The recognition of prior learning (RPL) : an emergent field of enquiry in South Africa

Osman, Ruksana
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The recognition of prior learning (RPL) is framed in the discourse of equity and redress. It is tasked with transforming education and training and bringing about opportunities of access to those whose educational paths were disrupted by apartheid. While policy in higher education has a vision, conditions on the ground remain unexamined, bringing to the fore complex challenges which relate to prior knowledge on the one hand and its capacity to compete with academic ways of knowing on the other, begging the question: Can RPL deliver on espoused goals of equity, access and redress? This research utilises critical education theory and qualitative research to enquire into participants', recipients' and implementers' perceptions of RPL programmes. In particular the research probed the epistemological and philosophical framings of such programmes, participants' perceptions of the capacity of RPL to deliver equity and redress in education and their ideas for changes and improvements to future RPL programmes and practices. The predominant research method consisted of in-depth interviews with 37 respondents in five RPL projects within four institutions of higher education in South Africa, 14 of whom were academics who implemented RPL, and 23 of whom were RPL students who were the recipients of RPL. In addition, scholarly articles and reports written by the academics as well as RL portfolios, compiled by the students were used as source material. The research results are reported as institutional case studies reflecting the initial responses to RPL in higher education and the ideas, beliefs and perceptions that animate them. The case studies provide a picture of the institutional environment in which RPL operates, and highlight the different levers that are shaping and influencing the practice of RPL in South Africa. The research results show that RPL in practice raises personal questions for those who implement it and for those who receive it - questions about themselves as raced, gendered and classed actors. Different academics have responded to these personal questions in varied ways resulting in contending versions of RPL propelled by different epistemological orientations. On another level the research results show that RPL in practice requires institutional support from senior managers in particular, that such support needs to be driven by an institutional vision and an institutional champion. In the institutions in this study these variables were largely absent. Equity and redress on their own have not been the levers for the implementation of RPL in higher education in South Africa. Keywords: Access; Assessment of Prior Experiential Learning; Equity; Higher Education; Recognition of Prior Learning; South Africa
A thesis submitted to the Faculty of Humanities, University of the Witwatersrand in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Education
College credits -- South Africa -- Outside work., Experential learning -- South Africa, Education, higher -- South Africa