Student Prerequisites: A CRUCIAL part of a complete risk management system!

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By Steve Lewis

The range and complexity of questions that one is asked as an Instructor never ceases to amaze, fascinate, and sometimes amuse. Being part of a group of extremely active agencies with very different course line-ups – from basic open water with SDI; cave, trimix and CCR with TDI; and full-on public safety diving with ERDI – the variety and scope of those questions is probably greater for instructors and instructor-trainers working for us thant for any other agency. And certainly, havingwith a curriculum that covers as much ground (or water) as ours does, it’ is not unusual for divers and instructors to have their sights set a long way off in the distance on something very different to regular sport diving, when they first make contact through one of our sport-diving programs.  I have been asked quite seriously by a candidate for SDI open-water certification what else he needs to do to “dive the Andrea Doria?”

Recently, during during the preliminary academic work with a small group attending an SDI Instructor Development Course (IDC), a , during what was budgeted to be a brief discussion on course prerequisites turned into,  a very common question triggered what became an in-depth explanation. I’d like to share the major points of what developed with you, because it pointed out both a misunderstanding about the real function of course prerequisites as well as a lack of understanding concerning the role of prerequisites in an overall risk management program; and the Pandora’s box of woe that ignoring prerequisites or fudging them, can open up..

Let’s start with the simplest building block of all: the definition of a prerequisite when used in an SDI, TDI, or ERDI course description. Prerequisite means a condition that is required BEFOREHAND. Now, this definition is unambiguous as written in SDI, TDI and ERDI standards, and there is no gray, fuzzy area open to interpretation. In order for a candidate – be they a Diver or Instructor Candidate – to BEGIN an SDI, TDI, or ERDI course, the prerequisites MUST be met. Freely translated, this means that before a student for ANY course run under the auspices of our family of agencies makes contact with a seat in a classroom, aor spot on a dive boat, or a corner of a pool deck, he or she must be able to show compliance with the prerequisite standards.

A prerequisite may require the student or participant to be a specific age (for example aged 18 for enrollment in an SDI open water diver course except JR Diver and Future Buddies); or it may state an assumption of a prerequisite fund of knowledge or experience in the student or participant participant, such as a specific number of logged dives and/or successful completion of a “feeder” training program. For example, an SDI divemaster MUST be: minimum age 18; hold minimum certification as an SDI Advanced Diver or equivalent; be a certified SDI Rescue Diver or equivalent; provide proof of current CPR, first aid and oxygen provider; AND provide proof of at least 40 logged dives.

The only possible area open to misinterpretation is where the words OR EQUIVALENT are used. In the case where a pre-existing standard of knowledge and skill is being sought, we could substitute the phrase “or corresponding certification from another recognized scuba training agency,” or words to that effect, because this is what is meant by or equivalent.

One other important note before we leave the definition of prerequisite and specifically the course standards that spell out prerequisites for a specific program, is the word “minimum” and the phrase: “at least.” These again are unambiguous.

 

For example, if a course requires proof of a minimum of 100 logged dives, of which 25 of which must be to depths in excess or 30 metres (100 feet), – part of the standards for enrolling in a TDI Trimix Program – then a candidate with 99 dives CANNOT join the class. So, aA candidate with more than 100 dives but only 24 logged dives deeper than 30 metres CANNOT join the class.

In a nutshell, what we mean by prerequisite is a precondition that is essential to meeting the entry requirements of a course… without exception.

 

Having defined what we mean by a prerequisite,  now let’s explore why we have them.

Again, in the simplest terms possible, they form a foundation for the whole of our curriculum, regardless of which of our agencies or which programs they apply to.  Prerequisites provide area particularly significant where in that they outline the progression from one program to the next. A good example is in the case wherewhere certification as a cavern diver is part of the requirement for getting into an intro to cave course.  Essentially, the experience and skills developed in the precursor course are built upon and refined in the one that follows.

ANow all this seems logical and reasonably easy to follow, but . However, according to some of the questions from my IDC candidates and confirmed by a quick check with ourour Training Department – the folks who process certifications – the logic seems to fall apart, at least in the minds of some ITs and instructor candidates, when it comes to prerequisites for leadership level courses; especially those for TDI.

If there is a problem, a systemic problem, it may exist with regard to instructors who are currently teaching technical programs and who want to progress “up the chain of command” so to speak.

The terms prerequisite, minimum, and at least do not change one iota from their meaning and use in entry-level diver courses to their application in technical leadership programs. If a course – let’s say a CCR instructor course – requires candidates have prerequisites that include certification as a TDI Advanced Nitrox Instructor, that course must be completed, paperwork processed, card created and new rating entered into TDI’s master database, before the CCR instructor class can start.

It is not “OK” nor sanctioned for a candidate to take part in a course,,  and fulfill the prerequisites at some later date, and then sort of post-date certification. The temptation to “fudge” prerequisites in this way are particularly strong for programs where ITs are thin on the ground, are visiting from a different location and are only “in town” for a short while, or are trying to fill a classroom to meet some other logistical criteria.

As tempting as this practice may appear, it contravenes standards, sets a really poor example for the Instructor Candidate, and is likely to be unfair to those Candidates since it’s exposingas it exposes them to an environment they may not be equipped to deal with. th… Iin other words, if the experience of a prerequisite course is required to develop the skills needed to pass a “higher” course, isn’t there a stronger than usual likelihood of them failing their course if they have not had the opportunity to practice those skills?

The major reasons for setting course prerequisites are to protect both Instructor and Students in a number of important ways. SDI, TDI and ERDI have been able to offer affordable and comprehensive insurance policies to our members since our group first opened its doors. Alongside that, we have a stellar track record of being able to protect our membership from undeserved personal liability and judgments in tandem to the insurance offered. These two professional services are predicated on the robustness of our published standards and the protocols we have developed during many years of growth, which include the widespread acceptance of diving practices outside the traditional sport limits.

Course prerequisites are part of the protocols that help to protect you and our whole community of professional instructors.  Following the guidelines for prerequisites for ALL course candidates must be part of our normal day-to-day business practices, and as much a part of our procedures as having waivers and medical forms signed.

There are no gray areas, and as I once explained to a bright-eyed open-water student with his heart set on diving the “Doria”,” there “ain’t no shortcuts.”

Steve Lewis is an experienced IT for SDI and TDI and is Director of Marketing and Corporate Communications for the International Training Group.

 

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