Learning and Development Ethics: Article 4 of 9

Written by Dr Hannes Nel, D. Com; D. Phil

Introduction. It is rather difficult to faithfully post articles this time of the year. I’ve been on holiday for three weeks and will probably also not post anything between Christmas and the new year. Therefore, this is the last one for 2018. I will cover the following issues in this article:

  • Do your work and learning in the open.
  • Eliminate offensive words and comments from your vocabulary.
  • Say no to negativity.

Do your work and learning in the open. Many people use transparency in their dealings with other people just for show, thereby compounding the problem of corruption and dishonesty. In its simplest sense, transparency means delivering clear and honest work. It also means not having a hidden agenda and an honest desire to satisfy the needs of your employer or educator.

Eliminate offensive words and comments from your vocabulary. Derogatory terms and off-colour jokes have no place at work or the classroom. They are degrading and unethical, and they can have legal repercussions. The words you use, and the jokes you tell, say a lot more about you than the people you are talking about.

In the workplace it will be your responsibility to ensure that you and your employees don’t use, or are exposed to, offensive language. This means that you will need to take active steps to ensure that the workplace is appropriate. People are especially sensitive to racist and humiliating words and phrases. People who are extremely racist or rude are mostly called to order by the other employees or learners. Subtle words and remarks are more difficult to control because the guilty persons might not even realise that what they are saying can be regarded as offensive.

Say no to negativity. The negative thinkers are the people who say things like “It’ll never work” before they even consider how to make it work. They are the ones who openly criticize the organization, spread rumours about other learners and the facilitator, complain and try to pull others into their circle of negative thinkers. Negativity is counterproductive; it erodes integrity and sometimes fosters illegal acts. Negativity is wrong. The worst situation that you can have is when you are a negative thinker. We should not accept that the negative thinkers will always be with us, because once we adopt this attitude, we will not get rid of them. As long as we resist negative thinking and avoid negative thinkers, we will at least be able to curtail the tendency.

Rules, regulations, command, control, policies and procedures are necessary in especially larger learning institutions, but they seldom eliminate unethical behaviour. The reason for this is that they are often based on negative motivation.

Even though legislation can sometimes be written in a negative manner or with negative purposes in mind, you should still abide by the laws of the country. Laws are created to help society function. In general, ignorance of the law is no excuse for breaking the law. The same applies to organizational rules and procedures. Rules and procedures are normally developed to help the organization function successfully and to avoid problems.

Ethical behaviour arises from deep within people – more from positive motivation than negative regulations. Regulations, procedures and the culture of your learning institution should be positive and instil values in the hearts and minds of your staff members.

In closing, may 2019 surprise us all by turning out to be the best and most fruitful year ever. I admit that I am rather apprehensive about this one (how’s that for negative thinking) but good things can happen. Happy new year.

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Comment on the National Policy and Criteria for the Implementation of Recognition of Prior Learning (as amended in 2018). Draft for public comment dated 26 October 2018.

Mentornet fully agree with the draft National Policy and Criteria for the Implementation of RPL (referred to as “the National RPL Policy” in this feedback document). However, the RPL Policies of QA Bodies differ in some rather critical elements from the National RPL Policy. The following should be considered and, perhaps, discussed with them:

  1. Paragraph 7 of the National RPL Policy provides for RPL as a way in which to obtain credits, qualifications and part-qualifications. 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.
  2. Paragraph 11 and 12.c of the National RPL Policy determines that the RPL policies of the three NQF Sub-Frameworks must be aligned with it. Hopefully all three QA Bodies will show the necessary respect for the professional work that SAQA put into reviewing the current National RPL Policy.
  3. Paragraph 15.d of the National RPL Policy accepts that the RPL Policies can differ in terms of context. This can easily be misinterpreted as meaning that different QA Bodies can accept only the terms of the National RPL Policy with which they agree, rendering the National RPL Policy ineffective.
  4. Paragraph 15.f of the National RPL Policy provides for the use of RPL for diagnostic, formative or summative assessments, to create opportunities for, or towards credit/exemption, access, advanced standing, professional designations or recognition in the workplace. Although not wrong, this extends the purpose for which RPL can be used substantially. Holistic RPL should be flexible, but diagnostics and formative assessment are only steps in the RPL process and not end-results.
  5. Paragraph 15.i and 18.c.vi: Maintaining data on how credits were achieved “under strict conditions of confidentiality” creates the impression that there is something wrong with credits achieved through RPL. 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. Credits achieved through RPL and credits achieved through formal learning are of equal value and status – this should be accepted and supported unconditionally. Transparency is important.
  6. Paragraph 19. The role of education and training institutions should be protected and guaranteed, the only precondition being that the learning institutions, be they public or private, need to have the knowledge, experienced and capacity to offer learning in RPL and conduct the process if that is what they wish to do. Currently this is not reflected in the accreditation of private learning institutions, the representation of such institutions in National Coordinating Bodies or the allocation of contracts to offer such services based on merit.


In closing, quality assurance bodies currently have in their RPL Policies certain clauses that should specifically be addressed and precluded in the National RPL Policy, for example:

  • Refusing to grant learners credits towards a national qualification if the credits were achieved through RPL. Giving 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 does not make sense.
  • Limiting 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.
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Learning and Development Ethics: Article 2 of 9

Written by Dr Hannes Nel, D. Com; D. Phil

Introduction. I will discuss corruption and the consequences of unethical behaviour in this (second) article on ethics in ETD.

Corruption challenges for learning institutions. Learning institutions often do not have the financial resources to deal with legal and ethical challenges. They, therefore, cannot absorb costs related to corruption. To make things worse, government does not always set a good example, legislation is inconsistent and almost impossible to enforce, the people who are supposed to stamp out corruption are often also corrupt, and methods suggested by government to combat corruption do not work. Learning institutions can do the following to deal with corruption and sustain the organization.

  • Ensure that the manager or managers in the institution are people with integrity. You can also appoint an ombudsman, i.e. somebody who monitors that all practices in the organization are above board.
  • Corrupt practices should always be rejected no matter how big the unethical financial gain may be.
  • Report corruption. The problem with reporting corruption is that those who are guilty of corruption are also mostly well-skilled in leaving no evidence. Whistle-blowers are often victimised by those who are supposed to ensure law and order.
  • Don’t deal with corrupt people.


The consequences of unethical behaviour. Unethical behaviour always creates a chain reaction of further unethical behaviour. It causes everybody to lose money, jobs and their freedom. It often ruins the economies of countries that could otherwise have been wealthy. And ultimately, when the entire economy is ruined, the negative effects of unethical behaviour return to those who started it.

Acting ethically is simply a matter of having vision. Vision means being able to foresee the consequences of your actions. A person with vision will understand that being dishonest will not only damage others but him or her as well. If you manage a learning institution or participate in learning in an unethical manner, you will fail and you run a serious risk of losing everything that you value in life, including your freedom.

There are many (too many) examples of dishonest people who became rather wealthy. In fact, the trend is so familiar that one invariably wonders if someone who is wealthy is not corrupt as well. It is as if honesty and wealth are two opposite poles. Some may say that you can’t possibly become rich if you are a goody boy.

Ultimately your approach to learning is a matter of choice. You may choose to be corrupt and dishonest or you may choose to walk the narrow road with integrity. Corruption might well help you to make a lot of money quickly, but you may also end up with nothing, perhaps even in jail. You need not be dishonest to be rich.

Dishonest people can make it really difficult for you to refuse a bribe. Sometimes they can colour the transaction in such a way that you might not even realise that it is a bribe. On the other hand, some people might pretend not to recognize the transgression. It becomes really difficult not to succumb to temptation when you see that your competitors are doing well while you are struggling to make ends meet. However, there will always be potential clients who respect integrity and quality. They are the most valuable clients because they often support you much longer than the corrupt ones.

The problem with dishonesty is that it robs you of your freedom, regardless of whether you are rich or poor. Dishonesty is not what makes people successful. It may help you land a few good contracts or get good exam marks that you did not deserve, but in the end it often backfires.

Dishonest people are always scared that others will find out the truth. They are always paranoid and they always live their lives waiting for the right time to start over, to be free. Being dishonest means building your own prison. The learner who is dishonest creates expectations with his or her employer that he or she will be able to do certain work after having been trained. You will be terribly embarrassed and might even lose your job if you cannot do the work because you cheated to obtain a certificate.

If you are a risk taker who enjoys the excitement of operating outside the law, then go ahead and enjoy the roller-coaster ride. Accept that your chances of losing your job and perhaps even ending up in jail are much higher than if you work in an honest way.

The important thing to remember about ethics is that in spite of all the codes of ethics and ethics programmes, it is not organizations that make ethical decisions. Individuals make ethical or unethical choices. It is people who put ethics into practice.

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Learning and Development Ethics: Article 1 of 9

Written by Dr Hannes Nel, D. Com; D. Phil

The problem with unethical behaviour is not just that it damages the image of the learning institution or quality assurance body, but rather that it can easily become a national trend, almost a culture and that it can reduce the country to yet another anarchy run by war lords and criminals. Unethical behaviour affects not only the guilty people but a multitude of people around them.

Leaders on all levels in learning do not seem to understand the dire consequences of their greed. People are often really good at rationalising their unethical behaviour. They do not understand that it is not the excuse for the unethical behaviour that is doing the damage but rather the criminal act.

I will discuss the following issues related to ethical behavior in the provision of learning, broken down into 9 weekly articles, starting with this one.

  1. If you are corrupt you are already in trouble.
  2. The consequences of unethical behaviour are never good.
  3. When is unethical behaviour acceptable?
  4. Honour your promises and commitments.
  5. Do your work and learning in the open.
  6. Eliminate offensive words and comments from your vocabulary.
  7. Say no to negativity.
  8. Stop blaming others for things that go wrong.
  9. Be truthful.
  10. Embrace racial, cultural and creative diversity.
  11. Don’t confuse “cutting corners” with efficiency.
  12. Know your job – inside and out.
  13. Recognize others’ efforts, contributions, and ethical behaviour.
  14. Go the extra mile.
  15. Practice patience, understanding and empathy.
  16. Talk with people, not at them.
  17. Make it safe to do work and learn with you.
  18. Accept that people sometimes make mistakes.
  19. Make it safe to be ethical.

In closing, we are all tired of people writing and talking while almost nothing is done to change things for the better. The problem is, when we no longer at least talk we might give up entirely and then we will be in really serious trouble. People get used to bad circumstances and once they have adapted they either learn how to gain from the bad situation or they just stop caring. Let’s not give up. You are most welcome to respond to the articles.

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When does a qualification have depth?

It stands to reason that any qualification needs to have sufficient depth to ensure real learning on the level of the qualification. It, however, is not always clear what is meant by “depth”. This is how I see it and I would really appreciate it if you could add on to my flights of imagination.

A qualification shows depth when the contents of the learning programme are on an acceptable academic level and encourages the students to think cognitively. All learning consists of three main elements, namely theoretical knowledge; philosophy; and skills, or practical work. In the case of occupational and vocational learning the emphasis is more on acquiring skills than on theory and philosophy, although some theory and a little philosophy is mostly necessary in order to achieve at least foundational competence. In the case of academic learning the emphasis falls on theory and philosophy, although most academic learning also includes acquiring certain skills, in some cases rather specialised skills.

The title of the qualifications does not indicate the depth of the learning content. Take flower arranging as an example. You can have an occupational certificate in flower arranging, but also a bachelor’s degree or even a doctoral thesis on the same topic.

The qualification should be coherent. This means that the different modules or subjects included in a qualification should support and complement one another. In this manner students are given a good measure of depth in the purpose of the qualification. It also simplifies the learning process because what students learn in one module or subject provides theory that will help the student understand the contents and rationale behind other subjects.

The qualification should be well-structured. Subjects should progressively become more “difficult” as the student progresses from one academic year to the next. This means that first year subjects should prepare the students for second year subjects and so on until the final year.

The assessment should test the students’ knowledge and, perhaps, skills, at the right level. Some claim that multiple-choice questions only test low level cognitive skills. This is most certainly not the case. Multiple-choice questions, like most other types of exam questions, can be asked in such a way that they test comprehension and not just content. In fact, one can tests many elements of practical work by means of written or e-learning exams.

In closing, there might well be a multitude of other factors determining the depth of a qualification. Therefore it is important to specify what you mean when you claim that a qualification lacks depth.

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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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