The prior learning assessment process is of particular interest to people who have a great variety of experiences in their background. Women, as a rule, have multiple roles. Their lives are subject to a myriad of influences which do not follow a rigid linear progression. They need a flexible program which deals with the uniqueness of a life pattern shaped by unremunerated volunteer work and invalidated familial responsibilities. They need a program which helps them find a stronger sense of identity, increases their self-esteem, makes them aware of their potential outside the traditional role dictated by society, and helps them identify their transferable skills. I became aware of this reality while writing my own portfolio.
Writing a portfolio is a little bit like learning to drive a car. It gives you a sense of freedom mixed with a sense of power. It pushes boundaries and makes unknown countries reachable. Learning how to drive does not get you a car or tell you where to go with it, however; neither does it guarantee you a life without tickets. Developing a portfolio makes you aware of who you are and of what your choices are, and empowers you to make decisions and helps other people recognize these decisions as valid.
In doing my portfolio, I realized my values, my priorities and my uniqueness. I felt I had been soft clay, reshaping myself constantly, afraid that if I stopped moving I would solidify forever in a shape I did not want. Now, it no longer matters what shape I take. I know my core is solid. Knowing who lam means not being afraid to risk placing my trust in others, not being afraid of making mistakes, and not avoiding painful circumstances.
I think that many women today feel, as I do, that the gap between their formal education and current work demands is widening. They may see blank spots in their education and wish to fill them with appropriate courses. They may feel a disparity between their personal goals and the utilization of their abilities in their current environment. How many of them, once they believed in themselves, would settle for an existence of stagnation? How many need to look in the right direction in order to stop seeing themselves as victims? How many would readily switch work (and lead happier lives) if it did not mean a long, arduous transition? Once a person addresses his or her self-concept and values through a portfolio development course, planning for the future, be it business, retirement, career or study, becomes an easier task.
There is a need to create greater awareness of experiential learning recognition so that colleges will offer the portfolio development course in a classroom setting and have a greater diversity of prior learning assessments available to all adults wishing to further their studies. A similar campaign is needed to address businesses, so that employers who offer training programs will appreciate the transferability of the skills and knowledge a person has acquired through his or her life experiences. Furthermore, employers who offer retirement packages could use the portfolio process to guide their employees in finding ways to channel their experiential learning toward new endeavors.
The same portfolio process can be used by government as a generic approach to fact-finding in order to identify the basic training needs of various target groups. Services provided could then be more closely tailored to the specific needs of groups seeking employment such as immigrants, women, disabled people, native people and youth. Such a program would prove to be cost-efficient as it would, in effect, provide group career counselling and in doing so, replace, in part, individual counselling.
Human development involves the integration of all aspects of an individual. We live more abundantly when our experiences provide us with opportunities for growth. Validating prior learning can help all individuals to go through what are sometimes difficult changes whether they are self-imposed or imposed by a society in transition. But experiential learning recognition will only become reality once the concerted efforts of government, business and academe provide the support mechanism needed for its implementation, and the best support mechanism I know is the portfolio development course.
Nattalia Kilborn is a Francophone living in B.C. who has tried to promote the idea of portfolio development, with lukewarm reception. Those interested in further information may want to investigate a book entitled Where Do I Go From Here With My Life? from Crystal and Bolles.
1. This is taken from I.S. Vygotsky, though I do not have information on the exact source.