The meeting point of workplace and academic literacies in the RPL process
The RPL process for admission into Adult Education courses at UCT was revisited in 2018 to see how a Portfolio Development Course can facilitate a dialogical process between brought along workplace literacies and the required academic literacies. ADP staff were invited to offer Academic literacy workshops in October and November 2018, as part of sessions organised by Alan Ralphs, Linda Cooper, Salma Ismail and other Adult Education staff, to help participants articulate their prior professional and personal experiences in ways that would be legitimated by the university.
Rather than viewing RPL merely as a gatekeeping practice, the organisers saw value in also equipping participants with the requisite literacies to help them navigate the institutional spaces once accepted into UCT. Hence, ADP staff offered academic research, reading, writing, referencing and presentation skills workshops.
For Bongi Bangeni, the experience was a humbling one, as participants came with a wealth of skills, knowhow and experiences that could be recruited in the academic space. Aditi Hunma also saw the role of the course as one of translation, enabling participants to re-purpose what they already knew in ways that would be valued by the institution. What was required in a sense was a discourse shift that would allow their views to gain more traction in the academic community.
Participants were enthusiastic when they were asked to narrate their workplace experiences. However, some wondered about the value of theory to validate those experiences, while others stated that it was in the application that theory found relevance. According to Alan Ralphs, 'Many have procedural knowledge, rather than theoretical knowledge. They would need to grapple with conventional content in an unconventional context. They need to reframe what they bring with and what they expect'.
The course's dialogical approach resonated with the ADP staff's view of academic literacies as socio-cultural practices embedded in particular contexts. By acknowledging participants' workplace literacies as valuable in meaning making, it allowed them to steer away from the deficit view that could position reading and writing interventions as remedial. Rather, through generative dialogue, participants were given room to re-craft their RPL narratives in ways that did not silence them or make them lose relevance in the academic space.