Accreditation options for Workers' Education in South Africa (Heidi Bolton)

The South African government is committed to addressing unemployment, poverty and inequality. Education, training, and lifelong learning are central in this work, and Workers’ Education (also referred to as Popular Education and Adult Education) is an important part of the national development agenda. This kind of education is however largely outside the quality assurance system of the National Qualifications Framework (NQF). What are the possibilities for bringing it into the system, and would the sector want that?

The South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) commissioned the South African Institute for Distance Education (SAIDE) to look into possible answers to these questions. Particular questions addressed included: What is the nature of Workers’ Education and how does it differ from mainstream education? What model is likely to afford long term sustainability in the sector? Should Workers’ Education be accredited and if so, how?

A qualitative approach was used for this study. Data collection methods included one-on-one and focus group interviews with a wide range of stakeholders. Data were also collected through documentary analysis.

Findings include descriptions of some of the offerings in the sector, what the current basket of education and training-related legislation enables and some clarity regarding the nature of Workers’ Education. 

Four possibilities were identified for the way forward. The first is for Workers’ Education institutions to operate as Community Colleges. The main advantage of this model is that it fits within and would extend, the current legislative framework. Further, it would enable Workers’ Education to be taken to scale.

A second possibility is that one of the Workers’ Education institutions assumes the role of coordinating Continuous Professional Development (CPD) for workers. This role could include the facilitation of developmental activities, providing workers with essential information on Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL), assistance with RPL, mediating the use of knowledge and skills across contexts, conducting assessments and facilitating credit accumulation that could lead to certification.

A third route, for Workers’ Education institutions to become private non-profit providers, was found to be not financially viable.

The fourth option, that of an agreed Worker’s Education institution becoming an accreditation agency, is also not recommended as it would likely complicate a system for which attempts at simplification are already underway.

The research recommends that selected existing Workers’ Education institutions expand their services to include ‘Continuing Professional Development’ for workers, and be located in the Community College sector. Consideration would have to be given as to which offerings need to be integrated into the NQF, and which not.
The research has been fed into a national democratic process involving sector definition of its own constituency, form and purpose.  A report on the findings will be available in 2015.

Dr Heidi Bolton is a Director for Research at SAQA.

For further information contact Dr Heidi Bolton at