Skills-Universe

We all have “rules” or “values” according to which we live and operate even if only subconsciously. I have two such rules which look like they are in conflict with one another. One is “change is good as long as it is not a step backwards”; and the second is “don’t change something that works.”

 In the case of unit standards I can understand that the powers-in-being want to get rid of them, although I have yet to come across anybody at the CHE/HEQC or Umalusi who can explain to me why they have such a resistance against unit standards. And even though the QCTO claims that they will still use unit standards, only in a different format (split into three sub unit standards; one for theoretical learning, the second for practical work in class and the third for practical learning in the workplace), it simply will not offer the same benefits as the current unit standards.

 The problem with the unit standards that we have is that most of them are really badly written, they don’t always represent real workplace skills needs and some learning providers offer learning that they claim are based on unit standards when what they are offering is nothing more than a workshop discussion. Private providers sometimes offer learning programmes based on unit standards worth, say, 20 credits in two days, which is totally unrealistic in terms of the achievement of the required notional hours. I am of the opinion that this is one of the main reasons why the Minister of Higher Education and Training is threatening to close down private learning institutions and to do away with unit standards.

 So, most of the problems with unit standards have to do with the manner in which they are written and used. This is no reason why we should do away with what, in many other respects offer a multitude of opportunities to offer efficient learning. Firstly, unit standards represent small chunks of learning that achieves competencies in their own right. Large projects are achieved by breaking them down into a number of smaller projects. Unit standards are the small projects in learning that, together constitute a large project in lifelong learning. Unit standards enable us to follow a building blocks approach to learning in a well- structured manner.

Secondly, a unit standards approach is the easiest way in which to satisfy the skills needs of a variety of different industries. It lends flexibility to the learning process, allowing employers to select the skills that their employees should have in order to deliver productive work. But this can only be achieved if we really communicate closely with employers before we write unit standards. Many of the current unit standards were based on what existed in other countries, notably Australia and New Zealand, or they were thought out by SGB members or SETA ETQA staff members just to put something on the table.

Thirdly, and this is probably the most important reason why unit standards are essential for a country that desperately needs rapid community development; the large majority of employers cannot afford to send their employees on learning programmes that take a year or longer. What they need is short learning interventions (not more than five days at a time) that provide workers with new skills and that eventually leads to full qualifications. This is a real credit accumulation and transfer (CAT) system. What universities call CAT systems are not really credit accumulation systems but rather credit consolidation systems. Modules and subjects at universities often cannot stand alone, unit standards can.

Fourthly, students at universities or FET Colleges can write subjects or modules behind their names after they wrote their final examinations, but they still do not have anything to show for their efforts before they completed a full certificate, diploma or degree. Learners who complete unit standard-based learning programmes receive credits and certificates for courses completed, and this is a strong motivational tool. It is much easier to transfer credits from one learning institution to the next or from the learning institution to the workplace if learners have certificates or, even better, statements of results issued by a reputable quality assurance body. Unit standards facilitate this, curriculum-based learning do not.

In closing, the solution to the problems with unit standards is not to do away with them, but rather to review them and to make sure that they satisfy the real skills needs of the industry and public sector. In 2007 I did research on quality assurance in Europe by interviewing experts in quality assurance representing a number of EU countries. They were really interested in the unit standard concept and some of them expressed the wish that their countries would adopt such a system.  Since then I did not see much progress in this respect in such countries, probably at least partly because they don’t see it working here. In Australia and New Zealand they seem to have more success with the system even though they also have their followers and detractors. Point is, employers want a learning system that will enable their learners to learn new skills in short bursts of learning and unit standards are perfectly suited to satisfy this need.

Tags: nqf, saqa, standards, unit

Views: 1008

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

"In closing, the solution to the problems with unit standards is not to do away with them, but rather to review them and to make sure that they satisfy the real skills needs of the industry and public sector."

 

Hear hear - US have been a fantastic springboard for the development of training in SA. Keep improving on the wheel - but no need to change a shape that works.

 

 

Dear Johannes

 

I agree whole heartedly with your article. You have touched on a few pertinent  issues. Our organisation has now finally gone the route of getting our inhouse programs; Soft Skills training unit standard aligned. It not only serves our need in terms of training our employees and giving them the necessary knowledge, but the employees are now also required to transfer the knowledge into the workplace. Our employees are very motivated to complete their Portfolios of Evidence after the classroom training, because they want to obtain the credits of the Skills Programs.

 

In our organisation we also implement various Learnerships and this year we have also aligned our Technical inhouse programs to one of our Learnership Programs. We decided to go this route because unit standard aligned training brings about discipine in our organisation. It also allows managment on the production floor especially with the our Technical programs to be  more hands on with the technical staff, because management are now "forced" to sign their own learners off as competent. So upskilling the employees no longer sits with the Trainer or HR but with management as well.

I can safely say because of this process HR is seen as business partner within the organisation because the employee obtains the necessary skills and knowledge and the Production Management team is involved in the assessments and development of their own employees, there is now also a structured process that needs to be followed to be able to declare the employee as competent. The benefit is not only for the employee but for the business as well in terms of the BBBEE scorecard with reference to Skills Development.  Unit standard aligned programs positively affects the score because companies gain more points if training programs are unit standard aligned. The Seta also pays out discrentionary grants for unit standard aligned skills programs.

In conclusion it would be "tragic" to not have unit standards, because I have finally managed to get all roleplayers involved in the organisation to go this route and the benefits are also endless. So I agree with you Johannes,dont re-invent the wheel and dont change something that works.

Hello Natasha, I would like to use your notes on the benefits of unit standards when I take this issue up with DHET and the CHE/HEQC again, if I may. Thank you for a very good and rich summary. JPN

Natasha Louw said:

Dear Johannes

 

I agree whole heartedly with your article. You have touched on a few pertinent  issues. Our organisation has now finally gone the route of getting our inhouse programs; Soft Skills training unit standard aligned. It not only serves our need in terms of training our employees and giving them the necessary knowledge, but the employees are now also required to transfer the knowledge into the workplace. Our employees are very motivated to complete their Portfolios of Evidence after the classroom training, because they want to obtain the credits of the Skills Programs.

 

In our organisation we also implement various Learnerships and this year we have also aligned our Technical inhouse programs to one of our Learnership Programs. We decided to go this route because unit standard aligned training brings about discipine in our organisation. It also allows managment on the production floor especially with the our Technical programs to be  more hands on with the technical staff, because management are now "forced" to sign their own learners off as competent. So upskilling the employees no longer sits with the Trainer or HR but with management as well.

I can safely say because of this process HR is seen as business partner within the organisation because the employee obtains the necessary skills and knowledge and the Production Management team is involved in the assessments and development of their own employees, there is now also a structured process that needs to be followed to be able to declare the employee as competent. The benefit is not only for the employee but for the business as well in terms of the BBBEE scorecard with reference to Skills Development.  Unit standard aligned programs positively affects the score because companies gain more points if training programs are unit standard aligned. The Seta also pays out discrentionary grants for unit standard aligned skills programs.

In conclusion it would be "tragic" to not have unit standards, because I have finally managed to get all roleplayers involved in the organisation to go this route and the benefits are also endless. So I agree with you Johannes,dont re-invent the wheel and dont change something that works.

Johannes - I agree with you that unit standards are useful. And I also agree that they are not always well written. I've always got the feeling that they are written by people who do not have practical classroom experience.

The irritating thing about them, however, is when they become no longer valid - expired - and of course since sole providers can't be accredited, one can't issue certificates for short courses.

They also don't neccesarily fall under the correct SETAs.

Life skills, I believe are all important, and can enhance other learnings.

I have been a Skills Development Facilitator for about a year or so and couldnt really understand the concept unit standard untill I read this article. Thank you

My objective as an SDF though, was always, to seek opportunities where people with no qualifications can obtain some credits when attending short courses. I think when something works, it works and instead of letting it go we can do something to inprove the system, as a previous reader said. I had many success stories from satisified learners during my time as an SDF and it is mainly because people could write those short courses and the efforts that went into it, next to their names and build on a qualification without too much strain and effort.

Older people espescially are not looking for long and tiring training but short and effortless ones. Sound silly but its true.

Keith

Johannes you are spot on. An elephant is eaten by taking small pieces at a time, that is the value of unit standards. They build up to a qualification that people would not have received have they gone the traditional route. The only down side is that training providers are not vocal enough to make sure that every employer gets involved in creating unit standards that will be relevant to their workplace. I am not sure Johannes as to who suggested the scrapping of unit standards because I think the minister must have been briefed about them but who and why? As Natasha mentioned there are benefits all around but who sees them as a hassle and why? The only logical thinking will be to have a round table with the minister as training providers and explain the benefits of unit standards not only to employees but to the employer as well.

Kgabo.

Hi Johannes

Is it possible to study for a Qualification, Certificate, Diploma Degree or whatever without studying a combination of modules, unit standards or whatever we choose to call them????

There is no way - whatever we choose to call them - that unit standards can be done away with. 

Hi Johannes, If a company needs say "Teamwork" or "Negotiation Skills" or "Assertiveness", forsure they do not need a full qualification to upskill the employees. The only problem I have with the "generic" Unit Standards, that is the ones that everybody needs also belong to a certain Seta; instead of being "available" to all Training providers in all SETAS. ie. Assertiveness that is quality assured by merSETA, where one needs a MOU if your primary SETA is not merSETA, which makes for a very cumbersome process. If the powers-that-be could look at issues like that, I really feel that US could and would remain as the cornerstone of all our training.

 

I agree with everything put on the table thus far, but I have to voice one concern. Because the US's are so badly written, the developer is supposed to have more than a little common sense. More Often than not, this is not the case. I have yet to gain recognition for design & develop OB assessments, but I shudder at the quality of material that is generated by "reputable and qualified" developers.

A case in point: - The SO reads "Define the problem."

The assessment reads: - "Describe the concept of a problem"

On first glance the question addresses the SO. But does it really? I think not. 

Could this not perhaps be the reason why The Minister may have made the decision to scrap US's? I believe that the problem is not only in the (well / badly written) US, but with the developer's interpretation of the AC. Just because the SO's and AC's have been rewritten in the form of a question, does it mean that the learner (as in the above example) will be able to articulate / define HIS / HER problem after having attended this course?

I am all for US's, OBE, RPL (and all the other NQF concepts). Private / small providers are closely monitored, badgered and beaten into submission. These same providers really have to toe the line in terms of accreditation. They are seldom able to compete with the "Big Players", so they are forced to source material from the most competitive developer and then have the material reformatted / reworked into their own formats. Thereafter THE PROVIDER then has to get the material approved.

My question is who is quality assuring the developer??

 

Yes, so it is - us private providers are most certainly not as innocent as we sometimes pretend to be, and all of us are paying the price for the mindless activities of people who don't care about quality. One should do your homework first before purchasing learning materials, though. Start by asking the ETDP SETA ETDQA. They will probably recommend a few good designers and developers who they know deliver goog quality materials. Also, insist on seeing examples first and check what is covered in the quotations. Regards, JPN

Celeste said:

I agree with everything put on the table thus far, but I have to voice one concern. Because the US's are so badly written, the developer is supposed to have more than a little common sense. More Often than not, this is not the case. I have yet to gain recognition for design & develop OB assessments, but I shudder at the quality of material that is generated by "reputable and qualified" developers.

A case in point: - The SO reads "Define the problem."

The assessment reads: - "Describe the concept of a problem"

On first glance the question addresses the SO. But does it really? I think not. 

Could this not perhaps be the reason why The Minister may have made the decision to scrap US's? I believe that the problem is not only in the (well / badly written) US, but with the developer's interpretation of the AC. Just because the SO's and AC's have been rewritten in the form of a question, does it mean that the learner (as in the above example) will be able to articulate / define HIS / HER problem after having attended this course?

I am all for US's, OBE, RPL (and all the other NQF concepts). Private / small providers are closely monitored, badgered and beaten into submission. These same providers really have to toe the line in terms of accreditation. They are seldom able to compete with the "Big Players", so they are forced to source material from the most competitive developer and then have the material reformatted / reworked into their own formats. Thereafter THE PROVIDER then has to get the material approved.

My question is who is quality assuring the developer??

 

Hello Des, I read your reponse five or six times, closed it, thought about it and opened it again. I believe I now uderstand what you mean, but would appreciate some confirmation from you. Sorry, this is not my day for being quick. Would you care to elaborate a bit, please? Regards, JPN

Des Squire said:

Hi Johannes

Is it possible to study for a Qualification, Certificate, Diploma Degree or whatever without studying a combination of modules, unit standards or whatever we choose to call them????

There is no way - whatever we choose to call them - that unit standards can be done away with. 

Thank you for a good overview of the concept and place of 'The Unit Standard'. It certainly is an excellent way to formulate the building blocks of learning, whether it is short course or qualification focused. (Irrespective of well formulated or badly done - use the review system to improve it!) I think the unit standard is the foundation of the life-long learning principle and the single concept that makes step-by-step learning possible. I am concerned though that there is not enough understanding of exactly what it's purpose is and how it should be used when it comes to learning experience design. It is a clear statement of the outcomes that a learner's performance should be evaluated against, and provides the guidelines for the evidence to be presented to prove such competence. From here the question can then be asked what the learner needs to know to bring such evidence - leading to the content and methodology of the learning material.  I am concerned that too many developers are only using the unit standard as a curriculum framework for the learning material. The unit standard outcomes are even used as the lesson topics, and the sequence of learning is accepted to be that of the unit standard's sequence. The backward design principles just makes so much sense in an OBE system, but not much of learning material reflect such practice. Furthermore, too many assessment instruments just look like the unit standard statements' full-stop changed to a question mark. 

Is this not the foundation of assuring quality in learning? Should we not invest a lot more in developing OBE developers of adult learning programmes (starting with the interpretation of outcomes...)if we want to ensure quality of learning? I do not think that there is enough information or opportunities for such expertise to develop, and in my experience have seen very little leadership in such coming from the SETAs. (And I do not think it should only be left to taking a course in design & development). In fact, I would like to know what is the true extent of the expertise of Programme Evaluators in SETAs? Are they disciples of an OBE practice, or are they just checkbox tickers looking for a few specific headings, formats and attributes which states compliance? Do they really know what the unit standard is all about?

RSS

© 2014   Created by Alan Hammond.

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service