Making Occupational Training Quality Assurance Work

The landscape of occupational training quality assurance has undergone significant transformation since the National Qualifications Framework launch.

Occupational Training Quality Assurance in South Africa: What Works?

Occupational Training Quality Assurance Support

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This post is part of a series unpacking relevant research for skills development providers.

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occupational training quality assurance

A Critical Analysis of Quality Assurance of Occupational Learning in South Africa (Nadia Traut: 2014)

The study critically analyzes the quality assurance (QA) system for occupational learning in South Africa, particularly in the context of the National Qualifications Framework (NQF). Traut examines the effectiveness of QA systems and proposes a framework for their evaluation.

Traut’s study provides valuable insights into the challenges and complexities of QA in occupational education.

It offers a practical tool for evaluating QA systems and contributes to policy debates on improving the effectiveness of QA in South Africa.

Demystifying Occupational Training Quality Assurance

The landscape of occupational training in South Africa has undergone significant transformation since the introduction of the National Qualifications Framework (NQF) in 1994.

The NQF brought about decentralized learning and assessment practices, along with associated quality assurance systems, aimed at enhancing the quality and accessibility of occupational education.

However, these systems have faced extensive criticism over the past two decades, inspiring a critical analysis of their effectiveness.

The NQF and Occupational Training Quality Assurance: A Complex Relationship

The NQF was designed to create a unified framework for:

  • recognizing learning achievements,
  • facilitate career progression,
  • and address historical inequalities in education and employment opportunities.

Quality assurance bodies, known as Education and Training Quality Assurance bodies (ETQAs), were established to ensure that assessment and provision of occupational learning aligned with the NQF’s objectives.

However, the decentralized assessment model implemented by ETQAs has had many challenges.

Critics argue that the system is overly bureaucratic, with multiple layers of audits and costly compliance exercises that divert resources from actual quality improvement efforts.

Additionally, the reliance on learning outcomes as the sole measure of quality has been questioned.

As it may not capture the full complexity of occupational competence.

Why is quality assurance important in occupational education?

Quality assurance is crucial for accountability and ensuring consistent educational output across different providers.

It safeguards public funds and protects learners from substandard education.

Occupational training quality assurance should ideally aim for a balance between accountability to external stakeholders and fostering a culture of self-improvement within educational institutions.

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The Emergence of the QCTO and External Assessment

In response to the criticisms of the decentralized model, the Quality Council for Trades and Occupations (QCTO) was established in 2010.

The QCTO introduced a new approach to quality assurance, emphasizing standardized curriculum development and external assessment of occupational competence.

This shift aimed to address issues such as the lack of work experience in learning programs, inconsistencies in assessment, and the perceived low credibility of occupational certificates.

The Quality Council for Trades and Occupations (QCTO) is responsible for overseeing QA in occupational education.

It can delegate functions to Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs), but the overall responsibility lies with the QCTO.

Key Findings and Recommendations From the Study

The research study examining quality assurance in occupational training in South Africa revealed several key findings:

  • While quality assurance is essential for accountability and consistency, the lack of clear definitions of quality hinders effective evaluation.
  • Quality assurance should focus on ensuring consistency of education and training outputs through standardized curricula, centralized assessment, and robust quality assurance mechanisms.
  • The effectiveness of ocupational training quality assurance systems depends on the articulation of clear objectives and shared definitions of quality.

The study also proposed a Quality Assurance Analytic Tool to evaluate the effectiveness of quality assurance systems.

The tool evaluates QA systems based on categories like purpose, qualification mapping, bureaucracy, and agreements.

It assesses whether QA objectives are clear, qualifications are formally developed, structures are in place, and agreements support learning and QA exchange.

This tool, while effective in assessing broad categories such as purpose, qualifications mapping, bureaucracy, and agreements, requires further refinement to enable a more detailed evaluation of quality assurance achievements.

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The Quality Assurance Analytic Tool

The Quality Assurance Analytic Tool, developed for the study, is a framework designed to evaluate the effectiveness of quality assurance systems.

It contains four analytic categories:

1. Purpose of Occupational Training Quality Assurance

This category examines the fundamental reasons behind quality assurance.

It seeks to determine whether the rationale for quality assurance is explicitly stated, understood, and readily available.

Additionally, it assesses whether the quality assurance practices align with the principles of the National Qualifications Framework (NQF), particularly regarding the consistency of educational output.

The tool also investigates if there’s a clear definition of quality that can be used as a benchmark for evaluation.

Finally, it considers whether the quality assurance system is driven by internal motivations for self-improvement or external pressures for accountability.

2. Map of Qualifications: 

This category focuses on the qualifications framework itself. It checks if the qualifications are formally developed, registered, and organized within the NQF.

A well-defined map of qualifications is essential for ensuring transparency, enabling comparisons, and facilitating learner mobility within the educational system.

A map of qualifications for occupational training quality assurance provides a clear framework for evaluating the consistency and comparability of educational output.

3. Bureaucracy: 

This category delves into the structures and processes responsible for quality assurance.

It examines whether formal mechanisms are in place to assure the quality of learning and assessment.

This includes evaluating the capacity and expertise of the individuals involved in quality assurance processes, as well as the efficiency and effectiveness of the bureaucratic procedures.

4. Agreements: 

This category explores the relationships and agreements between various stakeholders involved in education and training.

It assesses whether these agreements support the exchange between learning providers and quality assurance bodies, fostering collaboration and trust.

The success of occupational training quality assurance hinges on strong agreements and trust-based relationships between learning providers, quality assurance bodies, and other relevant stakeholders.

Therefore a strong network of agreements is crucial for the successful implementation of quality assurance policies and practices.

What are some specific challenges faced by occupational training quality assurance in South Africa?

The effectiveness of occupational training quality assurance is influenced by various factors, including the clarity of its objectives, the robustness of the qualifications framework, and the efficiency of the bureaucratic structures in place.

Occupational training quality assurance in South Africa faces several specific challenges, including:

1. Lack of a clear definition of quality: 

The absence of a shared understanding of what constitutes quality in occupational learning makes it difficult to evaluate the effectiveness of quality assurance systems.

2. Overly bureaucratic and complex systems: 

The quality assurance processes can be seen as overly bureaucratic, with costly compliance exercises that may divert resources from actual quality improvement efforts.

Occupational training quality assurance should not only focus on compliance with bureaucratic procedures but also actively engage with the quality of learning and teaching.

The training quality assurance mechanisms should be adaptable to the size and complexity of the organization or system, ensuring that they remain effective and manageable.

3. Misalignment between the concept of quality and the operation of quality assurance processes: 

The focus of quality assurance is often on compliance with administrative procedures rather than on the actual quality of learning and teaching.

4. Limited capacity for implementation: 

There may be a lack of capacity within the bureaucracies and educational institutions to fully implement the ambitious goals of the NQF and its quality assurance systems.

5. Difficulty in measuring the impact of quality assurance: 

It can be challenging to isolate the specific impact of quality assurance on the quality of occupational learning due to the influence of various external factors.

The study highlights the lack of a clear and shared definition of “quality” as a significant barrier to effective evaluation.

Effective occupational training quality assurance requires a shared understanding of “quality” among all stakeholders, enabling meaningful evaluation and improvement of educational provision.

Additionally, the decentralized nature of learning and assessment practices adds complexity to the QA process.

The Occupational Training Quality Assurance Journey

The journey toward effective occupational learning quality assurance in South Africa is ongoing, so you must be fit and flexible!

While the NQF and its associated structures have made strides in addressing historical inequalities and promoting access to education, challenges remain in terms of bureaucratic complexity and the need for clear quality definitions.

The shift towards standardized curricula and external assessment under the QCTO represents a potential avenue for improvement, but continued research and refinement of evaluation tools are crucial for ensuring the long-term success of occupational learning quality assurance in the country.

The specific questions to ask when evaluating Occupational Training Quality Assurance systems

The following specific questions should be asked when evaluating Quality Assurance systems:

  • Is the purpose for quality assurance clear?
  • Are qualifications formally developed and registered?
  • Are formal structures in place to assure learning and assessment?
  • Do agreements support the exchange between learning and quality assurance?

Key findings from case studies

The case studies reveal that QA is often seen as a means of ensuring accountability rather than directly improving educational quality.

The function of QA is frequently delegated, leading to a complex network of responsible parties.

The size of the organization or system also affects the effectiveness of QA processes.

The case studies on Quality Assurance systems key findings:

  • The objective of quality assurance is perceived as ensuring accountability to stakeholders and upholding the NQF’s objectives, particularly regarding the consistency of educational output.
  • The function of quality assurance is frequently delegated, leading to a complex network of responsible parties.
  • There’s a recognized need to promote consistency in education and training, often achieved through standardized curriculum, centralized assessment, and associated quality assurance mechanisms.
  • The size of the organization or system plays a significant role in the effectiveness and management of quality assurance processes.

Based on Traut, what should the primary focus of occupational training quality assurance be?

Occupational training quality assurance should primarily focus on ensuring the consistency of educational output.

This means that learners should receive a comparable quality of education and training regardless of the specific provider.

The study argues that standardized curriculum, centralized assessment, and associated quality assurance mechanisms are key to achieving this consistency.

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Occupational Training Quality Assurance Must Have a Positive Impact

The impact of occupational training quality assurance on learner outcomes and social transformation remains a complex and contested issue, requiring further research and analysis.

Occupational training quality assurance plays a vital role in ensuring the credibility and recognition of qualifications, both nationally and internationally.

Finally, the evolving landscape of occupational training quality assurance necessitates continuous reflection and adaptation to meet the changing needs of the labour market and society.

Thanks for reading! 🙂

leoniehall
leoniehall

Combining education, economics and creativity to achieve innovative and competitive solutions for private, public and personal development spaces.

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