The NSB regulations indicate that a qualification shall:
- *Represent a planned combination of learning outcomes which has a defined purpose and which is intended to provide qualifying learners with applied competence and a basis for further learning;
*Add value to the qualifying learner by providing status, recognition, enhancing marketability and employability;
*Provide benefits to society and the economy;
*Comply with the objectives of the NQF;
*Include both specific and critical cross-field outcomes that promote life-long learning;
*Where applicable, be internationally comparable;
*Incorporate integrated assessment appropriately to ensure that the purpose of the qualification is achieved. Assessment should include a range of formative and summative assessment methods such as portfolios, simulations, workplace assessments and also written and oral examinations;
*Indicate in the rules governing the award of the qualification that the qualification may be achieved in whole or in part through the recognition of prior learning, which concept includes but is not limited to learning outcomes achieved through formal, informal and non-formal learning and work experience.
There is provision in the regulations for the registration of qualifications constructed from unit standards as well as the registration of whole qualifications, not constructed from unit standards. Unit standard means registered statements of desired education and training outcomes and their associated assessment criteria together with administrative and other information as specified in the regulations. Both formats of qualification structure however require the specification of learning outcomes, the latter format requiring the articulation of exit level outcomes and associated assessment criteria.
There is much debate about the ability or desirability of reaching agreement on learning outcomes at a national level, and furthermore, about describing learning outcomes in the form of applied competence standards. SAQA has placed the requirement for participation in national stakeholder processes only for those qualifications and standards that are to be registered on the NQF – national recognition requires acceptance by national stakeholders. Furthermore constructors of qualifications and standards can choose to be rigid or choose to be flexible in the construction of the qualifications and standards, allowing for choice or not. The strength of the NQF processes is that representatives of all key stakeholders in the learning area and not just a select few will make those decisions. Furthermore, through the required process of review all qualifications and standards must be reviewed regularly to ensure that the agreed criteria and requirements are feasible, relevant and desirable. If there is agreement that changes are necessary, there is ample opportunity for those changes to be adopted.
A more complex issue is raised by the notion of learning outcomes and competence standards. Some people raise the problem that the learning outcomes of certain qualifications and standards can relatively easily be described by in the form of competence standards e.g. the draft standards for Engineering qualifications. However, in the case of other qualifications, this is more difficult because the learning outcomes are less obvious or less precise. Any effort to try and establish national agreement will result in a loss of creativity and originality when in fact, it is that very creativity and originality that gives them value. SAQA is of the opinion that the description of a NQF qualification addresses this question i.e. a qualification shall represent a planned combination of learning outcomes which has a defined purpose and which is intended to provide qualifying learners with applied competence and a basis for further learning.
In describing the purpose of qualification, standards setters will have to give consideration as to what the purpose of the qualification is and how it contributes to the learner’s development and further learning.
Furthermore the notion of applied competence suggests a broadening of the behaviourist notions of knowledge usually associated with outcomes and competence models. Applied competence suggests that foundational competence, practical competence and reflexive competence are all necessary for the meaningful accomplishment of a task in any real world context. Foundational competence is described as an understanding of what is being done and why. Practical competence is described as a demonstrated ability to do a particular thing. Reflexive competence is described as a demonstrated ability to integrate or connect performance with the understanding of that performance so as to learn from the actions and adapt to change and unforeseen circumstances.
Hence the challenge for standards setters is the attainment of a balance between society’s needs and the needs of the individual; the development of learning outcomes that are precise enough to indicate the purpose of the qualification but general enough to permit flexibility in delivery, choice of content, assessment methodology; a balance between the need for practical competence and the need for foundational and reflexive competence; the adoption of qualification construction, possibly through electives, that encourages creativity, originality and experimentation without jeopardising the primary purpose of the qualification.
Qualifications and standards are registered at specific levels of the framework and have a credit value. Learners, in the course of study, may accumulate credits over time towards a qualification.