Within the education sector in South Africa, there are a number of skills and training providers operating in Further Education and Training (FET) and Higher Education and Training (HET). FET providers have not been intensively researched, either qualitatively or quantitatively because state policy has prioritised public provision. Higher and experiential education also receives little attention at a national level.
Separate from private providers and serving as a primary focus of the research is a training institution listed as a national department in Schedule 1 of the Republic of South Africa Constitution. The launch of the National School of Government (NSG) on 21 October 2013 was a big step in taking public service learning and development on a route that seeks to position the NSG as a centre from which public sector training is coordinated and curriculum and training standards are directed. The NSG is the centre for education, training and development opportunities.
2. RESEARCH CONTEXT: BACKGROUND
Training and development is regarded as an important instrument by an organisation, to facilitate the learning of job-related behaviour for its employees. The term behaviour is used in the broad sense to include any knowledge and skills acquired. Training and development is focusing on identifying, assuring and developing individuals’ key competencies, through planned learning that will assist them to perform their current and future jobs. Sultana et al. (2012) point out that “employees are a crucial but expensive resource.” Therefore, it is necessary that the skills and knowledge of employees are maximised in order to achieve the aims and the goals of the organisation and to sustain economic growth and effective performance.
Higher and experiential education is becoming a major driver of economic competitiveness in an increasingly knowledge-driven economy. As higher education systems grow, society is increasingly concerned about the quality of learning programmes. Much attention is given to public assessments and international rankings of higher education institutions. However, these comparisons tend to overemphasise research. If these processes fail to address the quality of occupationally based learning materials, it is in part because measuring learning programme quality is challenging.
Institutions may implement evaluation mechanisms in order to identify and promote good quality occupationally based learning materials. The environment of higher education institutions can enhance the quality of learning materials through various means. For example, a national policy ran by the public authorities or recommendations issued by quality assurance agencies are likely to benefit training providers to phase in a culture of quality assuring learning materials prior to the delivery to students. Quality Assurance is one of the most significant principles of the National Qualifications Framework (NQF). Every standard, qualification, training and assessment registered on the NQF is subject to a quality assurance process.
3. THE RESEARCH PROBLEM
The research falls into the topic area of education management; more specifically, quality assurance management in the context of the National School of Government’s occupationally based learning materials. In this instance, the research investigates the NSG’s experience of quality assurance, in order to provide a greater level of understanding of the issues that the department face and the benefits that the department experience in this regard.
The problem is that the NSG’s occupationally based learning materials are not designed to be dynamic and developmental; they do not ensure that public servants are able to access relevant knowledge and develop critical, reflective, analytical and problem-solving skills that will enable them to be responsive to the needs and demands that confront the public sector. The NSG’s research and knowledge management support services do not ensure that public servants are able to add to the on-going progress of policy-relevant knowledge through their own learning and development process.
4. AIM OF THE STUDY
The aim of the study is to examine the current approaches to quality assurance of the NSG’s occupationally based learning materials. Through a close examination of these approaches, the study seeks to explore the impact of the current quality assurance system of the NSG.
5. RESEARCH OBJECTIVES
The specific objectives of the study are as follows:
• To establish how principles and procedures are used for quality assurance of learning materials.
• To explore the challenges that the NSG encounter with regard to successful accreditation of learning programmes by External Training Quality Assurers (ETQAs).
• To make recommendations that will ensure efficiently quality assured learning materials.
6. RESEARCH QUESTIONS
The study seeks to respond to the following questions:
• How are principles and procedures used for quality assurance of learning materials?
• What are the quality assurance and accreditation challenges that NSG experience regarding successful accreditation of learning programmes by external ETQAs?
• What recommendations can be offered to ensure efficiently quality assured learning materials?
7. SIGNIFICANCE OF THE STUDY
The researcher seeks to analyse and evaluate the NSG’s quality assurance of occupationally based learning materials, identify challenges thereof and to provide appropriate interventions. The study is of importance considering the fact that the NSG plays a key role in capacity building, skills development and education and training of public sector officials. The research is targeting all the employees within the NSG, ETQAs and the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA). The researcher will be collecting information from the Quality Assurance and Accreditation managers as well as the employees operating in the Training Management Branch within the NSG.
8. LITERATURE REVIEW
This section presents the literature review for this study.
Cresswell (2014:27) states that the literature review is conducted in order to accomplish several purposes, which amongst other things is to assist the reader to have a picture of the other studies that are closely related to the study being undertaken. It also provides a framework for determining the importance of the study.
The literature will be reviewed in order to obtain the relevant data. Books, reports, legislation, articles and internet sources will be consulted in order to obtain relevant data for the research. Literature will be studied for purposes of; obtaining a standpoint on the most recent research findings related to the quality assurance of occupationally based leaning materials, obtaining an indication of the best methods and instruments for measurement and improving interpretation of one’s own research results.
8.2 QUALITY ASSURANCE SPIRAL
National policies and frameworks
Quality assurance bodies (HEQC, UMALUSI, QCTO)
Education Training Quality Assurers (ETQAs)
Training Provider: The National School of Government
The categorised difference between the top and bottom levels is to illustrate a questionable connection between them. The burden of quality assurance bears down upon the lower level institutions, which, at the end of the quality assurance process, are expected to produce skilled and knowledgeable students who can competently perform in the workplace.
There is a limited understanding of the NSG, who they are, how they operate and the outcomes of the training or skills programmes they provide. This raises a question, supported by Haakstad (2010:2), who asks: “with reference to external quality assurance, how distant can quality assurance be from the actual objects of assessment (namely the students) and still make valid observations and judgements?”
An intensive literature analysis will be conducted to gain clarity on the definitions of ETD concepts; the comparison and benchmarking of national and international legislation; and the identification of previous and existing management systems effective in improving workplace skills development. In accordance to SAQA, a training provider is defined as: “a body that delivers learning programmes and study materials that culminate in specified NQF standards or qualifications and manages the assessment thereof” (SAQA 2000:28).
8.3 SYSTEMS APPROACH TO QUALITY ASSURANCE
A national framework for quality assurance should support key elements as; an integrated systems approach to quality assurance, a system of standard setting, portability of credits from one learning institution to the next, policies and procedures, credit accumulation, skills needs, coherence and quality criteria.
“Best practice organisations are managed through a network of interdependent and linked systems, processes and truths. Any quality assuror, be it internal or external to a training institution, must have a quality management system that includes policies, procedures and review mechanisms to ensure that the necessary degree of excellence in training is achieved” (Stockmann 2016:33).
A quality management system mostly consists of an organisational structure, processes, procedures and resources that are needed to practice good quality assurance. Quality assurance should be approached as an open system, with both national bodies and training providers accepting responsibility for quality assurance. In addition, the objectives of the quality assurance system should underpin the notion of quality training (Nel 2007:138).
It is incumbent that the quality assurance system supports a comprehensive quality cycle which includes standard setting as an important element of quality assurance. Every standard and qualification before being registered should be measured against the principles enunciated in the objectives of the system, to ensure that it meets the criteria for an integrated framework that supports life-long learning (Nel, 2007:137).
8.4 STUDENT PROFILES
“Student profiling involves an audit of students’ proficiency levels, content knowledge, academic skills and prior learning experiences so that lecturers and facilitators have a good understanding of learners’ needs. This would directly influence a provider’s choice of teaching methods, media technology, course materials and assessment techniques” (Mashiyi, 2010: 9). The regulatory provisions require providers to develop and report on their learner profiles as follows: Demographic factors, language profiles, motivation for learning, educational background/learning experience, qualifications, understanding on the mode of study, learning skills and styles, special needs, resource factors and success rates of past/ present learners (SAQA 2001: 27).
8.5 UNDERSTANDING CURRICULUM
SAQA (2000: 6) describes curriculum as the process of learning that is linked to achieving the values and beliefs of an ideal society. A curriculum is more than just syllabus documentation. It refers to everything involved in teaching and learning such as; the aims and objectives of an educational system and the specific goals of a learning institution, the content of what is taught (values, content, subjects, programmes, syllabus and what skills and processes are included), the methodologies of teaching and learning and how the curriculum is supported and resourced (scheduling, materials, student counselling).
“A curriculum is considered the heart of any learning institution which means that schools or universities cannot exist without a curriculum. With its importance in formal education, curriculum has become an active process due to the changes that occur in the society. Therefore, in its broadest sense, curriculum refers to the total learning experiences of individuals not only in school but society as well” (Bilbao et al., 2008).
The problem is that many of the qualifications registered on the NQF are “legacy qualifications” Umalusi (2013) which were developed by providers themselves prior to the registration of relevant unit standards or qualifications in order to meet the needs of their particular market. This is complicated by the fact that providers can have their learning programmes registered against a generic qualification that has been designed by a Standards Generating Body (SGB) or Consultative Panel. However, each of these learning programmes are adapted to some extent by the provider in terms of curriculum materials, assessment and the amount of student support that is provided.