"Values" statements



Introduction To PLAR "Values" Statements
Alan Thomas
Nall Project

The intent of the project was to capture the convictions and expectations of the various "players" in the development of PLAR, a question that is rarely addressed to innovation in Canada. As a whole we prefer to confine the discussions to the "technical" level, assuming that "players" would not be "playing" if they do believe in the project, and preferring to leave the discussions at that level for fear of endangering the project by asking unwanted questions. That surely is the modus operandi of "muddling through" more recently described as "creative incrementalism". Despite the relative "un-English-Canadienness" of the endeavour we went ahead. 

We asked our respondents to address three questions:

  • What are, in your view, the values associated with PLAR? 
  • What are the risks? 
  • What do you foresee for the development of PLAR in Canada?

Given the risks involved in deliberately publicizing and circulating such statements for discussion, let me be very clear about the "provenance" of the document. With the exception of the Labour Statement, a statement developed by a hard-working and determined committee, and perhaps the statements of the Cooperative Union of Canada, and the Chartered Accountants of Ontario, all of the statements are statements of individuals associated with the constituency represented, that is to say statements derived from active experience in that context, but are not, repeat NOT the official view of an organization, or, with the already mentioned exceptions, of a recognized body within the organization.

We are sure that all of the authors, who have responded to our invitation with enthusiasm, would like that point to be made clear. Rather than issuing an invitation for an official statement from the relevant organization, we hoped to generate public discussion, at least among the major players in the development of PLAR, that would, or might, lead eventually to such official statements. Our long term objective is to stimulate both discussion and the clarification of the agendas with which PLAR is being approached and nurtured. Given the novel mixture of players, interests that have not always found a "cooperative "role easy, and what is at stake in the new dialogue between Learning and Education, in Canada and increasingly throughout the world, it seems an important objective to aspire to. 

The current document, that is the material on which this commentary is based, contains 9 statements from the following environments: One-Step, a community organization; the Credit Union Institute of Canada; First Nations Technical Institute; General Motors; the Chartered Accountants of Ontario; Community Colleges; the Labour Movement; Ontario Secondary Schools; and Small Business. There are obvious omissions, some by virtue of circumstance, some by virtue of a lack of imagination on our part. We would welcome suggestions, in fact, offers, of additional statements.

As you will see there is considerable risk in assuming to represent them fairly and representatively. What you will get is one limited review of the material and the ideas contained. We hope that you will form your own opinions, and voice them. Further discussions will be held at the National Forum in Vancouver next Fall. We will also post the material with the Bibliography on the CLFDB and NALL websites.

With respect to the regional roots of the existing comments, they are concentrated in the center and East of Canada. There is no statement from Quebec, or in French, and another statement is awaited from the West. All of them are a product of whom we knew and trusted to understand the objectives of the undertaking. We hope that the regional imbalance, to the extent that will make a real difference can be corrected. Perhaps that's the first interesting question; does regional experience in Canada bear on the perceptions of the values associated with PLAR? So far as I know, it has not shown such variations in the United States with its much longer experience with PLAR.

Given the population we addressed, it is not surprising that all of the statements are positive, and reasonably optimistic, though wary of some implications. We have never seen an open, reasoned, denunciation of PLAR, though the manner of its introduction has occasioned uneasiness and perhaps most difficult to deal with, indifference. None of that is evident here, and equally missing, are large and expansive claims for benefits. Perhaps characteristically Canadian is the general caution demonstrated by most of the authors.

In effect, we think, what we find are statements reflecting the experience with PLAR reflected in each of the represented constituencies. The Accountants have had a lengthy experience with various forms of "reciprocity" in the context of their understandable consciousness of legislated professional responsibility. Reflected in their statement, as in the statement of the Cooperative Union Institute of Canada is experience of a mixture of "program" and "individual" evaluation with examples of successes in both cases. In neither case is there any suggestion of the ineffectiveness or dangers of such activities, though both, as well as others, comment on the costs.

Large employers see benefits for both themselves and their employees in forging new links between their extensive, private, training programs, and the system of public learning, Education; they welcome the presumed mobility for their employees in being able to move between the private and public systems, and the implied validation of the private systems that such movement implies. 

Having been exposed to substantial amounts of training, under both private and public auspices, and having experienced historically little cooperation from Formal Education in Canada, the Labour movement welcomes the implied opportunity to make use of that training, and on-the-job-learning in gaining access to mainstream Education, an access long overdue. However they worry, legitimately, about the process of PLAR being shared with the employer, and whether the entire endeavour will increase the use of formal credentials by employers, credentials that may or may not be relevant to the actual job. Small employers stress the significance of "learning" among their employees for day to day operations, and the need for easier access for those employees, less to credentialing than to the learning opportunities they find difficult to provide.

All of the statements stress the need for increased cooperation amongst all the players, particularly the individual users of PLAR. This factor, perhaps more than any other one, suggests a genuinely radical change in formal education, supported by all the participants. However there is evidence of concern about the likelihood of that being achieved even though the more formal procedures associated with PLAR are accepted and implemented.

The Educational Agencies demonstrate an interest in, if not a commitment to, PLAR, as advantageous to both providing agencies and individual learners. They worry about costs, and the willingness among their colleagues to work systematically on the skills and procedures involved in making the evaluations functional. They worry in particular about the lack of demand, which is a major factor in stimulating the internal will to integrate PLAR into the regular procedures and habits of evaluation.

All statements make it clear that PLAR deals with the means, the processes, involved in making the Educational system accessible to individuals and groups who have historically been "outsiders" to that system. For whatever reasons, and they are not clear though one can guess at them, all statements welcome that process, and are committed to advancing it.

However it is the FNTI statement that, understandably, comes closest to an, perhaps THE, underlying issue. They point to the fact that aboriginals bring not just geographical, not just class or economic outsideness, but cultural outsideness. And, that the individuals involved, have a right to bring with them, and have recognized. This is the basic statement of "mutuality" between individual and educational agency that PLAR both implies and insists on, and that in the long run transforms the process from one of the seduction of the individual in terms of learning outcomes pre-established by the Educational agency, and the genuine liberation of both individual and agency. While other statements, particularly the "equity" statements hint at this factor; and others see it as mainly a technical problem, the cultural problem is fundamental and must be addressed. The one sure way to fundamentally change a teaching agency is to alter the composition of its student body. PLAR is a means of doing just that while generally a host of other reasons for its use are claimed.

While cost, and the fact that savings are invisible and mal-distributed, are mentioned, the underlying issue of who should pay for what, is largely unaddressed. The important aspect in this context is that costs are characteristically seen as "outside" the regular operating costs, and have to be found somewhere. While the Accountants draw our attention to the costs involved, they seem to have assimilated them into their regular operations.

A further, and expected matter, is the reference to an instrument of PLAR, namely the portfolio, taking on a life and meaning independent of educational application. The Equity group and the Cooperators remind us of the individual impact of the preparation of a portfolio on the individual preparing it, and its multiple uses. Implicitly the Labour statement refers to the personal exposure involved in the portfolio, and the accompanying issues of security faced by both author and receiver of the document. Trust as an essential ingredient in the process, between all the players is mentioned by most of the statements.

As already mentioned this is one review of the statements with a bias that arises from having been associated with the project from the outset.

The essential elements seems to us to be a matter of welcoming "outsiders" to what has been, and to a degree remains, a closed system, which with one exception in the case of the smallest children, controls all the terms of access. Therefor there are questions as to distinctions between the type of outsider; the various means by which they will be admitted, and the apportioning of the cost inevitably involved in changing a large institution, incrementally. There are questions of intermediate agencies and the role they should play, and fundamentally, the "value" and technical problems of mutuality between individuals and those large institutions. Where learning is at stake, our most fundamental values are involved.

Speaking for NALL, and the people most closely associated with this project, we hope that this is just the first step in clarifying what and whose values are at stake in so radical an enterprise.

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