September 8th is International Literacy Day, and the theme for 2017 is “Literacy in a Digital World.” Digital technologies can be empowering for those who have access to them and marginalizing for those who do not. To address this gap and help both children and adults access educational technologies to build basic literacy skills, RESTORE Belize facilitates the Computer Assisted Learning Programme in 20 sites. One beneficiary population that is of particular interest is housed in the Belize Central Prison where inmates have access to the Cindy Greg site and the site in Wagner’s Youth Facility.

Wagner’s is a correctional center for children in conflict with the law. Located at Belize Central Prison, young men are sectioned off from adults and spend their days and weekends engaging in life skills training and positive youth development activities.  

 According to literacy coaches at the facility, many inmates begin the programme with the fundamentals, using flashcards and hesitant recitations of ABC’s. Some enter the computer room angry and frustrated at the words they do not understand in a place they do not want to be. Overtime, however, facilitators report that most inmates feel empowered and start asking to come in. Their behaviour improves and they are eager to show off their newly acquired literacy skills. The Computer Assisted Learning Software (CALS) programme is complemented by traditional literacy classes, which increase engagement and reinforce CALS lessons.

The walls are decorated with educational graphics and motivational sayings - most of which were made collaboratively with students and coaches. Questions like “What is your Motto?” and examples of a “Growth Mindset” peek out at the students from posters in their periphery as they manipulate machines, taking another step up the ladder of literacy. Participants are shown how to track their achievements which further motivates them.

RESTORE Belize would especially like to highlight the two inmates at the Cindy Greg site in the adult prison who completed the CALS programme and became facilitators, and the three inmates who received scholarships to complete high school online.

Programme organizers at the Belize Central Prison and Wagner’s Youth Facility are always finding creative ways to improve their programmes. By using computer assisted learning technologies, they ensure that their inmates benefit from advances in the digital world to attain essential literacy skills.  To find out more about the CALS Programme and its sites, click here. Other updates from RESTORE Belize can be accessed here.