Developing, Supporting and Promoting RPL Practices


By dessquire, 30 March, 2011

Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) in South Africa unlike other countries has a very specific agenda. It is intended to support transformation of the education and training system of the country.

The Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) promises of the early 1990s have never been fulfilled and RPL has failed miserably in most instances.

Since 1994 some progress has been made towards an integrated education and training system in the country: having a single Department of Higher Education and Training provides a firm basis for addressing the challenges of education and training in an integrated way.

The national RPL policy developed by SAQA in 2002 has provided sound and valuable guidance for RPL implementation in South Africa, but is now in need of revision to be aligned with current NQF policy. There is an urgent need for common understandings of RPL.

RPL is central to skills development in South Africa e.g. it is important in the New Growth Path; the National Qualifications Framework; the National Skills Development Strategy; the Human Resources Development Strategy and so on. The RPL function has been transferred by the DHET to the Quality Councils within the NQF. Contrary to what is being bandied about – RPL is alive and in the process of re-birth. RPL is the way of the future for many of our existing employees and learners. RPL is a right of all learners and as such must be cultivated and encouraged in the workplace.

RPL has become and will continue to be one of the elements in the assessment criteria of the Quality Councils. Clear guidelines to Sector Education and Training Authorities regarding RPL targets are currently being developed and will shortly be communicated to SETAs via the Department of Higher Education and Training .

The DHET will be finalising targets for the SETAs in relation to RPL and quality in its service level agreements with SETAs. The QCTO through its Assessment Quality Partners may delegate assessment functions including RPL to specific SETAs, Professional Bodies and other qualifying structures.

So what is Recognition or Prior learning?

SAQA defines Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) as “The comparison of the previous learning and experience of a learner, howsoever obtained, against the learning outcomes required for a specified qualification, and the acceptance for purposes of qualification of that which meets the requirements”

In other words RPL is a way of recognising what individuals already know and can do. RPL is based on the premise that people learn both inside and outside formal learning structures (including learning from work and life experiences) and this learning can be worthy of recognition and credit. RPL is used extensively by those seeking admission to a course, as advance standing for a course or credits towards a qualification. Those seeking entry to a particular field of employment, promotion or self- development can also use RPL.

There are essentially two types of RPL

The recognition of prior accredited learning – learning undertaken in a classroom or formalised study environment
The recognition of prior experiential learning – or learning achieved through workplace and/or life experience

The recognition of both the above types of learning, accredited and experiential usually involves the following process

The candidate is advised to reflect on his/her prior learning and experience in the light of identified learning outcomes
The learner identifies his/her readiness and indicates this to the RPL advisor
The RPL advisor prepares the candidate for an assessment by explaining and demonstrating how to compile a portfolio of evidence
Once the learner is ready, the advisor informs the assessor
The assessor meets with the learner and evaluates his readiness. If not ready he/she is advised on areas to develop. Once learner is ready, the process continues
The assessor meets with the learner and identifies the assessment plan and the methods of assessment
This is a supportive process, and learner must fully understand the process before it begins
When ready, the learner will submit the portfolio of evidence to the assessor, which contains all the “proof” to show competency on the specific outcomes of the unit standard and/or qualification
If the portfolio is adequate the learner is certified competent, or the learner will be advised on how to reach competency.

RPL is therefore a process that recognises what learners already know and can do regardless of whether this learning was achieved formally or informally


For information and details of in-house RPL workshops contact Des -

Des Squire (Managing Member) AMSI and ASSSOCIATES cc