Restoration of Effective Legal Education during the Pandemic

With a surge in the positive cases of COVID-19 accounting to more than 1,82,000 as on 31st May, India turns out to be the seventh-worst affected country according to the reports published by the World Health Organization. The educational sector was one of the first to get affected by the lockdown to prevent the occurrence of widespread infection. In these testing times, technology can be welcomed to continue legal education without compromising on access, quality, and effectiveness of pedagogy in the teaching-learning process. While we go on rambling about the hardships brought forth by the virus, it can be seen in a positive light in terms of the adoption of technological advancement. The advancements made in the field of education can prove to be a silver lining for students worldwide whose education is found to be at stake. For this, law schools must be adaptable and flexible enough to welcome novel methodologies of teaching.

The primary idea behind implementing this modern version of the concept of ‘Guru-Shishya’ through educational institutions is to inculcate the practice of sharing or expressing one’s ideas, encouraging them to come out of their shells. In a world where most of the young generation prefers to be left alone with their electronic devices, the concept of social interaction takes a major blow deepening the already worse problem. A lot of learning occurs during communication between peers and teachers where there is an added advantage of respective faculties monitoring the progress made by each tutee. On a brighter side, virtual learning can be a saviour for those introvert students who would mostly hesitate to raise their doubts in a real classroom or would be likely dominated by their peers. An online opportunity can motivate them to develop a personal connection and dialogue with their teachers.

The institutions privileged enough to have efficient technical expertise were quick in their venture to create online learning platforms. Even though e-learning has its own merits and demerits, it must be utilized effectively as it is the only viable option. While focusing on legal education, the need for absolute connectivity with legislations and judgments is necessary to update them with the present scenario. Therefore, universities can themselves strengthen the remote access facility provided in their respective website or can even tie up with various web-based legal search engines providing ‘Webinars’ and ‘Online Courses’ presented by prominent and noted faculties who can explain the concept in a much simpler form. Thus, it can be seen as a blessing in disguise where the lectures can be provided by the luminaries in their office space or their homes reducing the carbon print. On a positive note, the switch for the faculties to work from home may help them to have a better balance between their work and life.

Distance Learning and remote education being synchronous (wherein., a teacher creates a virtual classroom where the learning takes place in real-time) and asynchronous (work and activities are sent by email or messenger fixing a time for their submissions), the methodology adopted must be considered taking the plight of students having poor reception. Therefore, most applications designed must be mobile-friendly considering the percentage of students having access to a smartphone is much higher than accessibility to a laptop. Education must not be made a burden by congesting the time table for submissions. Careful planning is crucial so that it makes easy for the students to do their work in an organized manner giving much needed time and thought.

Taking the example of the Ukrainian Government, legal education in India can be taken up the ministries dealing with the concerned department whereby the information will be available on the official web pages of education Ministry with video representation explaining the concepts available on YouTube or Telegram. Leniency can be lent by the teachers to those students taking note of their helpless situations (like areas with network issues) in their projects and online examinations. As the promotion of normalcy in these extraordinary times will reinforce inequalities, perhaps prioritizing kindness will be a justified approach than enforcing law school norms considering their diverse and struggling backgrounds. A Google Classroom can be made wherein the teaching faculty can upload videos or presentations pertaining to each subject and students can access the same from their home with opportunities for monitoring and clearing doubts at the same time. Technology can be levered as a pedagogical tool to discuss the subjects by the respected faculties thus transforming the web applications such as ‘YouTube’ and ‘ WhatsApp’ for fruitful purposes incorporating the element of information into it.

Internships play a pivotal role in nurturing an amateur lawyer as it provides a window for students to interact with the real world under the guidance of practicing advocates and well-known firms. Since the probability of internships opportunities having been reduced to zero, either the students themselves or the college can be of great help in setting up internships which can include online internships making it productive for the students to use the extra time in a fruitful manner. The inclusion of distinguished judges and senior advocates in providing lectures and online interactive sessions with the students can compensate for the practical experiences the latter misses out on the onsite internships. The timing of such an interaction can be propitious for future lawyers to educate them and to prep them for the real world. The influence of such an event will be far-reaching than any classroom lectures and it would nourish them with an insight into the realities happening inside the courtrooms.

The Internet is well known for its ability to bring the whole world at our fingertips transforming the idea of a traditional classroom to one’s own living room. The problem lies in moulding an engaging and informative section with the students covering overcoming the hurdles faced in the way. For those students, who face substandard network services can be given guidance through notes shared through other platforms such as e-mail or WhatsApp. 

Content planning is another aspect that needs to be looked into for the effective delivery of the academic curriculum. The lack of social interaction needs to be considered while designing the curriculum. preparing for the modalities of online delivery. While preparing the content, methodologies embraced must focus on moulding the undergraduate courses to be more concept-oriented and the postgraduate courses to be research-oriented. Content creation should equally train the guest lecturers for providing education. Student exchange or semester exchange programmes can be replaced with collaboration with the foreign institutions providing the same course online. Online courses like credit courses specializing in broad areas of law can also be provided.

Taking into consideration the announcement of lockdown during the mid-semester of the course, most of the academic curriculum was left uncompleted along with the internal and final examinations.  One of the greatest inventions of mankind, the telephone can act as the primary tool for carrying out telephonic interviews which prove to be effective in case of geographical areas having poor internet connections. It is efficient and less time-consuming.

Online examinations are the best alternative option available considering the indecisiveness regarding the extent of the lockdown period and extremity of the situation. But every student shouldn’t be left with this choice as taking the example of a national university where students from all parts of the nation is a member, utmost consideration should be given to each and every student as the services in different parts can differ completely. Thus, with respect to examination, the best possible technique will be to conduct it after the lockdown, if it is possible so that students are left with equal resources and the absence of technical glitches can be ensured. The method of providing a law degree will be a crucial concern as most of the law schools have not advocated for a distance learning education or an online delivery of law degree to the students.

In light of the scheme announced by Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited(BSNL), wherein inclusion of 5 GB data in its data package for its users during the lockdown period can be utilized by the student who has access to internet connections and who are in the luxury of having a personal computer or a laptop. When the hopes of conducting extra-curricular activities are grim, attempts can be made for organizing the online moot competitions so that the skill development ability among the students is restored. Students need to indulge in content writing and research works to publish papers of legal significance. They need to aspire for enhancing the legal outreach by maximizing their participation.

As students will be deprived of the benefits of Socratic method of teaching or a one-on-one interaction as one might call it, the exchange of ideas based on critical thinking and logical presumptions will suffer a great setback in this process. With active steps taken by colleges in bestowing a strong foundation, sincere participation is equally expected from the student community as the faculty is helpless in guaranteeing an attentive classroom. Huge alterations and modifications are required to secure a similar online platform achieving the same standards of a traditional engaging lecture.

Since the pivotal components of quality, access and effectiveness cannot be ensured at all times, the primary motto should be centred on ‘making the best of what is available’ in this pandemic situation so that the dark period is not given an opportunity to make an adverse impact on the future generations. To conclude, the long breaks should not freeze the education and possible and feasible steps must be undertaken to prevent detrimental effects on learning outcomes and all possible interventions must be made to save the semester through mutual and coordinated efforts. The integration of technology can act as the best substitute during the quarantine period considering the limited resources available to the student community. The utmost need is to prepare both the teachers and the students to be mentally and technically prepared to take up the online learning seriously and with utmost responsibility.

While it is established that online learning is the way ahead, the challenges faced in the transitioning process need to be looked upon with utmost care and caution to ensure the efficacy of the learning process.

Sivapriya Ajith from The National University of Advanced Legal Studies, Kochi

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