Motivations for participation in prison education

Motivation refers to the factors that cause a person to do or not do something (Broussard and Garrison, 2004) and is a combination of beliefs, perceptions, values, interests and actions (Lai, 2011). Motivation towards education is often conceptualised as two ends of a continuum with intrinsic and extrinsic at either end (Deci and Ryan, 1985). Intrinsic motivations towards a task will be to serve no other end than to engage in the action itself or for some element of personal development. Deci et al. (1999) suggest that intrinsic motivation creates enthusiasm for activity based on the personal rewards that result from deliberate and effective actions. Extrinsic motivations are those with an external reward such as employment or greater income, for example. Those who participate in education for intrinsic reasons tend to be far more engaged than those who are being pushed by extrinsic reasons (Deci et al., 1999). Of course there can be overlap between the two. Educators tend to view intrinsic motivation as being more desirable, as it results in better learning outcomes for learners than those motivated by external rewards, due to a person being more likely to apply themselves, to be persistent, to enjoy the challenge and to want to master their particular area of study (Gottfried, 1990). Chapter 3 touched on this when examining the approaches to prison education, which can also be guided by esoteric or prosaic aims. The esoteric view aims to provide education that will provide personal benefits for the person, with the prosaic view focused on the advantages of education that are linked to external reward (Hawley, 2011). The widely recommended holistic approach to prison education is in line with the esoteric view. The call for the provision of broad, person-centred education is further reinforced by the fact that prisoners are more likely to be motivated by and engage with education that has some intrinsic value to them, which will potentially result in higher levels of participation in education. Motivations are therefore an important issue.

One of the earliest studies examining prisoners’ motivations to participate in prison education was Boshier’s (1983) study in which he developed the PEPS (Prison Education Participation Scale). The results demonstrated that the most important factors in motivating prisoners to participate in prison education were (1) cognitive interest; (2) personal control; (3) self-preservation; (4) outside contact; and (5) self-assertion. Parsons and Langenbach (1993) later questioned the validity and replicability of this study due to the relatively small sample size and sought to revisit the study with a view to replicating and retesting the hypothesis, albeit with a larger sample. The findings were categorised differently and reduced to four categories or “orientations”. The most common motivation found among prisoners was the goal orientation (Parsons and Langenbach. 1993). Goal-orientated participants were those who used education as a means to an end and were seeking to achieve a particular outcome. They were extrinsically motivated by an aim such as post-release employment or success, for example. Those of an activity orientation are motivated by social factors, such as getting out of the cell to meet other prisoners or teachers or engaging with friends and relieving the boredom of prison life (Parsons and Langenbach, 1993). The next most common category was cognitive control, which is concerned with satisfying an inquisitive mind, the acquisition of knowledge or feeling fulfilled. Those who were characterised by this orientation were learning simply for the sake of learning; they were motivated by education itself or learning a new skill (Parsons and Langenbach, 1993). This is seen to be the best form of learning, as the person is intrinsically motivated and is more likely to continue participating over the entirety of their sentence and complete the courses they undertake (Deci et al., 1999). Avoidance posture as a motivation for education is characterised by a desire to get away from certain elements of the prison life. Avoidance had the lowest mean scores in the research and therefore was the least likely motivation for participation in prison education (Parson and Langenbach. 1993). While on the face of it, this can appear to be an extrinsic motivation, this category can also represent deeply intrinsic reasons for participating in education such as a desire to avoid certain situations that may undermine their plan to stay away from drugs or anti-social peers, for example.

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