Quality education for assessors


By Marietta van Rooyen

Prof. Merlyn Mehl raised some concerns about the quality of training at the APPETD Conference in June this year. He used the example of the assessor unit standard, with 15 credits (not 25, as Prof Mehl states), which can be learned in a five day workshop. We will presently address this example in more detail.

One could also quote the example of bad schooling that takes place in some of our government schools and high drop-out rates at our universities. Who is supposed to take the responsibility for the quality of education and training in South Africa? When the NQF systems and structures were designed, the responsibility lines were clearly drawn. So what is going wrong?

Prof. Mehl is right in saying: "We have the best human resources strategy in the world, but we are forsaking that vision. It is not the responsibility of the Ministers to make this work ; it is all of our responsibility. We have a democratic right, and responsibility, to make sure it does work."

Twelve Years of the NQF

Twelve years after publishing the SAQA Act, the first in a series of legislative measures to structure the new South Africa's education and training environment, we need to take a good hard look at what was achieved. Now the Department of Labour seems intent on changing the structural landscape of the NQF to include yet another quality assurance body, called the QCTO (Quality Council for Trades and Occupations). But will it be able to tackle the inherent problems we are battling with?

The Issue of Assessor Training

ETQAs do not seem to take up their responsibilities. When they were made the custodians of certain qualifications by SAQA, they were supposed to start being the watchdogs for the quality delivery of training against these qualifications and standards. Let us examine Prof. Mehl's example of the assessor training.

Obviously there is a case to be made for taking more time to train people to be assessors, and most providers would like to do that. The pressure from clients is however overwhelming towards less time out of the workplace, cheaper and faster. By putting a minimum time onto the training delivered the ETQAs could stop this race for time and money in its tracks.

We were owed half a million Rand for more than a year before an out of court agreement was negotiated with ITE, and we were paid only half of the money owed. Adding insult to injury, ITE is now refusing to pay the VAT owed on the amount paid. Small providers have little or no recourse against this kind of treatment, so beware who you do business with!

Notional Hours and Credits

In the Sunday newspapers every week, we can find advertisements from providers who offer to train learners in up to seven unit standards in three days. One provider offers training in assessment, moderation and assessment design in three days and promises that no portfolio needs to be handed in!

The concepts of 'notional hours' and 'credits' are very flexible and difficult to get a grip on. One must bear in mind what the word notional means. My trusty Websters tells me notional means theoretical or speculative. It goes on to say it presents an idea of a thing, action or quality. Furthermore, the regulations tell us that one credit represents ten notional hours.

I was there when this was decided on, and what was said is that the notional period of time points to the learning required by an average learner to understand and absorb the knowledge and to learn the skills involved, as indicated by experienced trainers/educators in that field.

The idea is definitely not to sit in a classroom for the recommended period of time, but to be engaged in learning, whether preparing for the programme (including homework), being in the classroom, doing practical work, putting together a portfolio or being assessed.

Prof. Mehl is right, but who should take the responsibility to decide about the time spent learning? I should think the providers must be able to prove that they do expose the learners to learning for the approximate notional hours. It seems clear from our regulations that the ETQA responsible must be able to take a judgement call on this and make a decision. But are they able to do this if they are not subject matter experts? Perhaps they should make use of experts as they do in accreditation in any case, to get some agreement on what is reasonable and what is not. SAQA must do something about the ETQAs inefficiency. Why are these things not happening?


The quality issue is a complex matter that needs high level staff to deal with it. They need to come from the relevant environment to be able to make decisions based on their experience. With budgets to ETQAs being minimal and more and more HR cuts being made, it is no wonder that things are going wrong in ETQAs.