Obstacles in the way of the National Recognition of Prior Learning System in South Africa 6


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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6 thoughts on “Obstacles in the way of the National Recognition of Prior Learning System in South Africa

  • Heidi D Edwards

    In agreement with you Hannes – it appears as if the practical application of RPL is a problem (regardless if FET / PSET or HET).
    Many Providers charge prohibitive amounts to process one Candidate and many Providers do not want to process only one Candidate.
    Having been at the receiving end of a few such high quotes, it feels to me as if some Providers try and recoup development costs + implementation costs + assessment costs from each Candidate – not quite the right formula methinks.
    Idealogically sound and quite brilliant – in practice it has never reached it’s full potential in SA.

  • Stuurman Aphane

    In support of the journey navigated by SAQA to solidify RPL practice in the country, RPL is about the skills and knowledge you’ve gained through work and life experiences, nothing else. From the SAQA conference held in this regard, communities of the world who are implementers of co-ordinated RPL practices, espoused that we should not make a monster out of this noble principle of NQF. There are pockets of excellence in some sectors to lay the foundation for a national co-ordinated strategy.

    • sylvia hammond

      A very relevant and interesting publication on RPL is:
      RPL as Specialised Pedagogy. Crossing the lines. (2016)
      Edited by Linda Cooper and Alan Raplhs, and published by HSRC Press.
      The chapters include one by Karen Deller – RPL and occupational competence, but all the chapters are relevant to skills-universe members, so well worth getting a copy.

      • karen deller

        Thanks Sylvia the book is available on the HSRC web site and I have a few copies if any of jhb local wants to contact me. We implement a lot of RPL and although our average cost is around 1/3rd of our full training cost some projects are far more expensive. Especially those with illiterate learners who need almost one on one rpl advising, oral assessing and practical observation. So there really is no one size fits all implementation model, costing and portfolio design. The biggest stumbling block I face as an RPL practitioner is the regulatory environment. Setas who don’t understand RPL and view it with suspicion. QCs with arbitrary rules and employers who don’t see the outcome as equal to “real” Learning. I am really an RPL advocate and i see the immense potential for RPL, but in S.A., right now, I am losing some hope that we will be able to ever take it to real scale. We are however working on a very exciting RPL initiative with Bankseta that could change the face of rpl here in S.A. and if we get traction on it thousands can be helped to get a full or part qualification. If only all setas were like Bankseta! (One set a verifier, not too long ago, actually asked me what the letters rpl stood for. When i told him he told me they didn’t do that at their seta….)

        • sylvia hammond

          Thank you Karen, I have always thought that RPL is a key part of redress and have always been disappointed in the complexity that seems to surround implementation.
          I am thinking that we should join up all the people who are managing to work in the area. This is a link to an article on the work of Competence Performance Consulting and an RPL project at SAB Newlands. Do you know Debbie Turner – you would have a lot in common.
          See this link for the article (you will need to copy & paste as I can’t seem to do an active link) : https://www.skillsportal.co.za/content/rpl-action