Who should benefit from the recognition of prior learning?

The quality assurance body that misuses the recognition of prior learning (RPL) for its own benefits and comfort rather than for the improvement of the quality of learning is doing the country and its people a terrible disservice.

To avoid learners feeling alienated, RPL needs to be integrated with other learning and assessment services and opportunities. South-Africa is a country with a low number of employees who have obtained tertiary degrees and diplomas. There are many managers and employees who have years of informal learning and experience, but who do not have the formal certificates to recognise their level of competence.

Traditionally, only institutional, certificated learning carries any status. Unaccredited learning has up until now only been acknowledged as being somewhat useful, which is probably why people often regard the certificate as more important than the knowledge and skills that they can gain from studying.

RPL has a social justice function, and it opens up access to formal higher education programmes. It contributes to the full personal development of each learner as well as to the social and economic development of the nation at large.

This brings me back to my statement in the first paragraph. Quality assurance bodies that set artificial limits and preconditions for RPL can easily destroy the socio-economic and redress value of the process. Allowing RPL only for gaining access to further learning but not for certification is unfair and discriminatory. It is internationally accepted that qualifications obtained through RPL should have the same status as qualifications obtained through formal learning.

A certificate is just the written confirmation that an individual has certain knowledge and skills. How the knowledge and skills were obtained is not relevant.

Even worse, a quality assurance body that refuses to grant learners credits towards a national qualification if the credits were achieved through RPL is villainous. Why on earth would one give a learner who achieved a degree through formal learning 360 credits, but the learner who achieved 50 of the 360 credits through RPL only 310 credits for the same degree? Again, qualifications achieved through RPL should enjoy the same status and value as the same qualification achieved through formal learning.

Why would you limit the number of students who can be admitted to further studies through RPL? Not only is this an unnecessary and unfair obstacle in the way of redress of injustices of the past, it is also labeling RPL as inferior to formal learning. Countries with advanced RPL systems in place provide for the RPL of entire groups, which would mean that all students in a particular cohort can be accepted on account of them being assesses through RPL for full qualifications.

South Africa, the one country in the world where there is a desperate need for the recognition of prior learning, cannot afford an elitist stance that serves the interests of the quality assurance body and universities rather than to protect and promote the interests of the students.

In closing, RPL should be assessed holistically, meaning that credits, certificates and access to further learning should be judged against the purpose of the qualification. Candidates applying for RPL will seldom meet all the requirements for a qualification if specific assessment criteria and outcomes are used as yardsticks. Therefore, learning institutions should include in their RPL procedures top-up learning to close the gap between the requirements of a curriculum and the knowledge and skills of the student.


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