RPL is an important element of an articulated NQF because of its strong impact on the credit accumulation and transfer (CAT) system. This is supported by paragraph 36 of the Draft Articulation Policy which reads as follows: “Both recognition of prior learning (RPL) and credit accumulation and transfer (CAT) are enabling mechanisms for articulation and must be primary focus areas when designing the articulation apparatus and mechanisms.”
RPL is often used to allow people access to further studies even if they are not issued certificates. This is a simple way in which to allow people who could not study further because of “dead end” qualifications an opportunity to re-enter lifelong learning.
An efficient post-school education and training system requires a high level of articulation within and between the sub-frameworks, learning programmes and institutions. RPL, if recognised by all three Quality Councils (QCs), can play an important role in bridging the gap between occupational learning (OL); technical, vocational education and training (TVET) and higher education (HE).
It should be possible to accumulate credits on any of the three NQF levels and transfer such learning from one level to the next higher level. In support of this argument, paragraph 6 of the Draft Articulation Policy reads as follows: “This articulation Policy will facilitate movement of learners between and within the three sub-frameworks of the NQF, and between institutions and also within institutions in order to enable access, progression and mobility.”
RPL can play a crucial role in promoting democracy, social justice and participation in the economy. Credits, certificates or just recognition of prior learning in any other form can and should lead to the redress of historical injustices, promotion in jobs, filling of vacant positions and access to further learning.
Paragraph 12 of the Draft Articulation Policy confirms the legitimacy of RPL as a method by means of which credits can be accumulated. ”SAQA is also mandated by the NQF Act, to develop policy and criteria, after consultation with the QCs for RPL, assessment, and credit accumulation and transfer (CAT) (NQF Act, Section 13 (1) (h) (iii). The QCs are mandated to develop and implement policy and criteria for assessment, RPL and CAT, taking into account the policy and criteria contemplated in the NQF Act.”
RPL will be a fully recognised way in which to accumulate and transfer credits and qualifications if all institutions established, accredited and/or registered in terms of the Higher Education and Training Act, The Continuing Education and Training Act and the Skills Development Act recognise each other’s certificates to the extent that learners can continue their studies effortlessly from one level to the next higher level at public and private higher education institutions, technical and vocational education and training (TVET) Colleges, community education and training (CET) colleges, private colleges and workplace training centres and skills development centres. A measure of bridging training might sometimes be necessary. However, bridging training should not be so elaborate that it actually turns prior learning into formal learning.
There is one stakeholder that needs to rethink their attitude towards RPL in general and private learning providers in particular. They are organised labour and they are currently an obstacle in the way of people obtaining formal recognition for their prior learning. I’ve been at three conferences where representatives of trade unions clearly demonstrated a misunderstanding of the purpose and nature of RPL. They are under the impression, or perhaps pretend to be under the impression, that RPL is a way in which to obtain qualifications without learning. RPL is evidence of PRIOR learning – learning did take place, only in the past. Members of trade unions openly show their aversion against private learning providers. They don’t understand that the leaders in RPL are currently private learning institutions and that many public learning institutions actually still, overtly or covertly, resist RPL.
Equivalence should play a key role in the recognition of prior learning. Qualifications offered by different learning institutions are almost never exactly the same. RPL should provide for this, for example by giving credits for certain exit level outcomes while others still need to be achieved through bridging training before a full qualification can be recognised. Even just similarity between qualifications should be taken into consideration, for example by granting the students credits for an exit level outcome that is not offered by the learning institution considering RPL (principle 17). This is yet another reason why learning programmes smaller than national qualifications should also be recognised and credited.
To achieve principle 17, principle 18 (There must be a core curriculum for each subject in learning programmes) also needs to be accepted. Credits for the core curriculum must be achieved either through RPL or bridging training while other curriculums for subjects (the old elective unit standards come to mind) may be different from the qualification of the learning institution considering RPL.
In closing, the following are necessary for RPL to contribute to the articulation of the integrated NQF:
- All three QCs and their constituent learning institutions should agree on the nature and purpose of RPL and accept the process as a way in which to facilitate lifelong learning across HE, TVET and OL.
- A holistic approach to RPL should be followed. This means that RPL should describe the principles and values of human development and lifelong learning. As such it should consciously support the social purposes of RPL in relation to access, equity and redress, and strive to implement assessments in a manner that promotes dignity, confidence and educational opportunities for all candidates without eroding learning standards.
- Organised labour needs to review their agenda with RPL and discuss their attitude towards private leaning providers with them in order to facilitate mutual trust. SAQA or APPETD can arrange and act as facilitator for such discussions.