Fast Cars and Fast Learning: Using Virtual Reality to Learn Literacy and Numeracy in Prison

Jimmy McLauchlan, Helen Farley


Virtual reality has the potential to vastly improve the experience of education for incarcerated learners, particularly those with limited levels of numeracy and literacy. It is estimated that nearly two-thirds of prisoners in New Zealand lack the functional numeracy and literacy they need to fully participate in everyday life. Many have had sub-optimal experiences with formal education, often leaving early and disengaging fully with education. Many more suffer from a range of learning challenges brought about by traumatic brain injury, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and a range of other conditions.

The Methodist Mission Southern was contracted by the Department of Corrections New Zealand to deliver intensive literacy and numeracy training to prisoners in one of the country’s southernmost prisons. They have partnered with Animation Research Limited to design and deliver a literacy and numeracy program contextualized within a virtual mechanic’s workshop using virtual reality and tablet technologies.

Data was collected through semi-structured interviews with participants and was analyzed using a thematic analysis. Gains in literacy and numeracy were also identified through a standardized literacy and numeracy assessment tool. Initial results from the pilot project are encouraging with all participants showing gains in their literacy and/or numeracy scores. Learner engagement was heightened, with all reporting positively about the program. Future iterations of the project are planned to accommodate higher-level learners and alternate scenarios.


virtual reality; digital literacy; literacy and numeracy; prison education

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