Social engineering of the most disastrous kind

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Dr Ivor Blumenthal | CEO | ArkKonsult | mail me


The Council of Higher Education (CHE) has established itself as South Africa’s primary protector of the Holy Grail of Higher Education Qualifications – at the cost of the dignity of our working citizens.

In 2005, those of us operating in the world of training, development and workplace lifelong learning, began engaging on what was then already global best practices, designed to recognise the competency and professionalism of adults in the world of work.

We wanted to find ways of acknowledging their competency, matched with their experience and identifying their unique and collective contribution in their workplaces. Those people who were unable to afford, or the legal entitlement to have access, to obtain degrees.

The challenge was to map the treasure troves of evidence which exist in the workplace about these people, against the peculiar, mundane and ordinary outcomes enshrined, protected and defended at all costs as the sacrosanct territory of the academic. The Degree and worse, post-graduate Degree’s including master’s and doctorates. The identified and targeted tool to openly target was the infamous ‘Statement of Results’ that is more critical than the award itself.

We were intent on creating a campaign for the Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) of the highest level of competency attained by the working hero, mapped against the same outcomes which academically would be reflected in those ‘Statement of Results’. Outcomes traditionally reserved for school leavers who progress to University and worse, on to post-graduate qualifications, with no experience of the real world of work.

Being at the helm of a SETA my objective in involving myself in this project, was to bring the millions of workers employed by my corporate members, who had been overlooked, marginalised and especially those who had been legislatively prevented from attaining qualifications, into contention for recognition, award and normalization. To graduate just as their sons and daughters were doing, because of their workplace contributions, not despite them.

RPL in the World of Work

In their purest form, degrees are awards recognizing competency and accomplishment, irrespective of how they were arrived at.

We of the world of work, were less interested in assessments by exams and multiple-choice testing, than we were in on-the-job, competency-based assessments of the real contributions which workers were able to make on the shop floor.

‘Sacrilege’ I hear academics scream aloud! How dare I be suggesting that we should blue-collar the elitist instruments preserved for the minority of our population at the expense of the majority?

I recall the then Minister of Labour and my boss, Membathisi Mdladlana intimating to me that true transformation in education would only come about, when there were more Blue Collar Workers in possession of Degree’s and Post-Graduate qualifications, awarded because of their workplace contributions assessed for academic credit by Assessors skilled in recognising and quantifying and mapping competence against traditional academic outcomes, than there were Degree’s and Post Graduate Degree’s proffered to youngsters, straight out of nappies.

Degrees replace Matric for minimum literacy and numeracy levels

Little did we know, that in 13 years South Africa would go the other way. That Degree’s would become a replacement for the school leaving standard of a Matric Certificate and that employers would completely devalue a South African Degree as anything other than an indication of basic literacy and numeracy levels, for entry into the workplace.

The challenge still remains though. How do we value the contributions of skilled, competent masters of their workplace trades, whether in traditional Industries or Services? How do we place them in a position to pursue socially meaningful further education, training and lifelong learning if not by measuring them up against the standard outcomes of registered qualifications, either for the awarding of credit to them for comparable competencies attained, or for allowing them entry and access into higher level qualifications?

Lots of policy, very little delivery

The reality is that a license to do this work was legislated for over 15 years ago.

In-terms of Higher Education and Training Law in South Africa, accredited institutions are expected to be offering RPL services to applicants. Especially workplace applicants.

The deadline for implementation enshrined in legislation was over 8 years ago. And yet, today, in 2018 we see that exceptionally few training providers have made allowance for a true and transparent mechanism to either grant credit towards a qualification or admit candidates into a higher-level qualification through the mechanisms available via RPL.

The Department of Higher Education and Training versus the CHE – talk about being internally conflicted

On a superficial level, the argument amongst both Public and Private Training Providers is that their hands are tied.

It is an argument about the dissonance between, on the one hand the aspirations of those forward-looking people employed in the…


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Read this article by Dr Ivor Blumenthal, CEO, Arkkonsult, as well as a host of other topical management articles written by professionals, consultants and academics in the December/January 2018/19 edition of BusinessBrief.


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