Cell Block Science is a unique public engagement research partnership set up to promote science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem) in prison learning centres.
The scheme initially delivered a year-long pilot programme of informal science learning activities at three institutions – Shotts in Lanarkshire, Low Moss in East Dunbartonshire and Cornton Vale women’s prison in Stirling.
Activities included hands-on science projects, the introduction of a specialist library and the development of a family learning programme.
A family science fair was also held at HMP Low Moss as part of British Science Week, with sessions aimed at developing problem-solving skills, independent learning and teamwork.
The project proved popular with inmates, with attendance rates nearing 70 per cent of all learners at one prison.
Now the initiative will be extended to deliver science activities in learning centres at six prisons around the country over the next two years after being granted £150,000 from the Wellcome Trust.
The project is led by the Biomedical Sciences Research Centre at the University of St Andrews, with partners including Fife College, the Scottish Universities Life Sciences Alliance, the Children’s University of Scotland and non-academic organisations such as the Royal Zoological Society Scotland, Royal Observatory and TED.
Experts say the national roll-out of the programme will enhance and complement current teaching in numeracy, literacy and arts subjects that takes place in prisons.
“The impressive attendance numbers demonstrate that there is an appetite for science, technology, engineering and maths subjects,”said Sharanne Findlay, governor at HMP Low Moss.
“Further education can be a significant contributor to someone’s transformational journey, so we are very grateful to our learning providers and the University of St Andrews for giving people the chance to use this as a vehicle to consider that journey in a more positive and confident vein.”
One prisoner, who took part in Cell Block Science at HMP Shotts, said: “Anything that helps to inspire prisoners to engage in education is always going to be a good thing – great things can come from a little inspiration.
“There is loads of potential in prison going to waste. This talent is there, just waiting to be discovered. Some of the boys are not aware of their own ability.”
Project leader Dr Mhairi Stewart, head of public engagement with research at the University of St Andrews, added: “Science and technology play such an important part in the modern world that improving scientific literacy among prisoners and their families will contribute to citizenship and empower individuals with the skills and confidence to make informed decisions on science in the news and science policy that might directly affect them.”