Prior learning assessment and recognition
In this ever-changing economy, with the realities of the global recession still evident in the high job losses, caused either through the high impact of the recession on the private sector, or through the contraction of the public sector, there is need to retool or become certified, in many instances in order to become employable or to retain employment.
It is not uncommon for many persons, especially adults, to believe that the only route to accessing tertiary education and training in order to become certified is only by having the basic standard matriculation of CXCs and or GCEs.
These are part of the formal system of education and are great; however, it is also widely known that persons possess a wealth of knowledge and experience, acquired either through working in the formal system, or otherwise.
It is for this reason that many institutions of higher learning have developed policies relating to prior learning assessment for either entry into a programme of study, or for advanced placement.
Prior learning assessment (PLA) can be defined as follows: "The process of identifying, assessing and recognising skills, knowledge, or competencies that have been acquired through work experience, unrecognised training, independent study, volunteer activities, and hobbies.
"PLA may be applied towards academic credit, towards the requirements of a training programme, or for occupational certification."
The University of Technology, Jamaica, defines PLA as an internationally recognised system of assessment specifically designed to give academic credit to adult learners for past learning gained through work and experience.
The university further deems an adult learner to be anyone 25 years and older.
The Council of Community Colleges of Jamaica, another major proponent of this concept and practice, concurs with the definitions and also considers adult learners to be 25 years of age and older, with a minimum of five years applicable working experience.
It is, therefore, very important to note the following:
1. PLA is not about learners saving costs; it is about reducing the duplication of learning.
2. PLA is not about fast-tracking a course of study; it is about recognising what has already been learnt.
3. PLA is not about lowering standards; it is about recognising that standards can be met through other means.
4. PLA is not about creating inequities of achievement levels: unless you expect 100 per cent on your exams, do not expect 100 per cent matching of competencies.
As the country positions itself to become a developed country as outlined in Vision 2030 - A Development Plan for Jamaica, and given Jamaica's need to increase the number of certified persons in the workforce, coupled with the fact of limited resources, it is very important that as we seek to achieve this major objective, instances of duplication of training and experiences are minimised.
Prior learning assessment, therefore, allows learners to gain credit for work done in other formal or non-formal settings. Prior learning assessment seeks to reward learning, not just experience. Although the process will vary for each individual institution, the following must be considered:
1. There is a record of each learner entering the PLA process.
2. The criteria for entry into a course, or the learning outcomes that have to be met if credit is to be awarded against specific modules within a course, are specified and logged.
3. The applicant or student emphasises his learning from either prior certificated or experiential learning rather than simply the experience itself.
4. Assessment of any claim should be documented that records whether the evidence submitted is:
Valid and matches the level of learning required.
Sufficient proof for entry or credit against the specific modules.
Authentic and the work of the learner.
Current, and that the relevant knowledge and skills that the learner is claiming can be demonstrated.
As more institutions of higher learning seek to expand access and ensure training and certification for learners, prior learning assessment is becoming more widely used and accepted.
The Council for Adult and Experiential Learning in the United States conducted a study on the impact of PLA towards degree completion among 48 higher-education institutions and found that:
Of the 62,475 students age 25 or older who entered the 48 institutions in 2001-02, about a quarter, or 15,594, earned some 'prior learning assessment' credit by 2008.
PLA students had much higher degree-earning rates than non-PLA students.
More than half (56 per cent) of PLA students earned a post-secondary degree within seven years, while only 21 per cent of non-PLA students did so.
In terms of the specific degrees earned: 43 per cent of PLA students earned a bachelor's degree, compared to only 15 per cent of non-PLA students; and 13 per cent of PLA students earned an associate degree, compared to six per cent of non-PLA students.
Students who received prior learning credit earned their degrees more quickly than did their peers, saving on average between 2.5 and 10.1 months for bachelor's degrees, and up to 4.5 months for associate degrees, depending on the amount of prior learning credit they had been awarded.
In assessing applicants for prior learning severalmechanisms, including challenge tests, and portfolios, are used. Institutions such as the community colleges in Jamaica require applicants using prior learning assessment to prepare a portfolio, which is a summary of a learner's personal, professional and academic experiences and demonstrates the type and level of learning that warrants being credited.
In order to realise our goal of educating a nation, we need to fully tap into the learning that adults have derived outside the classroom, which could provide a wise and cost-efficient way to speed progress towards achieving our Vision 2030.
Cebert Adamson is executive director of the Council of Community Colleges of Jamaica.