Should a quality assurance body provide guidance and support to learning institutions applying for accreditation?

Written by Dr Hannes Nel, MBL, D.Com (HRM); D. Phil (LPC)

 

Some quality assurance bodies will probably immediately reply “no, definitely not” to the question if they should provide learning institutions applying for accreditation with guidance and support. Reasons why they feel this way might well include arguments such as “it would be an impossible task of we were expected to help everybody who applies for accreditation”; “a learning institution who needs help with the application for accreditation obviously does not have the capacity to offer professional learning and they should not even apply”; “it is not our job” and many more.

Then there are those who feel differently. The Indian National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC), for example, firmly believe that guidance and support offered by the quality assurance body to the learning institutions is critically important for the improvement of quality learning. In this respect Prasad and Stella[1] wrote the following:

“Moving beyond accreditation, NAAC has expanded its scope by strengthening its advisory role…. In addition to promoting the cause of quality education in the country, NAAC is a leading QAA in the international arena with valuable lessons of experience for the emerging QAAs of other countries.”

Quality assurance is a tool by means of which the government can ensure that learners on all levels receive good quality education and training. Monitoring and control are not the only ways in which the quality of learning can be improved – guidance and support is equally important.

South African quality assurance bodies, like quality assurance bodies in any country with a professional educational system, do have guidance and support responsibilities. A member of a quality assurance body said the following when interviewed by the author:[2]

“They [the quality assurance bodies] never understood that they were there to nurture the providers, to capacitate them, to build their quality in order that those providers can maximally train and educate people. They never understood that – so if they don’t understand their most important brief, why they are there, then of course the whole thing can’t work.”

In their official profile documentation, a South African quality assurance body admits that they have guidance and support responsibilities as follows:

  1. In their Criteria for Programme Accreditation: “As part of the task of building an effective national quality assurance system, the (quality assurance body) has also included capacity development and training as a critical component of its programme of activities.”

 

  1. In their lists of functions: “To develop and implement a system of quality assurance …, including programme accreditation, institutional audits, quality promotion and capacity development, standards development ….”

The quality assurance body claims that they are moving away from a focus on institutional audits toward quality enhancement in their evaluations. Quality enhancement without guidance cannot work. You cannot enhance quality by adding more bureaucracy to the quality assurance process and sticking to a persecutory approach.

The use of online platforms to apply for accreditation, which all three South African quality assurance bodies do, makes it critically important for such bodies to guide applicants for the following reasons:

  1. Online platforms cannot answer the wide array of questions that providers might need to ask, no matter how many frequently asked questions there are on the system.
  2. It is impossible for providers to guess how much information they should provide if the text box to be filled in contains only a statement/heading.
  3. It is still impossible to guess what the quality assurance body wants even if a question is asked. Quality criteria can be covered in a paragraph or a thousand pages.
  4. If the response to a question is limited to a number of words or pages, the applicant still does not know what specific content the quality assurance body wants. Learning is vast and sometimes technical and guessing what you should write is impossible.

Giving feedback on an application for accreditation is a critical point at which the applicant should be given guidance and support. Vague and unqualified feedback means nothing. Most learning institutions will probably only be able to submit a proper application after applying unsuccessful at least once and then only if proper feedback is given. The following are typical feedback remarks from which learning institutions can learn absolutely nothing:

  1. “The title of the qualification is wrong.” How and why is it wrong?
  2. “The qualification does not have sufficient depth.” What is meant by “sufficient depth”?
  3. “The applicant does not have sufficient capacity to offer the qualification.” What is meant by this? In wat respect does the applicant not have capacity? Capacity can refer to finances, personnel, capital goods, infrastructure, time, etc.

In closing, it is internationally agreed that quality assurance is a service rendered to the community at large. Quality assurance is not a policing action and does not give the quality assurance body the unqualified right to manipulate who is accredited and who not. The focus should be on the protection and promotion of the interests of the community by paving the way towards good quality education and training which would facilitate job creation and reduce unemployment.

Note: I omitted references to sources that might create discomfort for quality assurance bodies or individuals.

 

[1] 2004: 9 – 10.

[2] Nel, 2007: 317.

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The Nature and Elements of Research Paradigms: Liberalism

Written by Hannes Nel, B. Mil; BA Hons; MBL; D. Com (HRM); D. Phil (LPC)

 Introduction. I am hoping to share my research on 28 different paradigms that I regard as of importance to academic research. The purpose of sharing the articles with you is to also learn. After having done research and written for seven years, my book on qualitative research methodology is more or less ready for publication. However, the field of study is immensely vast and I need to do my utmost not to spread inaccurate information. So far I received no comments, feedback or suggestions on my articles. Please let me know if you find any mistakes or room for improvement.

This is the eleventh article that I am sharing.

Liberalism. In our current day and age neoliberalism largely rendered liberalism obsolete. Even so, liberalism is still a relevant paradigm.

Liberalism advocates tolerance, progress, humanitarianism, objectivity, reason, democracy, and human rights. To this can be added a host of other positive attributes dealing with human rights, social interaction and freedom. This implies that all individuals in a country possess an equal status as legal subjects, regardless of other inequalities and differences that might divide them.[1]

Liberalism is a philosophical approach to human interaction and also a social force.[2]

All the elements of liberalism offer valuable fields for research. In a constructivist spirit, research should utilise observation and experiences to reflect on and evaluate previous perceptions in the hope of understanding the situations and phenomena being investigated. Understanding should lead to change and reform.

Constructivism is a variant of liberal theory if issues like human rights, freedom of social interaction, etc. are investigated.

Neoliberalism also supports or extends some elements of liberalism, for example private property rights, a classically minimal liberal state, and the efficiency of the free market system. In other respects neoliberalism is in opposition with liberalism, although neoliberalism is gradually adopting more and more liberalist values. The four central areas in which liberalism and neoliberalism overlap are human rights, non-discrimination (ethnicity and gender), education and the media.

The basic premise of liberalism is the equality of individuals before the law.[3] In this respect liberalism links up with critical race theory, critical theory and feminism.

Liberalism is associated with relativism through its relativist conception of rights – it accuses other paradigms of being relativist in order to proclaim its own relativism as universalism.[4] For example, liberal relativism is sometimes rather a neo-colonial tactic designed to maintain the exploitation of developing countries by developed former colonial powers, or new powers taking over the role of colonial power under the guise that they are helping the needy country to grow.

Liberalism is associated with radicalism because they both support the struggle for democracy, specifically campaigning for the right to vote, welfare reform, and public services, with radicalism adopting a more aggressive stance than liberalism.

Liberalism is in opposition with some values of critical race theory and colonialism because of its favouritism toward the elite, the rich and the noble.

Some academics still associate ‘liberal’ with unrestrained and undisciplined attitudes and behaviour.[5] The strength of liberalism is said to be its most serious weakness. This is its commitment to emancipation. Throughout history liberalists claimed their love for liberty while demonstrating contempt for people of the colonies and for women. Liberalists are of the opinion that they are entitled to enforce ‘democracy’ upon the ‘less enlightened’.[6] Because of its authoritarian stance, liberalism cannot be equated with democracy, and liberty is not the same as equality.

A second weakness of liberalism is that there is hardly any consensus of exactly what it means. People’s thoughts about and understanding of liberal concepts such as human rights largely depend on who is in charge, whose side you are on, what you stand to gain or lose because of your point of view, if your point of view is legal and politically correct, and your position in a social group or community. Most citizens of the USA probably felt that they were protecting human rights when they invaded Iraq in 2003, whereas most Iraqi citizens probably felt that they were robbed of their human rights.

A negative consequence of the liberalism paradigm claiming to favour the needy while discriminating between the informed, rich and educated on the one side and the uninformed, poor and uneducated on the other side, is that research on the former often follows an emic approach while research on the latter follows an etic approach. The informed, rich and educated are regarded and treated as participants in the research while the uninformed, poor and uneducated are regarded as subjects upon whom research is done.

 

[1] W. Davies in A. Abraham-Hamanoiel, D. Freeman, G. Khiabany, K. Nash, and J. Petley (Editors), 2017: 15.

[2] A. Abraham-Hamanoiel, D. Freeman, G. Khiabany, K. Nash, and J. Petley (Editors), 2017: 11.

[3] Ibid: 2.

[4] A. An-Na’im in A. Abraham-Hamanoiel, D. Freeman, G. Khiabany, K. Nash, and J. Petley (Editors), 2017: 55.

[5] A. Abraham-Hamanoiel, D. Freeman, G. Khiabany, K. Nash, and J. Petley (Editors), 2017: 1.

[6] Ibid: 4.

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The Nature and Elements of Research Paradigms: Interpretivism

Written by Hannes Nel, B. Mil; BA Hons; MBL; D. Com (HRM); D. Phil (LPC)

 Introduction. I am hoping to share my research on 28 different paradigms that I regard as of importance to academic research. The purpose of sharing the articles with you is to also learn. After having done research and written for seven years, my book on qualitative research methodology is more or less ready for publication. However, the field of study is immensely vast and I need to do my utmost not to spread inaccurate information. So far I received no comments, feedback or suggestions on my articles. Please let me know if you find any mistakes or room for improvement. This time I am especially interested in the difference between hermeneutics and interpretivism.

This is the tenth article that I am sharing.

Interpretivism. Often also called ‘anti-positivism’ or ‘naturalistic inquiry’, interpretivism is a softer and more subjective way than hermeneutics in which to interpret data.

According to intepretivists, precise, systematic and theoretical answers to complex human problems do not exist. Every cultural and historical situation is different and unique and requires analysis of the uniquely defined, particular contexts in which it is embedded. Because of the specific social, political, economic and cultural experiences underpinning each study, the findings cannot be generalised; they do, however, provide greater clarity on how people make meaning of phenomena in a specific context, thus aiding greater understanding of the human condition.

Interpretivism is of the opinion that human life can only be understood from within. Human activities cannot be observed from some external reality. Reality is multi-layered and complex and a single phenomenon can have multiple interpretations. Interpretivism therefore focuses on people’s subjective experiences, on how people “construct” the social world by sharing meanings, and how they interact with or relate to each other. Social reality is viewed and interpreted by the individual according to the ideological positions that she or he holds. Therefore, knowledge is personally experienced rather than acquired from or imposed from outside.

In interpretivism social life is regarded as a distinctively human product. Interpretivists assume that reality is not objectively determined, but is socially constructed in terms of language, consciousness and shared meanings. The underlying assumption is that by placing people in their social contexts, there is a greater opportunity to understand the perceptions they have of their own activities. The uniqueness of a particular situation is important to understand and it generally attempts to understand phenomena through the meanings that people assign to them.

Human behaviour is believed to be affected by knowledge of the social world. Interpretivism proposes that the realities of phenomena can differ across time and space. As our knowledge of the social world and the realities being constructed increase, it enriches our theoretical and conceptual framework. There is, thus, a two-way relationship between theory and research. Social theory informs our understanding of issues which, in turn, assists us in making research decisions and making sense of the world.

The experience of doing research and its findings also influence our theorising. Inevitably, as theory will be abstract, it gives a partial account of the multifaceted social world. Such a theory allows researchers to link the abstract with the concrete, the theoretical and the empirical.

For interpretivists the social world depends on human knowledge. They believe that our own understanding of phenomena constantly influences us in terms of the types of questions we ask and in the way we conduct our research. Our knowledge and understanding are always limited to the things to which we have been exposed, our own unique experiences and the meanings we have imparted. As we proceed through the research process, our humanness and knowledge inform us and often direct us.

Often subtleties, such as intuition, values, beliefs or prior knowledge influence our understanding of the phenomena under investigation. Therefore, to conceive the world as external and independent from our own knowledge and understanding is to ignore the subjectivity of our own endeavours.

Interpretivism pays attention to and values what people say, do and feel, and how they make meaning of the phenomena being researched. Interpretivism foregrounds the meaning that individuals or communities assign to their experiences. Patterns, trends and themes should therefore emerge from the research process, and your role should be to understand real-life situations from the point of view of the insider (the members of the target group for the research).

The human mind is regarded as a purposive source of meaning. Interpretive investigation searches for meaning in the activities of human beings, which can best be researched by making use of qualitative research. In fact, interpretivists believe that all qualitative research should be interpretive in nature. Even so, interpretive research is distinguished from qualitative research in general by being distinctive in its approach to research design, concept formation, data analysis and standards of assessment. It can also be claimed to be radical in nature because it investigates real-life occurrences or phenomena.

A concept in especially qualitative research that shares a number of perspectives with the interpretive paradigm, is the notion of praxis. Some regard praxis as a separate paradigm while others regard it as a research method. Praxis means acting upon the conditions that you face in order to change them. It deals with the disciplines and activities predominant in the ethical and political lives of people.

By exploring the richness, depth and complexity of phenomena we can begin to develop a sense of understanding of the meanings given by people to such phenomena and their social context. Through uncovering how meanings are constructed, we can gain insights into the meanings imparted and thereby improve our understanding of the whole.

Interpretivism has its roots in hermeneutics, which, as you already know, is the study of the theory and practice of interpretation. In hermeneutics the text is the expression of the thoughts of its author, and interpreters must attempt to put themselves within the perception or thinking pattern of the author in order to reconstruct the intended meaning of the text.

Interpretivism relates to the constructivist epistemology. This perspective holds that individuals, in their reasoning, do not have access to the real world, suggesting that their knowledge of the perceived world is meaningful in its own terms and can be understood through careful use of interpretivist procedures.

The social context, conventions, norms and standards of the particular person or community are crucial elements in assessing and understanding human behaviour (the truth is relevant and subject to these subjective elements); therefore are the same as for hermeneutics, phenomenology, radicalism, ethnomethodology and symbolic interactionism. All these paradigms pay attention to human interaction with phenomena in their daily lives, and suggest qualitative rather than quantitative approaches for the study of human activities and relationships.

Even though both support social science, intepretivism opposes positivism because of its leaning towards physical science.

Because of its acceptance of such a large variety of rather subjective and intuitive sources of knowledge and meaning, some researches feel that interpretivism is largely based on assumptions rather than accurate and authentic data, with the result that conclusions and findings based on it will lack scientific consistency.

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Is the QCTO on the right track?

Written by Hannes Nel, D. Com (HRM); D. Phil (LPC)

For nearly eight years already we have been wondering if this new kid on the block will make it or not. I had my reservations and am delighted to admit that I was wrong. The Quality Council for Trades and Occupations not only got their act together – in my opinion they are now setting the pace as far as quality assurance, qualifications design and development and management is concerned.

I just finished studying all the QCTO Policy documents. Without exception they are flexible, futuristic and well-articulated to some of the most advanced learning philosophies in the world, notable the Scandinavian systems which I know reasonably well (because of my own Doctoral studies).

The Policy on Delegation to Development Quality Partners (DQPs) and Assessment Quality Partners (AQPs) leaves no uncertainty about what the roles and responsibilities of these bodies are.

The Policy on the Accreditation of Assessment Centres meets all the requirements for valid, authentic and viable assessment of learner competence and knowledge. I am somewhat concerned if the AQPs will always be able to implement it, but this is more because of their possible lack of capacity rather than the requirements and structure of the Policy.

The Assessment Policy for Qualifications and Part-qualifications on the Occupational Qualifications Sub-framework (OQSF) links up well with the Policy on Delegation of Qualifications Assessment to AQPs. Setting standard procedures and requirements for the development of assessment instruments is necessary if consistency in the conduct of assessment is to be achieved. Everything would be fine if the AQPs abide by this policy.

The third policy on assessment is the Policy for the Approval of Results. A structured approach to management is always an effective one if, in a modernistic fashion, the authority is vested in one or more experts. I am of the opinion that the managers of the QCTO are doing a splendid job. They are approachable, respond rapidly to communications from clients and, most importantly, are willing to listen.

The fourth policy on assessment is the Policy for the Implementation of Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL). Of the three South African quality assurance bodies this is the only one that understands and follows a holistic approach to RPL that is sufficiently flexible to truly support lifelong learning, the CAT system,  accepts qualifications and credits obtained through RPL as equal to formal learning and focuses on correcting injustices of the past.

The QCTO Language Policy is not only in line with the Constitution, but also flexible, democratic and perfectly articulated to the real workplace and educational needs of the country.

The QCTO even have a Fraud Prevention Policy, Procedures and Plan. Excellent.

In closing, I had some problems with the quality of the “General Principles and Minimum Requirements on E-assessment of Qualifications and Part-qualifications on the OQSF”, which I mentioned in an email to Mr Thomas Lata, Chief Director: Occupational Qualification Management. He replied the same day and referred me to Ms Langa-Mtintsilana (you may know her as Busi). Look how she responded: “I am excited to hear from you once more. Thank you for your comments on the e-assessment guidelines. I am very pleased that you have interrogated the guidelines…. Your comments are spot on and come at an opportune time when the document is scheduled for a review.”

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The Nature and Elements of Research Paradigms: Hermeneutics

Written by Hannes Nel, B. Mil; BA Hons; MBL; D. Com (HRM); D. Phil (LPC)

Introduction. I am hoping to share my research on 28 different paradigms that I regard as of importance to academic research. The purpose of sharing the articles with you is to also learn. After having done research and written for seven years, my book on qualitative research methodology is more or less ready for publication. However, the field of study is immensely vast and I need to do my utmost not to spread inaccurate information. So far I received no comments, feedback or suggestions on my articles. Please let me know if you find any mistakes or room for improvement.

This is the ninth article that I am sharing.

Hermeneutics. Hermeneutics deals with interpretation. Originally, hermeneutics referred to the study of the interpretation of written biblical text, but now it includes the interpretation of any form of communication, including verbal, artistic, geo-political, physiological, sociological, etc. In terms of communication, hermeneutics views inquiry as conversation and conversation as a source of data that can and should be used for research. Hermeneutics is now applied in all the human sciences to clarify, or interpret, conditions in which understanding takes place.[1]

With the above in mind, hermeneutics can be defined as the aspect of a study that involves interpreting the event or events being studied, to deepen the understanding of the political, historical, sociocultural, and other real-world contexts within which they occur. According to hermeneutics the role of language and history in interpretation cannot be denied.

It is not the purpose of hermeneutics to offer explanations or to provide authoritative rules or conceptual analysis, but rather to seek and deepen understanding. Objectivity is sought by analysing our prejudices and perceptions. Even so, ambiguity is not regarded as an obstacle to qualitative research and it is accepted that interpretation will sometimes be typical and perhaps even unique to a particular situation and context.

In the process of interpretation you, as the researcher, will inevitably add your own interpretation to text and, perhaps, review historical text if you regard it as necessary for whatever reason. In the process you will also learn while contributing to the available knowledge in a particular field of study. Understanding occurs when you recognise the significance of the data that you are interpreting and when you recognise the interrelatedness of the different elements of the phenomenon.

A rather impressive number of human, religious and philosophical scientists elaborated on and added to the nature of hermeneutics. Two useful elaborations are, firstly, that experience, expression and comprehensions are elements of hermeneutics and, secondly that hermeneutical analysis is a circular process, popularly called the hermeneutic circle.

The hermeneutic circle signifies a methodological process or condition of understanding, namely that coming to understand the meaning of the whole of a text and coming to understand its parts are independent activities. In this regard, “construing the meaning of the whole” means making sense of the parts and grasping the meaning of the parts depends on having some sense of the whole. The parts, once integrated, define the whole. Each part is what it is by virtue of its location and function with respect to the whole. In a process of contextualisation, each of the parts is illuminated, which clarifies the whole.[2] The hermeneutic circle takes place when this meaning-making quest involves continual shifts from the parts to the whole and back again.[3]

Hermeneutics focuses on interaction and language. It seeks to understand situations through the eyes of the participants. It involves recapturing the meanings of interacting with others, recovering and reconstructing the intentions of the other role players in a situation. Such research involves the analysis of meaning in a social context.

A hermeneutic approach is open to the ambiguous nature of textual analysis, and resists the urge to offer authoritative readings and neat reconciliations. Rather, it recognises the uniquely situated nature, historically and linguistically influenced, and the ambiguous nature of interpretation, and offers such for readers to engage with, or not, as they wish.[4]

Hermeneutics represents a specific perspective on data analysis. As a mode of analysis, it suggests a way of understanding, or making meaning of, textual data. In hermeneutics theories are developed or borrowed and continually tested, looking for discrepant data and alternative ways of making sense of the data.[5]

The hermeneutic data analysis process is aimed at deciphering the hidden meaning in the apparent meaning and therefore, in analysing the data you are searching for and unfolding the levels of meaning implied in the literal meaning of the text. As a consequence, in designing your research you will deliberately plan to collect data that is textually rich and analyse it to make sense of the bigger picture or whole.[6]

Hermeneutics seeks understanding rather than to explain; acknowledges the situated location of interpretation; recognises the role of language and history in interpretation; views inquiry as conversation, and is comfortable with ambiguity.[7] Understanding requires the interpretation of words, signs, events, body language, artefacts and any other objects or behaviour from which a message can be deduced. It is, therefore, not a paradigm based on theoretical knowledge only, but also practical actions or omissions.

Hermeneutics provides the philosophical grounding for the interpretive paradigms, including interpretivism, relativism, ethnomethodology, symbolic interactionism, and phenomenology. The interpretive paradigms are associated with constructivism. It is also possible to associate and integrate hermeneutics with the critical research paradigms.

Hermeneutics opposes the technicist paradigms, namely rationalism, positivism, scientism and modernism and, consequently, is more suited to a qualitative rather than a quantitative research approach. As can be expected supporters of technicist paradigms question the validity and accuracy of data that applies only to a particular situation and context.

The circular nature of hermeneutic investigation is questioned by some researchers because setting understanding as a prerequisite for understanding the parts and understanding the parts as a prerequisite for understanding the whole, is a catch twenty-two situation.

A second criticism of hermeneutics is that viewing inquiry as conversation might damage the validity of your research conclusions and findings.

[1] http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/145… Accessed on 20/11/2017.

[2] http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/145… Accessed on 20/11/2017.

[3] R.K. Yin, 2016: 336.

[4] http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/145… Accessed on 20/11/2017.

[5] J.A. Maxwell, 2013: 53.

[6] http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/145… Accessed on 20/11/2017.

[7] Loc. cit.

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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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The Nature and Elements of Research Paradigms: Functionalism

 Introduction. I am hoping to share my research on 28 different paradigms that I regard as of importance to academic research. The purpose of sharing the articles with you is to also learn. After having done research and written for seven years, my book on qualitative research methodology is more or less ready for publication. However, the field of study is immensely vast and I need to do my utmost not to spread inaccurate information. So far I received no comments, feedback or suggestions on my articles. Please let me know if you find any mistakes or room for improvement.

This is the eighth article that I am sharing.

 

Functionalism. Biological organisms have systems that perform various specialist and survival functions; similarly, social institutions “function” in a systematic and coherent way through their constituent elements to ensure their survival and optimal functioning.

Role differentiation and social solidarity are key elements in the smooth functioning of any organisation. This means that functionalism interprets each part of society in terms of how it contributes to the stability of the whole society. Society is more than the sum of its parts because the contributions of all members of a society facilitate the performance of the society as a whole. Each individual plays an important part and the absence, or inability of an individual to contribute, detrimentally affects the performance of the community as a whole.

According to functionalism, an institution only exists because it serves an important role in the community. An individual or organisation that does not play a role in the community will not survive. This applies to individuals and groupings on all levels in society. The individual, families, clubs, schools, suburbs, cities, countries, etc. all will only survive if they add value to the community.

Organisations and societies evolve and adjust to changing conditions in order to ensure the continued, smooth, integrated functioning of all elements of the organisation or society. When new needs evolve or emerge, new organisations will be created to satisfy the new needs. When any part of the society is dysfunctional, it affects all other parts and creates problems for the society as a whole, which leads to social change.

The mental state rather than the internal constitution of the researcher is important. This implies that motivation plays an important role in what you would be willing to do to achieve success, i.e. the purpose of the research project.

Functionalism includes structuralism because both paradigms investigate the functioning of social phenomena.

Like structuralism, functionalism also reacts against post-structuralism because of the disruptive nature of the latter.

Some researchers feel that functionalism focuses too much on the positive functions of societies while neglecting the impact of negative events.

A second point of criticism against functionalism is that researchers sometimes try to gain conclusions and findings from the ontology of a society when it might not even be relevant to the current phenomena any longer.

Thirdly, findings gained from a functionalist philosophical stance are not always generalizable.

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What is the meaning and purpose of blind peer review?

In my previous article on peer review I concluded that it should not be used for accreditation purposes because of its inherent subjectivity. As if using peer review to evaluate for accreditation purposes is not bad enough, some add “blind” to “peer review” and then claim that “blind peer review” is justification for them not revealing the names or profiles of the evaluators. This is completely wrong in terms of the meaning and purpose of “blind” in this context.

If used as a way in which to evaluate an application for accreditation, blind peer review would mean that two or more people would evaluate (review) the same application. The purpose of this would be to ensure objectivity, which is achieved by having two or more experts evaluate the application without knowing who the other evaluators are. The reason why different evaluators should not know who the others are is to ensure that they don’t discuss their evaluations and findings. The possibility exists that they might influence one another, thereby rendering the process subjective and unfair.

Once the evaluation reports have been submitted to the quality assurance body, they would compare the findings and recommendations of the different evaluators. If the evaluators agree, their recommendations would be accepted. If they disagree, the quality assurance body can do one of three things:

  1. They can fall back on their veto right and decide which recommendation they agree with.
  2. They can invite the evaluators to meet and, with the quality assurance body facilitating the process, discuss the findings and recommendations in an effort to reach synergy.
  3. They can ask additional evaluators to also evaluate the application.

 

There is no reason to keep the identities of the evaluators confidential once the evaluation has been completed and a decision made. In fact, the identity of the evaluators should be revealed once the evaluation has been completed else the process cannot come to a logical conclusion, especially if there is a split decision between the different evaluators. The National Assessment and Accreditation Council of India (NAAC) also make use of peer review for evaluation purposes. However, the detail assessment report is made public after the evaluation and the identities of the peers are not kept secret. In fact, one of the critical elements of the NAAC evaluation strategy is transparency in all its policies and practices.[1]

One might argue that you should protect the evaluator’s against retribution, blackmail, bribery or intimidation. This, however, is not blind peer review, especially if the evaluation has been done by one evaluator only. Besides, the day it becomes necessary to protect evaluators against applicants for accreditation would be the lowest that a country claiming to maintain quality in education and training can sink to – then we can just as well not quality assure at all.

In closing, it should be rather obvious that a quality assurance body in education and training should have in its employ people who understand quality assurance concepts. It should also be obvious that such bodies should at all times act ethically. The worst thing that a quality assurance body can do is to bend and manipulate concepts to justify not conducting professional work, thereby misleading government as well as learning institutions.

 

 

[1] Prasad and Stella, 2004: 4-5.

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The Nature and Elements of Research Paradigms: Feminism

Introduction. I was hoping to share my research on 28 different paradigms that I regard as of importance to academic research. The purpose of sharing the articles with you is to also learn. After having done research and written for seven years, my book on qualitative research methodology is more or less ready for publication. However, the field of study is immensely vast and I need to do my utmost not to spread inaccurate information. So far I received no comments, feedback or suggestions on my articles. Please let me know if you find any mistakes or room for improvement.

This is the seventh article that I am sharing.

Feminism. Feminism is grounded in feminist values and beliefs. Philosophically speaking feminism is the movement for the political, social, and educational equality of women with men.

The ontology of feminism is that there is a ‘reality’ that has been created and shaped by social, political, cultural, economic, ethnic and gender-based forces that has evolved over time into social structures that are accepted as natural, cultural or in different other ways justified.

Feminist issues range from access to employment, education, child care, contraception, and abortion, to equality in the workplace, changing family roles, redress, sexual harassment in the workplace, and the need for equal political representation.

The basic epistemological principles of feminism include the taking of women and gender as the focus of analysis; the importance of consciousness raising; the rejection of subject and object (valuing the knowledge held by the participants as being expert knowledge and acknowledging how research valued as ‘objective’ always reflects a specific social and historical standpoint); a concern with ethics and an intention to empower women and change power relations and inequality.

Simply stated feminism is research done by, for and about women. In research feminism seeks to include women in the research process, to focus on the meanings women give to their world, while recognising that research must often be conducted within universities that are still patriarchal.

With the above philosophy as basis, research in support of the interests of women aims to emancipate women and improve their lives. The aim of research on women is to clarify bias and inequity in a way that women are treated in various social settings, such as the workplace, universities, sport, etc. and to fill the gaps in our knowledge about women.

Feminism is characterised by its double dimension and diversity. As opposed to traditional research, its objectives include both the construction of new knowledge and the production of social change. It assumes that woman are oppressed in society, therefore research is used to help reduce such discrimination.

In terms of diversity feminism is interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary; it uses different methodologies and it is constantly being redefined by the concerns of women coming from different perspectives. Feminism therefore requires that issues such as antiracism, diversity, democratic decision making and the empowerment of women are addressed.

In terms of research methodology feminism actively seeks to remove the power imbalance between research and subject; it is politically motivated in that it seeks to change social inequality and it begins with the standpoint and experiences of women. Feminism uses a wide variety of research methods, including methods belonging with the qualitative research approach, methods belonging with the quantitative approach and mixed methods. A qualitative approach is mostly favoured because it lends itself better to reflect the measure of human experience without focusing too strongly on males while neglecting the role of women in a particular social, economic, political or technological setting.

Feminism shares an academic as well as an affective link with neoliberalism, post-colonialism, critical theory, critical race theory, romanticism and post-structuralism, seeing that all of them deal with issues of inequality and discrimination.

Although both deal with power relations between people, feminism seldom uses the rigorous approach to research that is typical of structuralism. Ironically the lack of objective and systematic research typical of structuralism might be what is needed to elevate feminism to a more generally accepted research paradigm.

The main objection to feminism as a research paradigm is not that it is invalid or irrelevant, as some might claim, but rather that the very supporters of the philosophy are causing damage by the emotional manner in which it is put forward. The way in which it is applied and the spirit in which people write about feminism is often overly emotional and devoid of academic substance. In research, arguments are not supported by corroborated evidence, and findings are superficial and subjective. Feminism is used as the grounds for advocacy campaigns rather than academic research. The development of knowledge and theory is overshadowed by subjective philosophical points of view.

Related to the above argument is the fact that by emphasising the equality of genders we might well be denying both men and women certain privileges and rights that go with such differences. Men and women are different in ways that, if not respected and taken into consideration, can also lead to unfairness. Pregnancy, for example, dictates that women should have certain rights that men might not be entitled to or need, although even this is a contentious argument for some.

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Is peer review a suitable evaluation method for accreditation purposes?

Written by Dr J.P. Nel, D. Com, D. Phil

Introduction. Peer review is a form of external audit. An external group of experts, called peers, is invited to assess the quality of different fields of the institution, such as the quality of education and training provision of individual departments or of the entire organisation. During the evaluation process, the peers visit the reviewed institution. Peers are external but work in a similar environment and have specific professional expertise and knowledge of the evaluated subject. They are independent and “persons of equal standing” with the persons whose performance is being reviewed.

There is no doubt in my mind that peer review can add value to learning institutions. Closely related to self-evaluation, peer review, if used correctly, can be developmental and consultative. It offers substantial advantages to the parties who are involved in the review process, for example measuring control over quality, the improvement of the learning offered by learning institutions, sharing ideas and efficient learning procedures, establishing networks of co-operation and many more.

The question, however, is if peer review is a suitable evaluation method for accreditation purposes. I offer the hypothesis that peer review is not suitable for the evaluation of applications for accreditation.

Preconditions for peer review. Peer review, if used incorrectly or for the wrong purposes, can do more damage than good. The following are preconditions for the use of peer review:

  • For the sake of objective judgement, peer review should always be a two-way process, meaning that learning institutions should evaluate each other to promote and improve the learning offered by both. More than two learning institutions can also participate in peer review. It is not peer review if only one individual one-sidedly evaluates a learning institution.
  • Peer review should be a voluntary process between learning institutions working in similar environments.
  • Peer review should always be an open and transparent process.
  • Peer review groups should always count among their number independent, external experts who possess appropriate skills and who are competent to perform their functions. They should include, where appropriate, persons who are competent to make national and international comparisons.
  • Where internal experts are included – in the case of some programme-based and department/unit-based reviews – they should not be closely associated with the programme or department/unit under review.
  • In the case of reviews of the effectiveness of an institution’s quality assurance procedures, all peer review group members should be external experts.
  • Bodies responsible for the activation and administration of reviews should publish clear and transparent guidelines regarding the selection of reviewers. These guidelines should set out criteria and processes for the selection of relevant experts, because these guarantee their independence. Bodies responsible for the activation and administration of reviews should also publish clear and transparent guidelines regarding the responsibilities and duties of peer review group members. They should also ensure that the latter are adequately briefed about these responsibilities, duties, and the contexts (including relevant legislation) in which the reviews are being undertaken.

Why peer review is not suitable for the evaluation of applications for accreditation. The reason why peer review is not suitable for the evaluation of applications for accreditation is quite obvious – it does not meet the requirements for peer review listed above for the following reasons:

  • Peer review in not, as some may claim, an internationally accepted method of evaluation for accreditation purposes. The claim that peer review is employed worldwide to conduct external evaluation is false. I conducted interviews with CEDEFOP experts in quality assurance and participated as the only speaker from a non-EU member state in a workshop on quality assurance at the University of Berlin in 2010. The general consensus amongst CEDEFOP interviewees and University of Berlin delegates, who were also speakers, was that peer review should not be used for external quality assurance.
  • The inherent subjectivity of the procedure renders it unacceptable as an evaluation method where the future of learning institutions is at stake.
  • The fact that peer review is used for other purposes does not justify using it for the evaluation of applications for accreditation. For example, using peer review to determine an academic paper’s suitability for publication or whether an academic qualifies for conferment of professorship has nothing to do with accreditation.
  • Peer review is a self-regulating process, which means that it should not be regarded or used as an external evaluation tool for accreditation purposes.
  • Peer review used with political motives in mind can be seen as a form of capillary power in which learning institutions are seduced into policing themselves. In a constructive quality culture any evaluation intervention, be it undertaken externally or internally should be for the benefit of the provider and students and not merely intended to meet external demands, especially not political ones.
  • Unfortunately praxis shows that South African quality assurance bodies claim for themselves a position of power that is totally out of line with the purpose and spirit of quality assurance. Blom describes this as follows:

“Thus, while improvement is the rhetoric, the underlying intention seems to be to prescribe quality from the perspective of those who are in charge, and those whose interests are served…”

  • The possibility of unfair evaluation is always real for many different reasons, for example because of the fear of creating competition for the own university or college, professional jealousy, etc.
  • It is not only learning institutions offering the same qualifications that are in competition with one another. Students at public universities often launch advocacy campaigns and riot because of high fees, the colonial nature of learning content, allegations of racism, and many more. Serious students who wish to gain knowledge with which to pursue careers and to prepare for further learning would rather enroll with private learning institutions where their studies will not be damaged by such riotous activities. That is why any private learning institution may well be regarded as competition for public learning institutions.

Conclusion and close. Peer review is a healthy form of co-operation between learning institutions that can be used to improve the quality of learning offered. It should, however, not be used to evaluate a learning institution or qualification for accreditation purposes.

The potential lack of objectivity should be born in mind if peer review is used to evaluate compliance for accreditation purposes.

The Indian Council of Agricultural Research uses peer review for accreditation. However, they adopt a flexible approach in order to render the process objective and fair. For example:

  1. They offer guidance and support to learning institutions applying for accreditation.
  2. The learning institution is allowed to start offering the qualification prior to accreditation. Accreditation is only done for the first time after successful completion of at least one batch of students.
  3. Accreditation is voluntary.
  4. Accredited learning institutions receive financial assistance.
  5. Accreditation can be granted conditionally.
  6. Evaluation always includes a site visit.
  7. Peer review is done by a team of experts, not just one individual.
  8. Peer reviewers are carefully selected based on relevant knowledge and experience, leadership and people skills; personal/professional relationship; communication skills; objectivity, openness and freeness from preconceived judgments; lack of conflict of interests; willingness to serve; etc.

References

Blom, R. January 2016. The Size and Shape of the Public and Private Post-School Education and Training System in South Africa. Centre for Researching Education and Labour.

Kelly, B. Interviewed on 27 April 2007 in Brussels, Belgium.

Nel, J.P. A strategic Approach to Quality Assurance in Occupationally-Directed Education, Training and Development in South Africa. Doctoral thesis, UJ, Johannesburg.

 

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