An investigation into recognition of prior learning within the National Certificate: Emergency Care Programme in the Western Cape
Purpose Emergency care education and training in South Africa is experiencing an important transformation period, involving migration from short course based training to a newly proposed, formalised, three-tier qualification system, aligned with the Higher Education Sub-framework. Many existing and experienced holders of short course emergency care certificates face the challenge of gaining access to formal emergency care programmes without meeting the minimum entry requirements. Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) will therefore become one of the key strategies for planned migration of short course graduates into professional learning programmes. However, the research reports on RPL practice in the field of emergency care are scarce. Hence, valuable lessons about RPL in emergency care programmes are missed. The purpose of this study is to explore the efficacy of RPL practice within the National Certificate: Emergency Care (NCEC) Programme in the Western Cape, through the experience of ambulance emergency assistants, who applied for RPL on the Programme and the paramedic educators involved in the facilitation and RPL assessment on the NCEC Programme. Methodology The design of this descriptive exploratory study was qualitative, and was set in the interpretative paradigm using a case study mode of inquiry. The qualitative data was collected through semi-structured focus groups, individual interviews, and document analysis. The participants were from Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT), Department of Emergency Medical Sciences, and the Western Cape Government College of Emergency Care (WCCEC). Collected data was interpreted by means of thematic analysis, set against the context of the study objectives and the theoretical framework. Finding The study revealed three main themes related to RPL efficacy in the NCEC Programme. These included the need for RPL training for educators involved in RPL, lack of support and guidance for RPL assessors and participants, and the need for careful selection of RPL assessment methods. The document analysis highlighted the gap between a comprehensive and sound RPL policy document and the practical implementation of these policies. Conclusion and Recommendations The emergency care field requires greater awareness and information on RPL processes, principles, assessments, and requirements. The higher education institutions, as the sole providers of the newly proposed formal emergency care programmes need to consider building capacity for RPL by means of training and dedicating academic staff to RPL, and developing comprehensive RPL policies, in collaboration with relevant stakeholders in the field. RPL assessment methods need to be more diverse and tailored to the individual RPL claimants. Further research on RPL will ensure a fair, social inclusive and redressing process during the planned migration of emergency care education and training.