How to bridge the “great divide”: The dilemma for the policy and practice of Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) in South Africa

Publication data:

  • Author(s):
    • Breier, Mignonne
  • Date:
  • Country:
    South Africa
  • Document Type:
    Journal article
  • Keywords:
    South Africa, informal learning, formal education, assessment methods, procedures, prior learning


  • Breier, M. (2001). How to bridge the “great divide”: The dilemma for the policy and practice of  “Recognition of Prior Learning” (RPL) in South Africa. Perspectives in Education19(4).
  • Abstract:  The recognition of prior learning is an important principle of current education policy in South Africa and a number of higher education institutions are introducing policies and procedures to implement it. Most of these provide for RPL for access rather than for credits or qualifications. The concern is with pre-entry testing and preparation but little attention is paid to the recognition of prior learning, in the full senses of these words, post-entry. Yet this is an important consideration if the expectations of access with success, which have been created by policy, are to be realised. The research which informs this article tried to fill that vacuum by focusing on the lectures and examination of a university certificate course in Labour Law which had admitted students with limited formal schooling but with 'experience'. The analytic framework draws on the theories of Bernstein and Bourdieu. Success in the course was found to be associated with an understanding of the classficatory principles governing the recruitment of local experience, the possession of a repertoire of strategies, which included but went far beyond the recruitment of personal experience and knowledge, and a particular orientation towards the general (away from the particular) and towards 'symbolic labour'. It also required language and literacy skills. For some, it involved a shift, if only temporarily, from a collective to an individual identity. This style of participation was largely associated with formal education but also to be found among students with limited schooling who had had exposure to other formal discourses.[Journal Abstract]