a mechanism to assist the department to achieve their mandate of improving skills as part of the Directorate’s delivery on Service Delivery Improvement Plan (SDIP). Going forward, females and juvenile inmates will also be part of this programmes.

In conclusion, the DCS appreciated the commitment of NEMISA and the CoLab in the implementation of the pilot project and the success thereof. The CoLab is looking forward to the next training opportunity and adhering to their motto of, “Changing lives, one at a time”.