Editor's Comment

ZIALE at it again

THE Zambia Institute of Advanced Legal Education, better known as ZIALE, has yet again drawn the attention of the country by recording an incredibly high failure rate.
Over the years ZIALE has been branded as an institution where you do not expect more than five percent of the students to pass the law practice examination. Put another way, this is where you expect more than 95 percent of students to fail to pass all courses.
Out of the hundreds of students that enrol at Zambia’s only law practice institute each year, only a few are admitted to the Bar. The trend has been consistently so over the years, much to the depression of various stakeholders.
• In 2012 only six students were admitted to the Bar out of 200
• 2013 – 64 out of 181
• 2014 – 12 out of 267
• 2015 – 18 out of 206
• 2016 – 16 out of 360
• 2017/2018 intake- four out of 384
This year, the pass rate is not any different from the precedent set over the years. Only five out of 355 students who sat the 2019 final exams have passed, representing 1.4 percent.
Various stakeholders have raised concern, and justifiably so, over the consistently low pass rate at ZIALE.
Students, universities, non-governmental organisations, politicians and parents have all been unamused by the incredibly low pass rates at the institution.
Stakeholders including the Ministry of Justice have called on ZIALE to review its curriculum.
However, according to ZIALE, there was nothing wrong with their examinations except that students needed to work extremely hard.
As one of the five students who have passed the exam has said, with hard work, one can pass all the 10 courses, as he did.
Bwalya Kaluba says one has to devote more time to studies to pass the “extremely tough” exams.
The institution has also contended that it will not lower its standards just to allow students to pass.
We believe no one among the stakeholders is asking for that, neither are we. Students must earn their qualifications.
ZIALE should, however, know that a consistent low pass rate does not only reflect the failure by students to learn but could also mirror the inability by some lecturers to impart knowledge to the learners.
Examinations are a means of gauging what has been learnt for the purposes of certification, placement or progression.
It is therefore expected that the examinations ZIALE sets must function to gauge students for the purpose of permitting them to practice law in line with the knowledge that has been imparted to them.
It therefore raises eyebrows if over 95 percent of the students are going to fail, and consistently so.
This also suggests that almost all the candidates the institution enrols fall short of the requisite knowledge and ability to practise law in Zambia.
It also implies that undergraduate universities which produce these students, some with high-flying colours, are questionable.
Some theories on assessment suggest that the results of an examination must take the bell shape. This is whether or not the tests were adequate and the quality learning good.
This means that, in a given examination or test, the majority of students will get average marks with the minority excelling and failing.
Unfortunately this is not the scenario presented by ZIALE in its examinations over the years.
This is why all kinds of conspiracy theories arise. One of them is that the low pass rate at ZIALE is meant to restrict the number of lawyers who practice law to keep legal fees high.
Current ratios indicate that one lawyer is expected to service about 20,000 citizens. The law of supply and demand makes legal fees very high.
Many ordinary Zambians cannot afford legal fees. This is the more reason we need more lawyers to be offloaded to the Bar, of course without compromising on the quality.
Needless to say the tuition fees charged by ZIALE are very high for most Zambians. Currently students pay over K21,000 for tuition and other examination requirements for a period of nine months.
Not many can afford this amount. Even among those who eventually pay, many probably go through a lot including incurring debt to raise that kind of money.
It is therefore unfortunate that despite these high fees, the chances of students making it are negligible. Many have to re-seat the exams a number of times, at high cost.
This does not in any way, however, suggest that paying a high fee is a passage to qualification.
It is however commendable that ZIALE has finally acted on the complaints. Last week, ZIALE chief executive officer Ann Ononuju said the institution has revised its curriculum to improve the pass rate.
This is what all stakeholders have been waiting for. We only hope that with the reviewed curriculum, the pass rate at ZIALE will improve, numbers at the Bar boosted and subsequently access to quality legal services enhanced.

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