A case for the preservation of short courses

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Are short courses an asset to the skills development landscape or do they detract from the learning process? Des Squire looks at the value short course and skills programmes bring to the education platform.


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There has been a great deal of discussion recently related to the role of short courses and whether or not there is room for short courses in terms of the NQF and the QCTO.
When I consider this question my personal opinion is that there can never be any form of education and or training which does not consist of short courses of some description.
A curriculum for instance refers to a defined and prescribed course of studies, which students must fulfill in order to pass a certain level of education. For example, an elementary school might discuss how its curriculum, or its entire sum of lessons and teachings, Modules or short courses is designed to help students learn the basics. Where adult education and training or workplace based education and training is concerned a curriculum can be defined as the courses required in order to receive a diploma, national certificate or some form of workplace based qualification.

A curriculum therefore is made up of individual courses, groups of courses, or a combination of short courses that must be completed in order to gain recognition for achievement of a specific qualification.
In terms of the NQF some of these courses may be achieved by means of a combination of Recognition of Prior Learning together with attendance at formal training and formal classroom based or workplace based assessment.
In a recent discussion that took place on the Skills Universe (www.skillsuniverse.com) there was much debate on the issue of where do short courses fit into the QCTO. This is not just a case of where they fit into the thinking of the QCTO but also where they fit into the NQF and the current thinking of the Department of Higher Education.
Coming out of the discussion that took place were various points of view which I believe confirm that there is no way short courses per sey can ever be disbanded or done away with. There is a place for them and there will always be a place for them.
Whether we want to admit it or not there a certain short courses that are essential and cannot be done away with. These are courses required in order for companies to comply with legal requirements such as
EE, Skills Development and other workplace forum member training
Health and safety reps training
Firefighting training and so on
Current employees at companies already possess certain skills and abilities and need to upgrade such skills. For instance computer skills, Telephone skills, Customer service skills, sales skills and so on. In many instances such short courses or skills programmes will be over and above current qualifications and are merely an add-on in order to hone existing skills. They are seen to be essential in terms of upgrading qualifications and are normally certificated courses.
Other such skills involve assertiveness training, change management and transformation and communication skills.
The new NQF Bill provides for a fully integrated and needs driven occupational learning system (curriculum) that will meet the needs of industry. To achieve this, extensive use will be made of an "Organising Framework for Occupations' (OFO).
The OFO will set the base for linking various occupations to specific skills and further or future training needs. The QCTO will use to OFO as the basis for developing occupational qualifications to meet the needs of specific industries. This of necessity will be a curriculum based format and as such will necessitate the use of a variety of modules, individual course or combination of courses or old format unit standards.
The OFO is a skills-based coded classification system, which encompasses all occupations in the South African context. The classification of occupations is based on a combination of skills levels and skills specialisation which makes it easy to locate a specific occupation within the framework. It is important to note that a job and occupation are not the same.
Job is seen as a set of roles and tasks designed to be performed by one individual for an employer (including self-employment) in return for payment or profit.

Occupation is seen as a set of jobs or specialisations whose main tasks are characterised by such a high degree of similarity that they can be grouped together for the purposes of the classification.
Identified occupations are classified according to two main criteria: skills level and skill specialisation, where skill is used in the context of competency rather than a description of tasks or functions.
The skill level of an occupation is related to competent performance of tasks associated with an occupation. Skill level is an attribute of an occupation, not of individuals in the labour force and can operationally be measured by
The level or amount of formal education and/or training
The amount of previous experience in a related occupation
The amount of on-the job training usually required to perform the set of tasks required for that occupation competently.
It is therefore possible to make a comparison between the skill level of an occupation and the normally required educational level on the National Qualification Framework.
Once again if RPL is successfully implemented then shortfalls in education or skills levels will be identified and will again make the use of short courses an essential.
Academic qualifications do not of necessity help people to grow and acquire skills in a specific occupation. It is the acquired skill level or skill specialisation as mentioned earlier that make the difference. Skills training or short courses are therefore essential.
Short courses are essential and should be seen to be "a type of ongoing development similar to the Continuous Professional Development required by many of the professions'.
Another area where short courses are essential is in the training of Subject Matter Experts such as Assessors, Moderators and Facilitators to ensure good educational practice in workplace training programmes.
It cannot, under any circumstances be expected that everybody contributing to training must have a formal educational qualification or that only professionally qualified educators can train specialised skills referred to earlier.
Short courses may well be sufficient to equip workplace based subject matter experts with understanding to ensure that the learning is effective and the measuring of performance is done against the set outcomes.

The QCTO qualifications will incorporate and always include a work experience component to ensure learners are competent to do something related to a specific occupation or "job task'.
The QCTO qualifications will also link to other qualifications obtained at school, colleges or universities. Such qualification may qualify for exemption for certain of the learning components as contained in a specific work related qualification. Once again this will necessitate the use of short courses or skills programmes.

Qualifications in the QCTO model will contain three distinct components
General and specialised knowledge
Practical skills
Work experience
In addition qualifications will contain a curriculum to guide implementation and learning together with assessment specifications to guide the external assessment process.
There will be two specific qualifications
1. National Occupation Award - certifies competence to practice an occupation
2. National Skills Certificate - certifies specific and relevant occupational skills

An occupational award may be constructed making use of a variety of skills sets, short courses or skills programmes and an external assessment will be required for the final award.
Apart from all of the above we are faced with the aspect of RPL mentioned earlier. If a candidate is RPL'd against certain components (call them unit standards or whatever) of a qualification and a shortfall is determined then there will be a need for any amount of short courses as this scenario will apply to all qualifications.
In addition we have exit level outcomes associated with so many of our qualifications that automatically necessitate short courses.

Take for instance the NQF level 6 ODETD National Certificate there are 6 exit level outcomes as follows
1. Analyse needs and plan and design learning
2. Facilitate learning in routine and complex situations
3. Engage in and promote assessment practices
4. Facilitate and manage skills development in an organisation
5. Define and evaluate standards
6. Evaluate Human Resource Development interventions

I would suggest therefore that short courses and/or skills programmes cannot be done away with.
Des Squire is the Managing Member of AMSI and ASSOCIATES cc. For more information contact 011 609 6745 or email [email protected]


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