Recognition of Prior Learning is a term you hear more and more these days so what does it mean? Recognition of Prior Learning otherwise known as RPL is a process of identifying your knowledge and skills against a qualification through the identification, mediation, assessment and acknowledgement of knowledge and skills obtained through informal, non-formal or formal learning.

In simple terms that means that Recognition of Prior Learning is acknowledgement for work you have done or skills you have acquired throughout your lifetime that can count towards a qualification. Recognition of Prior Learning provides an opportunity for you to identify your learning, have it assessed and formally acknowledged in the form of a qualification.

RPL is a very simple and straightforward process of assessing someone’s skills or knowledge, regardless of where and how these were learned. Unlike other forms of assessment, it doesn’t judge someone’s evidence of competence solely by the credentials or qualifications they have achieved, although this can form part of their claim. What RPL actually does is allow people to demonstrate that they are capable of undertaking specific tasks or working in certain industries based on evidence of skills and knowledge gained throughout their life.

RPL is assessment of skills and knowledge against certain criteria. However, while such criteria is generally less descriptive than that used in competency standards, it is outcomes-based, meaning the outcome of somebody doing something, such as the outcome of writing is a letter, not process-based such as learning.

In teaching or traditional training, the criteria against which formative and summative assessments are conducted is known as teaching or training objectives. They may be written in different ways but in all cases they include the behaviour to be observed, the conditions under which such behaviour is to be performed, and the standards or criteria which the performance must meet. These are the standards to be achieved as a result of the learning or training activity.

Where is RPL Practiced?

The differing contexts within which RPL are implemented The contexts within which RPL are practised are as varied as the candidates seeking credits for learning achieved. RPL is practised in the Higher Education and Training (HET), Further Education and Training (FET) and General Education and Training (GET) Bands and in Adult Basic Education and Training (ABET), in formal institutions of learning, as well as at workplace-based education and training centres and by small private single purpose providers.

Who uses RPL?

Therefore, it goes without saying that the contexts within which RPL is practised will be linked to the varied purposes for embarking on a process of Recognition of Prior Learning. These purposes include the following options:

  • personal development and/or certification of current skills without progression into a learning programme, if the candidate so chooses
  • progression into a learning programme, using RPL to fast-track progression through the learning programme;
  • promotion
  • career or job change

Recognition of Prior Learning in South Africa

RPL is practiced in many countries for a variety of purposes, for example an individual’s standing in a profession, trades qualifications, academic achievement, recruitment, performance management, career and succession planning.

RPL provides a way for the university to recognize your knowledge and skills gained through experience for non-formal education, for the purposes for admission or for credit towards a qualification. In South Africa RPL is a way to widen access and open new pathways into formal education and work-based training and is offered by most learning institutions.

RPL in South Africa is also about the opening up of access to education and training and redress of past injustices Two distinct target groups identified in the policy are those candidates seeking access to further education possibilities, and those seeking redress. In terms of access, the target group may be under-qualified adult learners (such as teachers or nurses), with some level of professional education wanting to up-skill and improve their qualifications.

It may also include candidates lacking the minimum requirements for entry into a formal learning programme (e.g. matriculation endorsement). These candidates may be on the shop floor, in workplaces, or may be semi-skilled and unemployed. They may have worked for many years and have gained experience in specific areas, but were prevented from developing and growing because of the education and training policies of the past.

Possibly such candidates will have low levels of education. In this target group the focus of RPL may be certification as an end in itself, rather than access to further education and training (although this may also be a purpose). It would grant recognition for their contribution to the development of the country and validate their personal worth and value their worth.

In South Africa the government has adopted a holistic approach to learning, which is a philosophy of education based on the premise that each person finds identity, meaning, and purpose in life through connections to the community. At its most general level, what distinguishes holistic education from other forms of education are its goals, its attention to experiential learning, and the significance that it places on relationships and primary human values within the learning environment. The following are the key elements of a holistic approach to assessment:

  • is deeply committed to the development and maintenance of assessment systems that protect the integrity of standards, qualifications and institutions
  • subscribes to the principles and values of human development and lifelong learning. As such it consciously supports the social purposes of RPL in relation to access, equity and redress, and strives to implement assessments in a manner that promotes dignity, confidence and educational opportunities
  • is learner-centered and developmental meaning that assessments are not used to penalise candidates for what they do not know, but to shape and form decisions around educational planning and career-pathing
  • allocates a high priority to learner-centered support systems that will assist in the preparation for assessment
  • seeks to address the context and conditions that inform the practice. This means taking steps to remove the emotional, educational and cultural factors that may constitute barriers to effective
  • recognises the rich diversity of knowledge and learning styles, which candidates bring into an assessment situation
  • recognises that RPL should ideally be the first step into a learning programme that will build on the skills and knowledge already recognised and credited
  • takes as its starting point the standpoint of critical theory, which challenges the social and structural conditioning of the curriculum, institutions and related opportunities for adult learners in formal education
  • will increasingly challenge the construction and content of qualifications to be more inclusive of knowledge, skills, values and attitudes that are acquired outside formal institutions of learning in society

How Much Does RPL Cost?

Fees for RPL services and assessment should not cost more than a full-time face-to-face programme, particularly if such services are integrated into the existing infrastructure.

The cost of developing a system and the necessary capacity to support the system, are not unlike the costs of developing a new learning programme. This means that the initial start-up costs may be relatively high, but increasingly, with learners entering such a programme, the costs are reduced and spread over a period of time.

The challenge is to develop programmes and services where one-on-one contact with a candidate is kept to the minimum. RPL does not mean that each candidate must be dealt with only on an individual basis. In principle, RPL should be more cost-effective for candidates, employers and employees by reducing the cost of training in terms of those parts of the qualification for which the candidate already meets the requirements.

The Benefits of RPL

Recognition of Prior Learning is useful to everyone including both employers and students. The benefits of RPL include:

  1. RPL Facilitates access for ‘non-traditional’ students – people who may not have had the opportunity to do further study.
  2. Acknowledges value of learning outside a formal setting, e.g. values and recognises learning in the workplace.
  3. Validates the worth of learning students have achieved by themselves
  4. Enables students to progress to other education and training programmes
  5. Eliminates unnecessary repetition and duplication of material already familiar to the student.
  6. Shortens the time necessary to earn a qualification – this motivates students who might otherwise be discouraged by the length of time required to
  7. complete a college level course or a particular programme of study.
  8. Enhances students’ pride and self-esteem for what they have accomplished as learners.
  9. Enhances students’ perception and understanding of learning as a lifelong process.
  10. fast tracking workers through the skills recognition process
  11. reduction in costs of training
  12. reduction in down-time while workers are in training
  13. efficient identification of ‘skills gaps’ allowing for more focused training

RPL for ICB Students

The Institute of Certified Bookkeepers (ICB) offers an RPL programme for learners. To be considered for Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) and get credit towards an ICB qualification, your previous qualifications or part-qualifications must be registered on the NQF and should have been attained within the last five years. If your NQF-registered qualifications are more than five years old, you will also need to provide proof of more recent, relevant work experience.

Requirements for applying  for RPL with the ICB

  • Read the Guidelines for Recognition of Prior Learning.
  • Submit the ICB Student Details Formalong with proof of payment of the ICB’s RPL administration fee.
  • Submit your detailed CV.
  • Submit transcripts of any formal registered qualifications you hold.
  • Submit the accreditation number of the training provider who awarded your previous qualifications / part-qualifications (e.g. DHET, Seta’s QASP, Umalusi, CHE).
  • Submit the NQF level and SAQA qualification registration number for your previous courses.
  • The ICB will review your application and may offer you credits based on subjects you’ve already passed, or ask you to complete a RPL Portfolio of Evidence (PoE).
  • If you qualify for exemptions and want to accept the credits, you will need to pay another fee to be granted full or conditional exemptions.
  • You must also be registered with the ICB.

Guideline for Application for Recognition of Prior Learning

If you have studied similar courses previously, or have relevant work experience, you can apply for RPL with the ICB. Applications must be based on NQF registered qualifications and need to be submitted with the following documentation:

  • proof of provider accreditation (some examples are: DHET, Seta’s QAP, Umalusi, CHE)
  • NQF level
  • SAQA qualification registration number. For all exemptions applied for, qualifications must have been obtained within the last 5 years within the last 5 years within the last 5 years i.e. “current” per SAQA requirements or if qualifications are older than 5 years, they must still be NQF registered together with current relevant work experience with current relevant work experience with current relevant work experience.

How to apply for RPL with the ICB

Step 1:  Fill in the Learner Details form (tick – Apply for Recognition of Prior Learning block).

Step 2: Pay the RPL application fee of R440 to the ICB.

Step 3: Post, fax or email the following documents to the ICB and tick each to show that all documents are attached. Documents required for review:

  • Tick Learner details form Copy of your payment deposit slip / proof of payment.
  • A copy of this letter, with the acceptance section below signed Official copies of your previous course results (transcript of results), obtained from a registered/accredited training provider Note: Foreign qualifications Foreign qualifications Foreign qualifications need a SAQA “Certificate of Evaluation” included.
  • A detailed CV explaining your work experience and including references from relevant jobs
  • A copy of your ID book
  • A letter from your Manager confirming work experience (if applicable)

Step 4: Review Process: Once the ICB’s Exemptions Review Board has reviewed your application, which can take up to 6 weeks, they will write to you with their decision. You could receive specific subject exemptions or even a full qualification exemption. Feedback will be given by learning area (subject) and could be:

  • Full Exemption granted If the ICB recognises your previous studies and grants you credit for equivalent subjects, you will need to pay an exemption fee of R370 per subject granted.
  • Exemption not granted If the ICB does not feel that your previous qualification(s) or work experience match part or all of the learning outcomes of the subjects you are applying for.
  • Conditional exemption granted. This means you don’t qualify for the full exemption but can submit more evidence without having to write an exam. You will however, be required to complete a Portfolio of Evidence (PoE) assessment provided by the ICB to prove your competency in a particular subject.

You will need to pay a RPL fee of R900 for each subject.

Once they have received your proof of payment, they will send you the RPL PoE for you to complete for each subject granted and submit it by the “Due Date.” You must do all the assessments in the Portfolios and then send them back to the ICB for final assessment. They will review them and let you know the outcome 7-8 weeks after the due date stated on the PoE label. The completion of an RPL PoE is regarded as an assessment entry and all the policies and procedures with regards to ICB assessments apply.

If you are assessed as ‘exempt’, you will get full exemption for that particular learning area. If you are ‘unsuccessful’, you’ll need to register in order to study the learning areas and enter for the assessments/exams.

Step 5: Compulsory Student Registration: In order to accept any exemptions granted, you will need to be a registered learner of the ICB. If you are not yet an ICB learner, you will need to pay the annual student registration fee of R330. Thereafter, if you continue as a learner, the registration fee will be payable each calendar year.

Step 6: Conditions:

  • The above fees and exemption opportunities are valid for six (6) months from date of this letter. If you have not accepted and paid for these exemptions within six (6) months, you will need to contact us. Please note: if the fees change within the six (6) month period, learners will be liable to pay the balance of the new fees.
  • Qualification Certificates are only issued once a full qualification is obtained.
  • No certificates are issued for exempted learning areas/subjects.
  • No refunds for Exemption Fees will be given under any circumstances. It is the student’s responsibility to fully understand the process and implications before accepting these exemptions.
  • Please ensure that you submit all your document Please ensure that you submit all your documentation upfront because the ICB n upfront because the ICB Board will base their decision on this alone. Any a Board will base their decision on this alone. Additional documentation submitted after the initial application, will require the process to start from the beginning and start from the beginning and another application fee will be due.
  • Payment of annual student registration fee is for STUDENT REGISTRATION (no certificate issued.) Membership may be applied and paid for, via the ICBA.

The ICB will review your application and may offer you credits based on subjects you’ve already passed, or ask you to complete a RPL Portfolio of Evidence (PoE).

In short RPL is a fantastic to get a qualification without having to start from scratch. You can be recognised for all your hard work over the years and get a recognised qualification.

Last updated: November 21st 2016

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