South Africa is the centre of excellent recognition of prior learning practice
By Tumelo Modisane
Professor Elana Michelson says she is convinced that the most interesting things happening in recognition of prior learning (RPL) are happening in South Africa. Prof Michelson, who is from the Empire State College, State University of New York in the United States of America (USA), was referring to the ways in which RPL is put into practice.
In South Africa, RPL has been applied in the workplace, in further education and training colleges and in higher education institutions.
Prof Michelson was giving a keynote address at the National RPL Conference that was held from 23 to 26 February this year. The conference was hosted by the South African Qualifications Authority under the theme ‘Tried and tested, tools, templates’.
Prof Michelson added that every culture has progressive and conservative elements. She said that RPL, or prior learning assessment as it is known in the USA, existed in that country because people drew on the progressive elements of that society. For RPL to succeed, she said, South Africans should find the social activism [in them] as the conservative [elements] tends to get in the way.
There is a myth in some circles that a curriculum must never be changed, said Prof Michelson. She highlighted that this is not true – a curriculum is human-made and can be changed. Epistemological authority, social authority and gatekeeping build a curriculum. It is important that it is built around real people of experience and not only qualifications and skills programmes, she concluded.
The conference also featured speakers from the International Labour Organisation as well as from Canada, Hong Kong, Namibia, the Seychelles and the United Kingdom. Speakers described the status and extent of RPL in their countries. They shared the approach, principles, methods and tools of their countries as ‘country lessons’ for South Africa.
Speakers from various parts of the education landscape in South Africa presented lessons learned through RPL initiatives in their organisations or through research. Conference delegates also unpacked RPL in the context of the three National Qualifications Framework sub-frameworks. The sub-frameworks are for: General and Further Education and Training Qualifications, Higher Education Qualifications, and Occupational Qualifications.
The conference concluded on an invigorating note with delegates reaffirming their commitment to RPL. They agreed unanimously that RPL needs to be taken to scale. Delegates left for their respective organisations committed to the following statement made by SAQA CEO Mr Joe Samuels in his closing address: “We have a policy in place for the implementation of RPL. It is imperative that we grab this second wave and make it a reality.”
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