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Accreditation Number: ETDP-581-PA-080302F0008

APRIL 2003

This issue continues our series on practical implementation issues and how to make the NQF work for South Africa. See our website for back issues: In this issue… we go back to the beginning. Things have moved quite far from the days when people were arguing about whether NQF means: National Qualifications Forum or No Quick Fix. As we have become more familiar with the structures, concepts and principles of the NQF so we have become more and more elaborate in our attempts to implement the NQF. One casualty of all this growth in our understanding has been an appreciation of the simple power and potential of the NQF.

The story of Alpheus
Let us remind ourselves of the simple principles that underpin the NQF by considering the true story of Alpheus. Alpheus is a man in his late 50s with a formal level of education at standard 2 (grade 4). For his whole working life, he has operated a successful painting business among a stable and growing clientele. Interestingly, Alpheus did not always find it easy to find work – the reason was because people considered him too expensive in relation to the vast number of painters around who offered services at low rates. What is more interesting is that many of the people who rejected his services initially due to costs, now do not think twice about hiring him. Why? Because Alpheus provides a service that is of an exemplary standard. You may well ask how it was that people came to this decision about Alpheus, and developed the confidence in his work that persuades them that he is worth every cent? We all know how people talk, particularly those who are engaged in some form of home improvement. We all have our “war stories”, and delight in relaying to others how poor the service has been in one or other respect. Imagine a scenario in which people are discussing painting they have recently had done… Imagine that the comments run along the lines of: ‘…you should have seen the mess…’ ‘… the furniture was badly damaged and scratched…’ ‘…blotches of paint everywhere…’ ‘…surface was uneven, and cracks showed through…’ ‘…paint flaked off within two weeks…’

‘…ran out of paint halfway through, and couldn’t get a proper match…’ ‘…brush hairs in the painted surface…’ ‘…rubbish lying around…’ Now imagine that into the silence left as people bask in the sympathy such stories engender someone says, “I can’t believe you had those problems. I’ve just had painting done, and everything was fine…” It can be mere minutes before the new focus of attention is sharing the ‘story of Alpheus’, and the only marketing mechanism available to Alpheus – word of mouth – kicks into gear once more. Let us share the story of Alpheus with you, from first hand experience.

The story of Alpheus…
Firstly you would be struck by the fact that he spends almost as much time preparing for the job as he does painting. Alpheus will spend much time engaging with you to make sure that your needs are properly understood, and he will provide advice and recommendations concerning the type, colour and quality of paint for your specific application. You will find that he is able to provide information on the relative advantages of various types and quality of paint, working towards an agreement with you around your expectations. In all his interactions you will find him respectful and courteous, and on reflection you will discover a growing sense of confidence in his ability to deliver. If you were to watch his preparation, you would see that all furniture and fittings are moved out of harms way or protected through adequate covering, in a manner that does not damage property. The surface is scraped to remove loose residue, cracks are filled so that they do not reappear to spoil the surface, and the surface is ensured to be even and ready to receive paint. The paint, paint brushes, rollers, trays, ladders and other equipment will all be on site, ready for use when Alpheus starts the job. An inspection of this equipment will show that it is in good order – you will not find brushes that are hardened or losing fibres. Alpheus will check this is the case and replace defective equipment. Now to the job at hand – the paint will be applied meticulously and at a rate of coverage consistent with the paint manufacturer’s recommendations. Don’t expect Alpheus to rush – he will finish the job at the time agreed to between you, but he will never compromise the quality of application for the sake of speed. Alpheus will clearly work according to a plan such that he is able to allow the paint to dry in certain areas while he works on other areas. If you were to engage him, you would find he understands the essential chemistry of paint and surface coverings, even though he may not use the terminology associated with formal chemistry. When you examine the finished product, you will see that the application is even, there are no drips on the floor, and most impressive of all, the furniture and fittings are restored to their exact positions such that you would not know he had even worked there. There is no sign of his tools and equipment after completion, and all residue and waste has vanished. If you look in the boot of his car, you will see all his tools and equipment are clean and ready for the next job. Before rushing for payment, Alpheus will engage with you to ensure customer satisfaction, and will attend to any matters that require attention – although further attention is seldom required. It is no wonder that Alpheus’ clients come back to him time and time again.

Statements of competence…
It should not be hard to see that the above paragraphs are simply a description of competence. (We could easily turn the above description into a unit standard which might look like this…). Unit standard title: specific outcome 1: Establish client requirements.. assessment criteria: Prepare and paint surfaces in a small to medium sized dwelling

1.1. 1.2.


1.4. 1.5.

The client’s needs are investigated and expectation are clearly stated to check that there is shared understanding. Opportunity is provided for questions of clarification. Advice and recommendations concerning the type, colour and quality of paint are appropriate to the nature of the job and possible constraints. Range: constraints include: environmental, financial, product availability Information on the relative advantages of various types and quality of paint, is accurate, understandable, and facilitates client decision making. Information is presented objectively and without attempt to unduly influence decision making in line with personal choices or preferences. The final decision is verified as being consistent with stated expectations. Interactions are professional and courteous and promote client confidence and trust, in line with best customer service practice.

specific outcome 2: Prepare for painting. assessment criteria: 2.1. All furniture and fittings are moved out of the work area or protected by covering appropriate to the furniture and potential damage. Protective covering is fitted in a manner that does not damage property. 2.2. The surface is scraped to remove loose residue, cracks are filled so that they do not reappear to spoil the surface, and the surface is ensured to be even and ready to receive paint. 2.3. The paint, paint brushes, rollers, trays, ladders and other equipment are on site, and fit for purpose by the agreed starting time. 2.4. Equipment is inspected to verify that it is in good order, and defective equipment is replaced. Range: defective equipment includes: brushes that are hardened or losing fibres 2.5. …and so on. Other specific outcomes might include: • • “Apply paint to a variety of surfaces” and • • “Clean and restore the site to normal conditions”… In addition, we might include information about the complexity of the learning (Level) and the amount of time such learning might take (Credit value). Additional information would locate the unit standard in a Field of Learning, and also provide information on the standard’s status (registration and review dates). Information about the qualification’s Purpose, Range, and Learning Assumed to be in Place will also be provided. [The completed unit standard, generated for this story, can be found on our website. We have attached it for illustrative purposes]. Imagine if we could define competence in performance terms such as we have done above. It is clear that the starting point of education, training and development should be the analysis, definition and agreement of the standards of performance we require. Hence the need for standards generating bodies, (SGBs), consultation networks, registration mechanisms and structures (NSBs and SAQA), and access to the standards via the NQF. [It is important that these people do their work well, and that the resulting unit standards are high quality statements of outcomes to be achieved, with clear statements with respect to the quality of that achievement. In our impatience we have neglected this step, to the cost of the entire system!].

Using the standard…
What you should notice immediately is that the definition of competence does not say anything about how, where or when Alpheus should learn to perform to standard. Although the learning process is always critical both in terms of enabling learning to happen and

attitudes to learning in general, we need not say anything about how it should happen when defining the desired end result. Rather, we can accommodate a variety of learning interventions, including formal and informal, guided and self-learning. Of course, where providers claim to provide a service to learners, we need to have confidence in their ability to deliver quality learning, hence the need for accreditation and engagement with ETQAs. When it comes to formal recognition (via certification, national records), it should be immediately obvious that Alpheus fully deserves formal recognition. It should not be very difficult for a registered assessor to obtain evidence that Alpheus is competent. The evidence could come by way of observation, client records and engagement with Alpheus, and this evidence can be judged against the registered standard in terms of its validity, sufficiency, currency and authenticity. Clearly, it would be unfair to expect Alpheus to write extensive answers to questions about painting – the evidence of his competence is not dependent on his ability to write. Thus Alpheus may get recognition for prior learning (RPL), but in doing so, his recognition is of equal status to those candidates who received formal recognition after having graduated with the same unit standards from the Painting Academy. Although the story of Alpheus illustrates the NQF in very practical terms and in the context of one industry, the applications are equally valid across all areas of learning and levels of complexity. Naturally the manner of analysing and defining the standards, the manner of teaching and learning, and the manner of assessment will differ, yet the principles are essentially the same.

A lesson that may be lost in this simple story is the central role played by the unit standard, and the consequent importance of unit standards at the heart of the system. The close relationship between the performance and its description should have been clearly illustrated in the story. Also, the statements of the expected quality of the performance have been clearly spelled out in the criteria. Regrettably, not all standards (even Registered Standards) offer the same clarity and therefore usefulness. Our challenge is to: analyse requirements carefully ensure the quality of standards proposed for registration (do they have clear criteria that will allow us to differentiate between those who are competent and those not yet competent) provide detailed and critical feedback when we use registered standards that are not useful or fit for purpose evaluate standards-based systems to ensure that we are seeing the transformative potential of the NQF realised. The Learning Network offers comprehensive advice, training and support in practical issues of NQF and skills development implementation, including standards generation and qualifications design. If you wish to engage the services of senior TLN consultants to address your assessment needs from a strategic management and design point of view, please contact Brian Wood at or Erik Hallendorff at

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“No problem is too big to run away from”. Al Ries and Jack Trout.
A wry comment on what seems all too often to be happening in the implementation of the NQF. We hear so often: “…we can sort that out later; let’s just get the thing registered…” and we are now living with the consequences. We may soon have a quality system devoid of quality and the prophets of doom assuring us that they had “told you it would not work”. It doesn’t have to be so! Good luck, and best wishes

Erik Hallendorff, Brian Wood and the TLN Team

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