CCL Home > Newsroom > Articles
Achieving our Potential: An Action Plan for PLAR in Canada was commissioned to launch a dialogue on how to enhance the power of PLAR in Canada. The PLA Centre will continue to foster the conversation across Canada over the coming months. I hope you will join in.
Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition (PLAR) has been described as the key to unleashing the “hidden iceberg” of knowledge and skills in a society.
On October 21, CCL released the most comprehensive study of PLAR undertaken in Canada. Produced by the PLA Centre in Halifax, Achieving our Potential: An Action Plan for PLAR in Canada, promises to be a major resource for educators, learners, employers, and policy makers.
Perhaps most importantly for me, the report identifies and describes the power of PLAR to transform the lives of individuals. PLAR enables us to view learning through an authentic and intensely human lens. A robust PLAR process changes the way individuals see themselves and the world around them. PLAR illuminates many alternative pathways that allow people to overcome barriers that may have prevented them in the past from full participation in our society and our economy.
Canada, like many other countries, has established and developed extensive and comprehensive systems of formal education and training to foster and enhance the skills and knowledge of its citizens. However, one of the side effects of placing a high value on the successes of formal education is that skills and knowledge acquired outside of those structures have lost their value in the eyes of educational institutions and employers. Too often we think of learning almost exclusively in terms of “schooling” of one sort or another.
This is a limiting attitude in a number of ways. Before there was widespread access to schools, most people learned informally through example, trial-and-error, mentoring, contact with elders and peers, and so on. We continue to gain valuable knowledge in this manner—in addition to whatever levels of formal education and training we may attain.
A narrowly defined “schooling only” response to the skills and learning challenges with which this report deals is an insufficient response to Canada’s current demographic, economic and social circumstances.
The challenge is to find ways to make visible these “below-the-surface” skills and learning we all have and to enable people to use those resources to achieve further education, training and employment opportunities.
Over the past three decades PLAR practitioners across Canada in various institutional and community settings have addressed these challenges. They have repeatedly demonstrated that PLAR can serve as a bridge across the gap that many individuals face in achieving full participation in our economic, social and civic life. PLAR contributes, in practical, effective and efficient terms, to realizing CCL’s commitment to the development of a learning culture that goes beyond formal education to encompass all forms of structured and unstructured learning—in the workplace, the community and the home.
This was particularly evident during the 1990s in Nelson Mandela’s South Africa where PLAR was chosen as the means of responding to the immense social challenge of opening opportunities for black South Africans in the post-apartheid period. At the time, PLAR techniques were beginning to be applied as a means of putting value on broader conceptions of what counts as learning. It has since become an important means of helping those who, through systemic discrimination, had been profoundly on the “outside”—marginalized, excluded or dislocated. Individuals from these groups can cross the barrier that separates them from opportunities for full participation in employment and career advancement, further education and training, and active community engagement.
This South African example has direct resonance in Canada, particularly with respect to Aboriginal communities as well as other marginalized groups. As the report notes, one of the first institutions to adopt the principles and practices of PLAR and Portfolio Learning was the First Nations Technical Institute (FNTI) in the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory in Ontario. In the late 1980s, FNTI recognized that these approaches—largely developed and used in the United States at that time—contained developmental and holistic elements closely aligned to Aboriginal learning traditions and could be used to bridge members of that community into fuller participation in education training and employment. In fact, FNTI is currently active in providing PLAR expertise and support in South Africa.
The PLA Centre’s study also examines the various ways PLAR has developed around the world, and found two predominant approaches: “top-down” or “bottom-up.”
In several countries, central authorities developed a comprehensive system with careful planning, involvement of various official bodies and sectors, and well-defined areas of responsibility and activity. However, despite the rigourous approach, difficulties still emerge at the application stage, when policy and concepts meet reality.
Other countries have built the PLAR system from the bottom up, relying on the energy and expertise of people at the community and workplace level. However, this approach has limitations—widespread, consistent implementation is difficult without coordination across jurisdictions and institutional systems.
There is now increasing evidence that countries are making efforts to integrate these two approaches. Such integration is required to maintain the energy and creativity of grassroots/community-based PLAR initiatives within a strategic public policy framework. The study provides the European Union as one example where more than 20 different jurisdictions have collaborated to create a series of pan-European agreements that set out foundational principles and practices.
Canada faces several challenges in applying PLAR to our learning system. Most employers do not yet value experiential learning and do not see PLAR as a way of meeting human resource needs. Nor do governments give PLAR the priority it deserves in their responses to demographic and labour market pressures.
At CCL, we believe that PLAR can be a first-order response to help Canada respond to three major challenges. First and foremost, it will open a new pool of labour at a time of dramatically declining population growth and pressing labour-market shortages. Second, it is an instrument of social inclusion, helping people who have been marginalized due to their lack of formal credentials. Finally, at the individual level, it enables self-fulfilment.
I have a deep and abiding belief in the transformative power of learning. The way the process of learning touches the deepest recesses of our humanity is nothing short of awe-inspiring. It is the reason that I pursued a life’s work in the field of learning—especially in trying to forge a stronger connection between institutionalized learning and the deeper core of the human condition. This imperative has led CCL to seek alternative—and more inclusive—mechanisms for viewing and valuing learning in a way aligned with the totality of our humanity—not just the narrow sliver (at least for some) that touches formal learning institutions and structures. PLAR certainly meets those criteria.
Send to a Friend