Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL)
Among the objectives of the NQF are the need to facilitate access to, and mobility and progression within education, training and career paths as well as the need to accelerate the redress of past unfair discrimination in education, training and employment opportunities. SAQA is challenged to find a way in which these two objectives can be met, to find a way to recognise the learning that has taken place outside traditional learning contexts, previously the only learning contexts that were formally recognised. SAQA has indicated its intention to engage its structures in the area of RPL as a means of giving practical meaning to these objectives.
Standards and qualifications are the starting points for learning programme development. These documents provide guidance for assessors in that they indicate very clearly what needs to be assessed; they provide guidance for learners in that they give a clear indication of the learning outcomes to be developed and assessed; furthermore they are a guide for facilitators of learning and learning programme developers in that the standards and qualifications provide the purpose for which a learning programme is being constructed and thereby indicate how the different learning outcomes and associated assessment criteria meet the purpose.
RPL has essentially two aspects. The first is the ability for learners through RPL to be accredited with certain learning achievements. The second is the assessment of learners through RPL to gauge their potential for entry to a specific learning programme. If the objectives of facilitating access to, and mobility and progression within education, training and career paths as well as accelerating the redress of past unfair discrimination in education, training and employment opportunities are to be met, then exploring ways in which both these aspects can be addressed in learning programme design especially in respect of assessment, is critical. Traditional methods of assessment e.g. written examinations are an option for learners who have experienced learning in formal institutions. However they are not helpful for learners who have gained skills outside the formal learning institutions and often serve only to entrench barriers to progression. It is on these learners that RPL pilots and research should focus.
To engage meaningfully with RPL, learning programme developers will need to engage with the rather complex issues of RPL and will need to engage in the myriad debates that surround this very challenging area, if in the delivery process, the needs of learners who have followed alternate routes to the formal education path are to be met.