Draft proposal: Using Wikipedia in Young Offenders' Institutions

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Project proposal: Using Wikipedia in Young Offenders' Institutions[edit | edit source]

This short paper outlines a potential project utilising the Kiwix offline version of Wikipedia within educational programs in Young Offenders' Institutions.

Please do note edit this page directly but please do leave comments and suggestions on the talk page. Thank you.

Introduction[edit | edit source]

At the EduWiki Conference 2013 in Cardiff Muriel Staub from Wikimedia Switzerland gave a presentation examining the potential uses of the Kiwix offline version of Wikipedia. One of the projects that Muriel mentioned was a pilot scheme in a small Swiss prison. The scheme involved uploading the offline version of Wikipedia to the computers of inmates (which they lease or buy from the prison authorities). There was a small cohort of prisoners in the study (18) and the project was designed to encourage them to learn using Wikipedia, with a view to cultivating them as potential future contributors. This presentation inspired the proposal below. There is also a basic presentation document from Wikimedia Switzerland here and a short abstract of their project here.

About Kiwix[edit | edit source]

Put simply and briefly, Kiwix is a content reader that can be utilised on most major software platforms, including Android, Windows and iOS. Once downloaded, Kiwix provides a list of content links that the user can access to download freely licensed content, such as Wikipedia in various languages (as well as the content from other Wikimedia projects). This content can then be viewed offline, with no need for an internet connection. This makes it incredibly useful for environments where there is no available internet connection, whether due to lack of infrastructure or through design.

The current version of the offline “Wikipedia for Schools” contains around 47,000 articles across a broad spectrum of educational topics. Its use is entirely free and the content can be reused, shared and modified freely for any purpose as it is released under a Creative Commons–Attribution-Share Alike license 3.0 (CC-BY-SA)

Proposal[edit | edit source]

This project would be a pilot in which the use of an offline version of Wikipedia is embedded into an education programme that is delivered within young offenders' institutions in the UK.

It is estimated that around 150,000 children and young people enter the youth justice system every year. Many of these young people have a background of little educational attainment, often coupled with other socio-economic factors, which can act as a driver to offending behaviour. It costs around £100,000 per year for a youth custodial place, sometimes reaching as much as £200,000. Re-offending rates are also high, currently running at around 73%. As many as half of 15-17 year-olds within the youth justice system have reading levels assessed as being equivalent to those of 7-11 year-old children.

With such high re-offending rates and low educational outcomes it is clear that changes to educational programs offered to young offenders may deliver positive benefits to both of those outcomes. Embedding the use of such a vast, free educational resource within these educational programs would empower young people by giving them access to vast amounts of knowledge.

Thoughtful use of Wikipedia as a teaching tool, leading on to teaching how to edit Wikipedia (or any other MediaWiki site, such as one built by the young people themselves using MediaWiki Vagrant, a locally stored, offline version of MediaWiki) is also an excellent way of sharing skills that essential in the digital age, such as computer literacy, research skills, understanding what make a source credible or otherwise and so on – a package of skills known as digital fluency.

Implementation[edit | edit source]

For the project to work effectively there would need to be a properly developed educational course that makes use of both the Kiwix offline version of Wikipedia and the MediaWiki Vagrant offline development environment. This would need to be done in partnership between education experts, experts in the use of Wikipedia and people with an understanding of educational programmes in young offenders' institutes.

I have a meeting arranged with a representative of CfBT Education Trust who currently deliver educational programs in three young offenders' institutes, including Feltham A. I am also in the process of making contact with Only Connect and the Howard League for Penal Reform in order to understand these elements as thoroughly as possible and explore the potential for collaboration.

Metrics[edit | edit source]

As with any project carried out by Wikimedia UK, metrics for this project are vital. These will develop over time. Figures relevant to educational attainment and skills learned through the current education programmes would be used as appropriate benchmark figures against which to record the success or otherwise of any pilot project.

Updates[edit | edit source]

As the proposal develops and more information becomes available this page will be updated accordingly.

I am meeting with Mat Ilic, Policy and Research Director of Only Connect on 25 November to discuss the project idea. Only Connect is a UK charity that works with young offenders and prisoners to improve educational outcomes and rehabilitation rates. I am also meeting with Stieve Butler, Head of Education and Training at CfBT Education Trust on 3 December. The Trust currently delivers educational programmes in three young offenders' institutions. Insights from both of these organisations will be very helpful indeed.

Meeting with Only Connect[edit | edit source]

The most relevant program that they have OC insider (can't find hyperlink) which delivers training programmes inside prisons, mostly within the Adult Estate (18+) in Wormwood Scrubs and Pentonville. They are starting a pilot in with young people in Feltham very soon. The courses delivered so far have mostly focused on employability – particularly things like presentation skills. There's a report worth reading about on technology in prisons – check WCTM website or search technology in prisons.

While OC don't have a great deal of experience with working with young people in institutions they suggested that secure training colleges could have potential. There are around six of them, all managed by Serco or G4S. A4E manage Offender Learning And Support Service and these could also offer opportunities, as could Youth Offending Teams who are setting up release / resettlement plans. Think about what is useful to people as they are being released. Bear in mind that poor literacy is likely to be a potential barrier throughout any project in this area. There's a movement towards educational programmes at sentencing and away from incarceration. Think closely about secure training centres.

There are many European Social Fund projects are working with young offenders – look towards NACRO and Working Links for examples and possible tie-ins. Looking towards softer outcomes such as boosting social capital, changing sense of self-awareness, improved social skills and growing self confidence.

Think about defining the cohorts you want to work with – perhaps first time offenders, rather than looking at repeat offenders. Think about things like substance use and learning difficulties etc when considering how to draw up proposals. Be very specific about what we want to offer. Think about the constraints the project may have - which groups would this be suitable or unsuitable for?

Meeting with CfBT[edit | edit source]

CfBT Educational Trust currently deliver educational programmes in two YOIs which is the reason I made contact. However, they are active in the world of education globally, particularly delivering projects in the economically developing world. I met with their Head of Education and Training to discuss how the offline Kiwix version of Wikipedia may be useful in practical terms within the programmes at YOIs. Unfortunately, it seems that the current version (47k articles or so) does have some problems in this context. For example, any content that has descriptions or images of violence are extremely problematic given the offences that some of the young people would have committed. A quick example would be the article about the film The Deer Hunter. While the movie poster alone would be enough for the article to be refused - it contains an image of someone holding a gun to their own head - the descriptions of the violent themes within the film, including Russian Roulette, would be a red flag. Likewise, anything related to (or even including descriptions of, let alone images) violence, drugs and drug use, suicide, sexuality and self harm would need to be removed.

All of the above being said, the concept is very strong and the person I met was receptive to the idea if it is possible to create a version that is even more stripped down to remove references to the above. She noted that there is also potential for use of the current version in adult prisons, particularly those that house lower category prisoners. I have been given some useful contacts with whom to follow up. She also identified academies as a potential place to promote the use of the offline Wikipedia.

Interestingly the work that CfBT does in less economically developed countries could turn out to be a better fit. I have been given the contact details of someone who works in this field and I shall follow this up when I can.

Ongoing[edit | edit source]

It is becoming very clear that this is a lengthy process but that was always expected to be the case. There are lots of useful pointers and opportunities emerging from these discussions and I am hopeful that as the process develops there is still some excellent work to be done - once the idea can be pinned down, of course.