Tablet-Based Teaching Reaches New Students—Behind Bars

Innovative education app for inmates finds most popular classes = math, reading, Christian studies, CBT Tweet This

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“Mostly a bunch of guys sitting around a big room, watching daytime TV.”

That’s how Brian Hill, lead creator of one of the hottest new social enterprises, Jail Education Solutions, describes America’s prisons.

Brian’s father had taught classes at Folsom State Prison in California and he was impressed by the staggering amount of time wasted every day by inmates. Fights often started because a bunch of guys with nothing to do began to get after each other.

Started with grants from The Chicago Community Trust and the MacArthur Foundation aimed at contracting services to improve jails and prisons, Jail Education Solutions (JES) provides a variety of educational options for incarcerated persons through Edovo, a platform delivered on tablet technology.

Inmates earn points by taking and completing courses ranging from English to Differential Equations—one inmate is already doing advanced calculus—which can then be applied to watch movies, play video games or use other tablet apps.

The social enterprise has already won three innovation competitions including the Kellogg Innovation Network Global Summit and the Midwest Social Innovation Start-Up Challenge, and was selected by the FastFWD and Impact Engine technology accelerators.

Operating now in penal institutions in Pennsylvania, Illinois and California, the platform’s impact appears to be potentially profound. Shaking his head, a once-cynical prison guard in Philadelphia told Hill, “I’ve been working here a long time and have never heard it this quiet.” Offenders got themselves into trouble, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t minds waiting and wanting to be engaged.

The original plan, created with Cook County Jail in mind, envisioned content delivered by television. However, tablet technology quickly proved preferable as the presentation is far more interactive, it allowed inmates to follow their own needs and interests, facilitated the work/reward system and allowed evaluation of what the inmates chose to pursue.

Because content is delivered through the tablet, managers and evaluators can monitor inmate usage intensively—knowing who is studying what and how they are progressing. Hill reports that Math, Christian Studies, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Language Arts/Reading are currently trending.