Editor’s Note: This article was reported in Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology in January 2007. It has a large sample to validate its value in the country or origin. Additional research is needed to determine its applicability elsewhere.
Inmates' Attitudes to Distance Education whilst in Prison in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Abdulkarim A. Al Saif
This research explores inmates' attitudes to undertaking distance learning whilst in prison, and considers both the benefits and the difficulties experienced by inmates as a result of their academic work. It is based on over 35 questionnaires completed by 500 inmates. The research was conducted in five prisons throughout the
Keywords: distance education, attitude toward distance education, inmates, motivating factors, inhibiting factors
Most governments around the world attempt to educate inmates in prison so that they will be something other than inmates in their post-incarceration life. Offenders come to prison with much less education than the general population. This lower educational level does not compel these persons to commit crimes, but it is a factor in the criminal decision-making process. It creates a favorable context in which an individual sees limited options, and therefore, does not believe that he or she has much to lose. Furthermore, lack of education is often associated with lack of regard for the self, manifested in a limited respect for others and for institutions. According to Johnson (2001), a number of studies confirmed that educational programs are directly responsible for the recent rise in the rate of dropouts and the decrease in crimes because many of those who drop out of high school or fail to qualify for admission to college or university do not possess the skills necessary to compete for jobs.
Statement of the Problem
Distance education has been defined from different perspectives over the years. In this regard, the Office of Educational Research and Improvement of Distance Education defines distance education as “the application of telecommunications and electronic devices which enables students and learners to receive instruction that originates from some distance location” (Simonson, 1997, p.1). A number of studies have discussed the uses of distance education in a variety of contexts and its implications for different levels of learning. Distance education has become a popular technique in educational environments and communities and more accessible for every educational level from K-12 to higher education. In higher education, a great deal of distance education instructional activity is taking place today as a local phenomenon.
Many classroom instructors have established their web courses using online pedagogical techniques such as chats, discussions, web-based testing, or simulation sites on the Internet in order to create new opportunities for their students (Eastmond, Nickel, & Du Plessis, 2000). If prisoners have the ability to utilize technology effectively, they can use distance education either as an aid to promote learning in the traditional classroom, or as a distance educational tool. In such environments, instructors can utilize technology such as Web-Based Instruction (WBI) to post course materials such as a course syllabus, course schedule and meetings, reading materials, and course requirements. They can also use WBI to test inmates' in-class learning so that they can receive instant feedback in order to adjust their lecture plans. In some classes, instructors can use a stylus-based laptop, which incorporates the use of notes handwritten directly into the computer, when they lecture. At the end of each class, instructors can send their notes as e-mails to their students, which helps students focus on the lesson, rather than taking notes (T.H.E. Journal, 1997 as cited in Khan, 1997).
The primary purpose of this study is to identify the attitude of inmates toward using distance education in prison in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as schematized in Figure 1 below:
Figure 1: Hypothesized relationships between inmates characteristics, educational background, technology use and skills, education whilst in prison, training experiences, potential situations, distance education advantages, distance education disadvantages.
The following research questions will be addressed:
1. What are the relationships between selected inmates characteristics (demographics) including educational background and inmates skills and access of technology (computer skills and access , Internet skills and access )?
2. What are the relationships between selected inmates characteristics (demographics) including education background and inmates education whilst in prison?
3. What are the relationships between selected inmates characteristics (demographics) including educational background and potential situations?
4. What are the relationships between selected inmates characteristics (demographics) including educational background and distance education advantages?
5. What are the relationships between selected inmates characteristics (demographics) including education background and distance educational disadvantages?
6. What are the relationships between selected inmates characteristics (demographics) including educational background and training experiences?
Figure 1. Attitudes of Inmates toward Distance Education
The following research questions will be addressed:
The participants of this study included inmates (n = 500). These participants included female and male inmates from five main prisons in five provinces of
A survey has been used for this study. Using data collected from the survey, the relationship between the dependent, independent, and antecedent variables have been explored. The key variables of the study are:
Dependent Variables = (1) Computer and Internet access
(2) Computer and Internet use
(3) Education whilst in prisons.
Independent Variables = (1) Potential situations
(2) Distance education advantages
(3) Distance education advantages
(4) Training experiences
The data has been collected using a survey as the main instrument. The survey consists of seven parts:
Based on the research questions, the data of this study collected through the seven variables of the survey has been analyzed descriptively and inferentially using a statistical analysis. In the descriptive analysis, the data have been analyzed using measures of central tendency (mean) and measures of variability (standards deviation) as well as frequency distributions of the responses. However, the inferential statistical analyses have addressed the seven research questions, examining the relationships among the major components.
The classification of inmates into five groups based on their educational background seemed to offer very useful insights into the main lines of investigation for this research. The attitudes of the different groups of inmates towards distance education have been summarized in the appendix.
The results indicate clearly a positive relation between the computer skills of inmates and their educational levels. Thus for the five groups the means for computer skills (com1) on the likert scale were 3, 2.8, 1.8, 1.1 and 1 in descending order for the different educational levels. Interestingly, the availability of computer at home is also wound up with the educational level. The relevant means rank of computer availability at home (com 3) at the likert scale were 4.3, 2.8, 1.8, 1.1 and 1 in descending order for the different educational levels. The inmate responses were very positive to the survey item of probable cases. Most notably, inmates of all educational backgrounds expressed confidence in their ability to benefit and gain useful experience from a distance education program. They also expressed confidence that they could complete their education to graduation level through the distance education system. However, and perhaps not surprisingly, inmates appeared to be leaning towards the opinion that the distance education method is inferior to regular education which is based on direct attendance, a perception which seems to originate from deeply rooted social beliefs that may perhaps need to be subjected to public discussion.
The results also indicate that the inmates were very appreciative of the advantages of distance education with the ling hest approval rate going to the freedom and flexibility afforded by the distance education system in choosing the desired time for studying and solving homework problems. This variable (pro 5) received a mean of 5 on the likert scale for the highest educational group and a mean of 4 for the lowest educational group. Other variables for this survey item received comparably favorable ratings.
Lastly, inmates also expressed their dismay about the disadvantages of distance education, abcit to a lesser extent than their satisfaction with the advantages. In particular, inmates were wary about three main obstacles: (1) the difficulty of studying in prison for lack of assistance and encouragement for inmates in addition to the many obligations and distractions. (2) the conflict distance learning and other activities deemed very necessary by inmates, and (3) the limited interaction between the inmates and their instructors within the distance learning framework.
In terms of how the findings of the research correlate with the research hypotheses, the following can be stated:
B) Accepting the first hypothesis, which states that there are relationships between age and inmates' skills and access of technology (computer skills and access, Internet skills and access).
2. A) Accepting the second hypothesis, which states that there are relationships between educational background and inmates' education whilst in prison.
B) Accepting the second hypothesis, which states that there are relationships between age and inmates education whilst in prison .
3. A) Rejecting the third hypothesis, which states that there are relationships between educational background and potential situations.
B) Rejecting the third hypothesis, which states that there are relationships between age and potential situations.
4. A) Rejecting the fourth hypothesis, which states that there are relationships between educational background and distance education advantages.
B) Rejecting the fourth hypothesis, which states that there are relationships between age and distance education advantages.
5. A) Rejecting the fifth hypothesis, which states that there are relationships between education background and distance education disadvantages.
B) Rejecting the fifth hypothesis, which states that there are relationships between age and distance education disadvantages.
6. A) Rejecting the sixth hypothesis, which states that there are relationships between education background and training experiences.
B) Accepting the sixth hypothesis, which states that there are relationships between age and training experiences.
Although imprisonment as a tool of punishment has come under increasing criticism by some scholars (Russ 2003, Cavatina and Dignan 1997, Carlen 1994), it nevertheless continues to be an acceptable way of dealing with those who fail conform to the norms of society or commit offences that are deemed to be a serious threat to the life and well-being of other individuals. But punishment is not the only objective of imprisonment. Rehabilitation and deterrence are the two other important dimensions that hang in the balance.
Clearly, Prisoners must be rehabilitated so that they get readapted and play constructive roles in the community on their release. In Saudi Arabia One very promising option in this regard is to use the tool of distance education in order to enhance the abilities and skills of prison inmates in training opportunities not available in the educational programs which are offered by Prisons in
The effectiveness of this distance education program turns Critically on inmate attitudes towards the distance learning process. As it turns out through the research findings, inmate attitudes towards distance education turns critically on the computer and internet access and computer and internet use. For example inmates with superior educational background and greater computer and internet skills (dubbed Group 5 in the results) were more receptive and approving of engaging in distance education. This group averaged 3 on the liker Scale in terms in terms of their computer skills and abilities (com1), while its average for the effectiveness of a distance education program (pro4) was about 4. The respective figures for the least educated group (Group1 )were 1 and 4 on the Likert scale. It appears that inmates of all educational backgrounds were all agreed on their ability to gain useful experience and knowledge from distance education. This probably reflects the rising popularity of, and the public interest in, technology oriented activities in
Inmates with high educational background greatly appreciated the advantages of distance education (the means were between 5 and 3 on the likert scale for Group 5) and also showed high concern about the disadvantages of distance education with the means ranging from 4 to 3 for all disadvantages. The least educated group (Group 1) similarly showed great appreciation for the advantages of distance education although they seemed to be less concerned about the disadvantages.
The findings of the present research are well in line with those found by other researchers on the subject. To take a few examples of the relatively recent literature on the subject, Yaman (2009) found an overall positive attitude towards distance education by students of physical education although the effectiveness of this mode of education was found to be contingent upon the kind of technology used. The research by
Shin and Lee (2009) also found a very positive attitude on the part of the students they surveyed towards online education with the flexibility of "being able to study around their work and personal schedules" being cited as the major advantage. This ties in very nicely with our present study of prison inmates. Finally, the study by Wuench et.al showed that students greatly appreciated certain positive features of online education which make it superior to face–to- face education although they were also wary about the weaknesses or disadvantages of online education.
This study has attempted to assess the attitudes of inmates in five Saudi prisons towards distance education and its effectiveness as a mode of instruction for prison inmates. Although the inmates had different educational backgrounds, (they were accordingly classified into five different groups), they all seemed to voice strong approval of the distance education paradigm and greatly appreciated the potential experience and expertise obtainable from this king of education although they considered regular face-to-face education to be a superior method of Learning. By and large, the success of a distance education program based on on-line instruction hinges on the availability of computers in prisons, and the skills and capacity of inmates for using them along with internet services. As has been revealed by the results of the present research, the availability of computers at prisons is minimal or almost nonexistent. Additionally, There seems to be considerable variation in the computer skills of inmates in line with their educational levels. Thus these skills dwindle with lower levels of education.
To enhance the quality of on-line based distance education, the point of departure there fore, may be one of increasing the availability of computers in Saudi prisons. This is expected to raise computer use and internet access for inmates. Additionally and perhaps more importantly, an intensive training program appears to be in order, for the purpose of upgrading the skills and abilities of inmates at computer use. This aspect appears to be of special importance for the less educated inmates than for the highly educated ones.
There may also be a need to address some of the issues or disadvantages render distance education less desirable than regular education in the eyes of inmates as well as others. Among these, one may cite the choice of programs to be offered, the extent of communication with instructors, adequate coordination between distance education and other programs and activities, facilitating studying cooperation between student inmates. This study also reveals the need for increasing the awareness of student inmates about the importance of on-line based distance learning in a world which is moving some what slowly but surely towards this educational paradigm.
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Means of Inmate Responses
Standard Deviations between Brackets
G1 G2 G3 G4 G5
Item M(SD) M(SD) M(SD) M(SD) M(SD)
Com1 1.00(.00) 1.24(.54) 1.90(1.05) 2.81(1.06) 3.00(.00)
Com2 1.00(.00) 1.14(.48) 1.55(.78) 2.41(1.21) 4.33(.58)
Com3 1.00(00) 1.14(.48) 1.86(.95) 2.89(1.37) 4.33(.58)
Com4 1.00(.00) 1.14(.48) 1.59(.87) 2.45(1.37) 3.00(1.73)
Com5 1.00(.00) 1.05(.22) 1.55(.99) 2.14(1.23) 1.00(.00)
Com6 1.00(.00) 1.00(.00) 1.48(.78) 1.77(1.25) 1.00(.00)
Education in Prison
Edu1 1.00(.00) 1.95(1.39) 2.14(1.53) 1.82(1.59) 1.00(.00)
Edu2 1.00(.00) 1.14(.65) 2.49(1.53) 2.07(1.72) 1.00(.00)
Edu3 1.00(.00) 1.00(.00) 1.79(1.35) 3.68(.88) 1.00(.00)
Edu4 1.00(.00) 1.00(.00) 1.17(.76) 1.00(.00) 1.00(.00)
Training in Prison
Tra1 1.00(.00) 1.00(.00) 1.49(1.06) 1.63(.94) 1.00(.00)
Tra2 1.33(.58) 1.57(1.07) 1.38(.49) 1.16(.43) 3.00(.00)
Tra3 1.00(.00) 1.43(.75) 1.89(1.14) 1.25(.87) 1.00(.00)
Pro1 4.33(.58) 4.05(.80) 3.86(.64) 3.93(.62) 5.00(.00)
Pro2 4.00(.00) 3.86(.79) 4.41(.95) 4.02(1.00) 3.67(.58)
Pro3 3.33(2.08) 3.95(.80) 3.72(1.07) 3.77(.77) 4.33(1.15)
Pro4 4.00(.00) 3.71(.46) 4.03(.63) 3.81(.90) 4.00(.00)
Pro5 3.66(.58) 4.09(.62) 3.76(.91) 3.66(.83) 3.33(.58)
Adv1 4.33(.58) 3.57(.92) 3.82(1.23) 4.07(.87) 4.00(.00)
Adv2 3.33(1.15) 4.05(.50) 3.66(.71) 3.98(.85) 3.00(.00)
Adv3 4.00(1.00) 3.90(.70) 4.34(.67) 3.98(1.07) 3.67(.58)
Adv4 4.67(.58) 3.90(.77) 3.76(.83) 3.87(.72) 4.00(.00)
Adv5 3.00(1.00) 4.10(.62) 3.69(1.17) 4.00(.86) 5.00(.00)
Adv6 4.00(1.00) 3.76(.54) 4.03(.63) 3.91(.74) 4.00(1.73)
Dis1 3.00(1.00) 3.90(.77) 3.59(1.27) 3.56(.90) 4.00(.00)
Dis2 3.33(1.15) 3.23(.77) 4.14(.69) 3.82(.84) 4.00(.00)
Dis3 3.33(1.52) 3.62(.92) 3.90(.77) 3.72(1.00) 4.00(.00)
Dis4 3.33(1.52) 3.71(1.10) 3.76(1.15) 4.02(1.02) 3.33(.58)
Dis5 3.00(1.00) 3.86(.85) 3.31(1.04) 3.54(.93) 3.67(.58)
Dis6 2.33(.58) 3.71(.85) 3.83(.71) 3.75(.89) 4.67(.58)
Note. 1= strongly disagree. 2= disagree. 3= neutral. 4= agree. 5= strongly agree.
Com1:general skills in computer use.
Com2: general skills in computer use.
Com3:home availability of internet.
Com4: home availability of internet.
Com5: prison availability of computer.
Com6: prison availability of internet.
Edu1:primary education in prison.
Edu2: intermediate education in prison.
Edu3: secondary education in prison.
Edu4: high education in prison.
Tra1: Training sessions in computer.
Tra2: Training sessions in computer, plumbing and tailoring.
Tra3: other training sessions.
Pro1: Quality evaluation of distance education versus regular education.
Pro2: self evaluation for distance education skills.
Pro3: assessment of self ability to complete own education via distance education.
Pro4: assessment of self ability to benefit from distance education.
Pro5: assessment of self ability to benefit from distance education after release from prison.
Adv1: that distance learning will eliminate educational isolation barrier in prison.
Adv2: that an inmate can study under distance education as effectively as regular education.
Adv3: that distance education affords inmates an educational opportunity analogous to opportunities outside prison.
Adv4: that an inmate could be successful in distance education barring the presence of study distractions.
Adv5: that distance learning affords freedom and flexibility in choosing appropriate time for studying and solving homework problems.
Adv6: that distance learning ushers individual freedom of inmates.
Dis1: that it is difficult to study through distance learning for the lack of assistance and encouragement and the presence of distractions.
Dis2: that regular education is superior to distance education in prison.
Dis3: that distance education deprives inmates of other educational activities and additional lessons usually available in prison.
Dis4: that interaction with instructors is less under distance education.
Dis5: that it as more difficult to communicate with the instructor under distance education.
Dis6: that educational attainment is inferior under distance education than under regular education.
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