This paper focuses on the relationship between Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) processes and paraprofessional practice, learning and identity. In both Sweden and England paraprofessionals such as health care assistants or care workers are increasingly relied upon to perform complex tasks. An accompanying trend has been a concern with ensuring appropriate skill level and opportunities for their professional development (Cameron and Boddy 2006; DH 2006a, b) and Sweden (Ministry of Health and Social Affairs 2004; Step for Skills 2006). A number of formal and non formal learning methods are used to further these aims; though the considerable levels of skill developed through practice itself is increasingly acknowledged. Thus, Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) has become a frequently employed approach to assess, recognise and formally certificate paraprofessional knowledge and competence.
The competency-based nature of some RPL processes have been criticised for its reductionist approach (Coffey 2004). Others have criticised its potential to trivialise the complexity of worker skill and depth of experience by essentialising skills (Somerville 2006). Even so, research suggests that RPL yields educational benefits and positive impacts on self confidence (Stevens et al 2010). Honneth´s (1995, 2003, 2007) recognition theory offers an illuminative perspective on the relationship between RPL and learning and identity. Honneth argues that intersubjective recognition from valued others is key to becoming an autonomous person with a stable identity and a capacity for self realisation. Arguing that one's sense of self and status is intrinsically intertwined with the attitudes of others to oneself, he presents three levels of recognition. Basic recognition established within the family context builds self-confidence. The recognition associated with schooling, gaining legal rights and through solidarity with others builds self respect. It is the recognition within the work context that secures an individual’s sense of self-esteem. Experiencing self esteem, self respect and self confidence supports an individual’s experiencing of themselves as having a certain status, as a responsible agent and a valued contributor to shared projects. Mutual recognition builds team coherence.
The transformative potential of RPL can be seen as arising out of recognition within the workplace. However, according to Heidegren (2003) Honneth suggests that that the personal attributes or activities recognised must be those that are authentically owned by the individual concerned and personally meaningful rather than merely performed. Also, Somerville (2006) suggests that subjectivities in vocational training for care workers are being shaped by negotiations around knowledge and care work. Negotiations could also include overcoming resistance to change one’s work role in line with the status conferred by certification. Thus, although the RPL process may offer affordances for recognition, it is more likely to be negotiated between paraprofessionals and their colleagues and as such, may be a contested process.
This paper addresses the following questions:
1. What are the ascribed meanings associated with the paraprofessionals’ pursuit for recognition both within an RPL programme and more broadly in their work role?
2. What are the dynamics of recognition and non-recognition experienced by paraprofessionals?
3. How does RPL influence learning and identity?
This paper draws on detailed data from six case studies of paraprofessionals engaged in RPL: three from England and three from Sweden. The case study method was chosen to illustrate the impact of RPL approaches and to provide thick descriptions of the nature of the dynamics of recognition between participants in different workplaces and in different nations. Case studies were created out of repeated interviews with participants. Using Honneth’s theory of recognition (1995, 2007) as analytical tool these cases were explored through thematic analysis.
Participants in both the English and Swedish studies performed roles requiring specific technical and interpersonal skills resting on years of work experience. The studies indicate that RPL built confidence, achievement and sense of oneself as competent which has implications for building self-esteem. The effects were connected to being recognised not only for one’s performance of the work role but also for one’s unique personal qualities. Processes of recognition were primarily intersubjective emerging through interactions between paraprofessionals and their colleagues – talk, the dynamics of staff meetings or roster organisation, for example. Recognition could co-exist with non-recognition. Some participants did not feel they were enabled to fully show the skills they had resulting in feelings of not being taken seriously. Also more formal and bureaucratic processes such as opportunities for progression, appropriate salary banding and management could have both positive and negative effects on intersubjective recognition. Thus, while RPL contributed to the participants’ learning, sense of self and practice, the potential benefits described by Honneth are realised through locally negotiated processes.
Berlin: ECER , 2011.
European Conference on Educational Research (ECER) in Berlin, 13 - 16 September 2011