A life-changer for struggling readers
There is no authoritative study on levels of dyslexia among people in contact with the criminal justice system. Estimates range from 4%-56%. However, the general agreement in prison-based studies is a rate of about 30% dyslexia, though with rates of serious deficits in literacy and numeracy in general reaching up to 60%. No-one, however, denies that levels of dyslexia among prisoners is very high and that the negative impact goes much further than the challenges of reading and writing.
Today’s post focuses on an innovative new product from British company Scanning Pens. The ReaderPen Secure scans text and reads it aloud or via headphones, facilitating the user’s desire to read independently. The device helps users develop their literacy skills and reading independence.
Although previous versions of the device has been around for a few years and the ExamReader version officially approved for use in exams in the UK since 2013, it is only much more recently that a version for use in secure environments – the ReaderPen Secure has been developed for use in prisons in England and Wales.
The Secure version of the device works in exactly the same way as the mainstream pen but does not have any storage capacity. It has also been designed so that it cannot “back charge” illegal mobile phones or other devices and has had to be tested and confirmed not to present any fire risk – potentially fatal in a cell environment.
You can see a demonstration of the ReaderPen Secure in the video below.
Independent Researcher, and member of the Prisoners Learning Alliance, Christine Franklin, has undertaken a series of studies exploring issues affecting the educational outcomes of learners in prison. Her findings indicated the positive impact of Scanning Pen technology to support the implementation of learning, improve educational outcomes and independence. Her findings support the importance of gaining transferrable skills, such as those taught in workshops, and increase confidence in learning, as an important part of the rehabilitation process. The prisoners using scanning pens were able to overcome the barriers created due to illiteracy and weak reading, enabling prisoners to successfully gain qualifications or strategies to access the written word.
The evaluation examined the use of ReaderPens within practical workshop courses. Peer mentors demonstrated the use of ReaderPens to learners in these courses. A peer mentor approach acknowledges the positivity of the learner’s relationship when accepting the introduction of assistive technology from a peer as opposed to a tutor.
Tutors stated an increase and acknowledgement from learners experiencing reading difficulties. Additionally, prisoners wished to be supported by their peer mentors and the ReaderPens. Workshop courses are often considered to be accessible due to the assumption of little or no reading. However, these courses do involve workbooks/worksheets which have to be completed to enable a qualification to be gained.
Tutors reported a reduction in time required during lessons, to support reading therefore allowing them to teach the modules. Each section of the course was delivered faster. Reading support was achieved independently by the prisoners using the ReaderPen to decode the text. The capacity to undertake the course quickly and independently increased pass rates in each unit and gave the prisoner transferable qualifications and skills.
The noise cancelling headphones means that people in noisy prison workshops still find it easy to concentrate and improve their reading skills. Other attractive features include the fact that the ReaderPen is available in a number of different languages and that interested purchasers can arrange for a free trial to see if the device meets their service users’ needs.
While Scanning Pens have been used by a number of education providers in English and Welsh prisons, demand has soared since the pandemic with teachers desperate to be able to continue to enable prisoners, many of whom have been under almost constant lockdown since last March, to be able to study in their cells and use their time as constructively as possible.
Find out more
Scanning Pens are one of the keynote speakers at the Digital Education in Prisons online seminar which will take place later this month on 10-12 noon 24 February (for people in Australasia) and 4- 6 p.m. 25 February (Europe & the USA). The webinar is likely to be of particular interest in the context of the global pandemic with many jurisdictions accelerating in-cell learning. The webinar also coincides with the first UK public inquiry into prison education for 15 years. We are very grateful to the Encyclopaedia Britannica for sponsoring this event. Tickets are just £10 and all proceeds from ticket sales go to the Prisoners’ Education Trust. Please put the date in your diary.
In addition to Scanning Pens, confirmed Presenters include:
- New Zealand Corrections with Socrates Software and Maui Studios on a graphic art programme which seeks to find new talent among people in prison
- Ufi VocTech Trust with the work Ufi-supported organisations have been doing in using tech to improve education within the prison system
- Acceleron on their wide range of digital resettlement learning programmes
- Encyclopaedia Britannica on putting their content on tablets to support prisoners in their studies
BSI Learning on blended learning in Australian prisons