Do We Need To Personalise Legal Education?
A personalised education will lead a student to enjoy his education, enhance his skills and integrate better with his class.
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I have always wondered if my law school experience would have been different had my professors taken a closer interest in how I engaged with my subjects. I wonder if they knew which area of law was most interesting to me? Did they know what I found frustrating about the Indian constitution? Did they spend time with me making sure I was fitting into an ecosystem that gave priority to moot court competitions? Did they understand what it took for me to communicate my thoughts better? There is a school of thought that believes these questions miss the point of a law school; a law school is meant to provide students with an opportunity to find their interests in the law, enhance their co-curricular activities and learn to communicate better. Whether students make use of these opportunities is entirely up to them. They either swim or sink. Perhaps the entire law school mystique is based on this school of thought. I think there is a better alternative, and it is based on paying more attention to students.
Paying more attention to how students navigate their law school lives is related to an important aspect of the modern law school education: teaching students skills rather than knowledge. The transition from knowledge to skills mirrors the changing demands of the modern legal profession, where there is a high premium on certain skills, such as the ability to apply traditional legal concepts to novel issues, often of a technical nature, the ability to communicate clearly and precisely, and to be able to compete tasks on time (yes, this is a skill that is in great demand). Therefore law schools today aspire to skills development rather than information delivery; but new educational aspirations require new ways of engaging with the students.
Skills are notoriously difficult to impart in a classroom. Students come to law school with varying interests, attitudes and skills. Some students might be better in acquiring communication skills while others might be skilled in the analysis of complex legal concepts, without necessary having the ability to express their thoughts clearly. Further, all students relate in different ways to the same subject matter. A person might understand Article 21 of the Indian constitution better from a philosophical perspective rather than a case based perspective. The point at which a student’s interest in a particular subject is triggered is a point that a good teacher ought to understand and exploit. All this requires a great amount of time and commitment and a different set of teaching skills altogether.
Law school curriculum, assessments and teaching methods must reflect inclusivism, ie responding to the differential skills deficiencies of students, customisation, ie ensuring that students learn the law according to their unique needs and inclinations, and individualism, ie students must be enabled to approach the study of each subject from his or her unique perspective. There are various strategies law schools can undertake to achieve the three objectives I mentioned above. Law schools can be more inclusive by paying more microscopic attention to specific skill deficencies-have special classes and workshops to address skill deficiencies. Law schools can aim at customising their education by having more tutorial sessions where students interact with the faculty in smaller groups. In small groups, through a back and forth discussion, a faculty is able to get a better grasp of what triggers a student’s interest in a subject, and what aspects of the teaching captures his attention best . Law schools can encourage individualism by making the students write frequently (response papers, projects, thesis) on subjects from a perspective that they prefer. But making students write is of little use unless genuine, thoughtful and frequent feedback is provided by the instructors. Students can also be encouraged to take part in extra curricular activities that encourage students to exhibit their individualities: moot courts, counselling, negotiation, legal essay and judgment writing etc.
Personalised education is not only about student success, but also about student welfare. A personalised education will lead a student to enjoy his education, enhance his skills and integrate better with his class. It will also make him more empathetic towards his classmates and eventually, his colleagues, because he will recognise that the conditions for his success are that another person took an abiding interest in him, that the conditions for his success differed from others, that each person has a unique way of understanding his world and that the law school is not a zero sum world but a more integrated world where people can be supported in their learning and eventual success. These are lessons that children often learn in schools but are mysteriously forgotten by the time a student completes his first year at law school.
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