Analysis: MUNYONZWE HAMALENGWA
IT WAS finally gratifying to read at last that the Zambia Institute of Advanced Legal Education (ZIALE), while resisting mightily that it must accept some responsibility for the high failure rate on first attempt, has grudgingly acknowledged that there is room for improvement in the manner it teaches its courses to ensure students have more time with lecturers.
Perhaps, even the weakest students can benefit from extra time. Sigh of relief.
This is all the public has ever demanded. The public simply wanted to know why there was such a higher failure rate on first attempt than anywhere else in the world and whether there could be self-examination in order to engineer some paradigm shift from within.
The public has never demanded that ZIALE lower its standards but it continues to hap on high standards, a standard that is never spelt out and a standard which they never bring their students to meet.
And the admission is straight out of director of Higher Education Authority (HEA) Professor Stephen Simukanga’s observation about ZIALE’s need to have full-time lecturers so that they can interact more with students.
One of the principles of teaching methodology is to assess the level of your students and then tailor your teaching to raise that standard in accordance with the common level that you have assessed the students to be at.
You can’t teach Grade 12 mathematics to Grade Seven pupils. You either don’t accept those learners, or if you accept them, you can’t teach Grade 12 mathematics.
But ZIALE was accepting everybody, figuratively from Grade Seven and teaching them Grade 12 mathematics.
The result was inevitable and without self-examination.
German-American scientist Albert Einstein said it all: “Madness is doing the same thing over and over but expecting a different result.”
A good teaching methodology is to make students catch up from the level they are at, to the level you want them to be and for the teacher to also reciprocate and catch up to the level the students are at.
It is a dialectical process and not a lowering of standards.
ZIALE is not the only law qualifying institution in the world. In the United States, the passing rate on first attempt is 50 to 65 percent. In Canada it is over 90 percent.
The refrain by ZIALE that it does not want to lower the standards when it is not what the public is demanding, reminds me of the entrenched attitude in the Western world against diversity and affirmative action; “diversity and affirmative action lower standards”.
No diversity and affirmative action do no such. It is the same when male chauvinism rails against employment equity for women; “do not lower the standards!”
Equality for women does not lower any standards. It is a matter of paradigm shift. The powers that be simply want to resist change.
Up to now, according to my information, ZIALE used to teach a lot of theory in class but the exams were based on practical materials. After the storm of criticism this time around, I am told students are getting to actually see practical materials.
Further, until relatively recently, if at all, students never used to get any feedback or see their scripts to inquire about how and why they failed.
Up to now, students only attend afternoon classes for a few hours and they never interact with their part-time lecturers thereafter.
In the mornings, the students are attached at the law firms and this kind of teaching format has not been reviewed from day one despite the incredible high failure rate.
ZIALE gets criticised year after year after year, but it has never reviewed its learning and teaching format, nor has it ever conducted a survey or study as to the causes of students’ poor performance.
In Canada, there are periodic reviews of the blend of teaching and learning formats and renewal and not lowering of standards is the goal.
Everyone wants competent lawyers, doctors, police officers, dentists, etc. Has anyone ever demanded for a half-baked lawyer? That is not the point. The point is to get to the root of the low passing rate.
ZIALE has neither done any study on this nor has it changed its teaching and learning methodologies to get to the root of the problem involving the students they themselves assessed and accepted as qualifying to enter the institution.
ZIALE has never reached back to the law schools to give feedback and engage in cooperative joint efforts, other than to simply accuse law schools of feeding it with half-baked students whom it itself has accepted despite their being half-boiled.
ZIALE is expensive. And students are not allowed to purchase the statutes from any other place but ZIALE, same statutes that are available elsewhere. ZIALE charges a fee to assess that the statutes the students have were purchased from ZIALE.
It is possible this practice has other justifications, but money is one of them, just as HEA is swimming in money, previously unavailable, for accrediting colleges and universities at exorbitant fees. No college or university applicant is refused.
Students cannot escape blame. Not all students are equal. Some students are said to progress to ZIALE on other people’s steam and not theirs.
They write the exams but continuous assessment is done by other people. They end up paying a heavy price at ZIALE and deservedly so.
Lecturers are overworked and working under very poor infrastructure and facilities, most without up-to-date research and teaching materials and very poorly paid.
I wonder every day how we do it. But because I am in it and I see it, I can attest that law faculties across the board are some of the most committed workers in Zambia.
ZIALE is saying the same thing about its lecturers, and that is why these two wings need to get together but they have never done so to do the best for Zambia’s legal education.
ZIALE could do things better by bringing the course into the 20th century.
Some Zambian laws are still stuck in the 19th century British mode and the Minister of Justice, Given Lubinda, wants fundamental reforms to bring them to the 21st century where we are at.
ZIALE has not reviewed its teaching and learning methodologies ever, so indeed it should bring them to the 20th century onwards to the 21st century. Given ZIALE’s impregnability, it is very difficult to second-guess what it says. You cannot take anything for granted and it is impossible to err on any side, otherwise you will be accused of lowering the standards of the institution.
I am writing this in good measure to show that as human beings we all err, as newspapers also do. They are written by human beings.
ZIALE and the law schools must work together beginning in 2019 to ensure that our students become the best lawyers and judges ever.
The author is acting Dean of the School of Law at Zambian Open University.
Analysis: MUNYONZWE HAMALENGWA