Relationship between the NQF and outcomes-based education?
Qualifications and standards registered on the NQF are described in terms of the learning outcomes that the qualifying learner is expected to have demonstrated. Hence there is an underlying commitment to a system of education and training that is organised around the notion of learning outcomes.
of the criticisms of the past system of education in South Africa was that certain institutions were privileged above others because of the policy of unequal allocation of resources to learning institutions, based on race. In addition, as a result of this financial discrimination, the perception grew that the standard of provision at these institutions was superior to that of other institutions. Consequently, students from these institutions were granted preferential treatment in access to further education opportunities and in the labour market. In other words, where the qualification was obtained was more important than what qualifying students actually knew and could do. In addition to problems of access, there was the problem of portability in that institutions arbitrarily chose to recognise or not to recognise qualifications achieved at other institutions; employers actively sought graduates from certain institutions and ignored graduates from other institutions. The impact of such practice on the economic and social fabric of our society is self-evident. There is hence an historical imperative in the fragmentation of our society, to focus on what it is that a learner knows and can do rather than where the learner did his or her studying. It is necessary to address the inappropriate social use of qualifications that has been part of our history.
A further pressing imperative to base our NQF on outcomes has emerged from global trends and discussions. Ronald Barnett’s discussion of competence in higher education epitomises the kinds of transition that are taking place in education and training systems the world over:
The new vocabulary in higher education is a sign that modern society is reaching for other definitions of knowledge and reasoning. Notions of skill, vocationalism, transferability, competence, outcomes, experiential learning capability and enterprise, when taken together, are indications that traditional definitions of knowledge are felt to be inadequate for meeting the systems-wide problems faced by contemporary society.
Whereas those traditional definitions of knowledge have emphasised language, especially through writing, an open process of communication, and formal and discipline-bound conventions, the new terminology urges higher education to allow the term knowledge to embrace knowledge-through-action, particular outcomes of a learning transaction, and transdisciplinary forms of skill (Barnett, 1994: 71)
If South Africa is to take up its position in the global village, it needs to embrace the new vocabulary of which Barnett speaks: competence and outcomes. Countries in Europe, the Pacific rim, Australasia, and North America have either adopted or moved in the direction of a national qualifications framework, underwritten by a commitment to outcomes-based education. South Africa cannot afford to ignore these developments. The South African NQF with its emphasis on the notion of applied competence – the ability to put into practice in the relevant context the learning outcomes acquired in obtaining a qualification – is already contributing to these debates and developments.
Associated with the recognition that knowledge needs redefinition is the recognition that sites of learning are many and varied. The traditional definitions of knowledge have implicitly designated formal institutions of learning as the primary site of learning. This perception has been re-enforced by the fact that in most instances, a qualification is awarded by an institution, before any further learning in a practical environment is obtained by the learner. In other words, the sub-text is that once the qualification has been awarded, learning is over – and unless a learner registers for a new, formal qualification, learning for life is over! This bias towards qualification-as-destination is at odds with reality and also with what the White Paper on Education and Training (1995: 15) identifies as the education and training requirement of a successful economy and society:
Successful modern economies and societies require the elimination of artificial hierarchies, in social organisation, in the organisation and management of work, and in the way in which learning is organised and certified. They require citizens with a strong foundation of general education, the desire and ability to continue to learn, to adapt to and develop new knowledge, skills and technologies, to move flexibly between occupations, to take responsibility for personal performance, to set and achieve high standards, and to work co-operatively.
If one accepts that there is more than one dimension to knowledge and hence that learning continues both before and after a qualification has been awarded in a variety of sites of learning, then in order to achieve integration and coherence within the system so that access and portability can become a reality, it is necessary to clearly articulate the outcomes of learning achievements.
Finally the South African Qualifications Act (No. 58 of 1995) indicates that one of the functions of the South African Qualifications Authority is to ensure that standards and qualifications registered on the NQF are internationally comparable. Since the global trend is moving towards describing qualifications in terms of achieved learning outcomes, articulation of South African qualifications with their international counterparts is facilitated if our qualifications are described in terms of the learning outcomes.
The NQF with its commitment to outcomes-based education and training is the means that South Africa has chosen to bring about systemic change in the nature of the education and training system. This systemic change is intended to transform the manner in which the education and training system works as a system, how it is organised and the vision that drives participants within the system as they perform their own particular roles and functions within that system.