Obstacles in the way of the National Recognition of Prior Learning System in South Africa


I read the SAQA document entitled “Lifelong Learning at the Centre: the National Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) system in South Africa” with interest. It is, indeed, a well-researched report and SAQA should be congratulated with the progress that they have made in establishing RPL as a tool by means of which to address access to learning and redress challenges.

In my opinion the numbers of people who can potentially benefit from RPL quoted in the report are extremely conservative. The real figure is probably much higher. Unfortunately there are a number of obstacles in the way of achieving the potential benefits that RPL hold for redress, lifelong learning and, ultimately, employment. The following are such obstacles.

  • Lack of cooperation between stakeholders. Learning institutions are supposed to support the quality assurance policies of the quality assurance bodies that accredited them. And yet, some quality assurance bodies accuse learning institutions of copyright infringements when they align their RPL policies with the policies of said bodies. They do not understand that their policies are supposed to serve as the foundation for RPL on lower levels.
  • Some quality assurance bodies only recognise RPL for the purpose of gaining access into further learning. They rigidly ignore other opportunities to promote lifelong learning by also utilising RPL for certification, crediting, improved promotion and remuneration, and to redress political and social injustices.
  • The “50% rule” is jealously applied. This rule is a huge obstacle in the way of objective and flexible recognition of prior learning. One wonders if, perhaps, learning institutions, especially universities, are not using it to protect their client base and to polish their image.
  • Quality assurance bodies claim that the same set of credits cannot be transferred to more than one qualification. This is a rigid, short-sighted and senseless stance.

In closing, SAQA’s stance of recognising RPL for access and for credits and towards the granting of whole qualifications testifies to a holistic and open-minded approach that supports the objective of the National Skills Development Strategy. Focusing on what has been learned rather than on the status of the institution, organisation, place or context where the learning was obtained shows that they truly understand the meaning and purpose of RPL. Excellent work.

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