Challenges and Opportunities Posed by COVID-19 to Legal Education in Kenya
*By Nancy Baraza, Ph.D.
Professor of Law, University of Nairobi School of Law
The COVID-19 (coronavirus) phenomenon is having significant implications for legal education around the world. In Kenya, it is challenging the traditional methods of delivery of legal education. Although the University of Nairobi (UoN) has had open distance and e-learning (ODEL) as a platform teaching, it has been utilized for specific disciplines with the face-to-face mode of teaching as the generally preferred method. The school of law curriculum sanctions only the face-to-face method of teaching. Previously, written examinations have been administered on-campus where students assemble in an examination room and write their answers on university issued answer booklets. However, the COVID-19 pandemic, has by necessity, precluded on campus face-to-face examinations. Consequently, the university has approved online examinations, subject to appropriate structures and guidelines. The University of Nairobi senate has adopted guidelines on online examination, which allows for administration of examinations online.
The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing changes in the way legal education is delivered by various institutions of higher education in the country. Most universities, UoN included, are having to make a paradigm shift in their approaches to teaching law to compliment the traditional method. These institutions of higher education are now adopting to eLearning platforms, with Google meet and Zoom being preferred. Webinars are also being encouraged. The Council for Legal Education has recognised that COVID-19 is a formidable pandemic, necessitating the review of the regulator's position on the delivery of law programmes on ODEL platform, subject to observance of certain standards which are still being adopted, adjusted and fully implemented.
Of course, this new approach is not without challenges. Issues of socio-economic and gender inequalities among students are real. In a country where poverty is widespread and gendered even among students, affordability and access to laptops, computers, or smart phones for e-learning is a challenge. Recent studies show that although Kenya has progressive policies that support gendered equality and equity, higher education still excludes women, in particular those from marginalized communities. This is a concern that the university is grappling with, with new thoughts evolving on how owning laptops should be incorporated into the university loan programme for future students to ameliorate such inequalities. The other challenge has to do with the capacity of the Kenya School of Law, which has the monopoly of undertaking the bar training, to offer online training to all those qualifying for the bar in view of the shift to online learning. Some Lecturers themselves are finding it hard to adapt to the new ways of teaching, even as the universities are building the lecturer’s capacity for e-learning delivery.
However, whether it is the COVID-19 pandemic or some other external pressure forcing the legal education providers in Kenya to change, now is the time to let go of static, outmoded notions of legal education provision and instead fully embrace the efficiencies of new technologies.
Nancy Baraza. Ph.D. is a Professor of Law, University of Nairobi School of Law, Kenya.
She is the former Deputy Chief Justice of Kenya (and first woman to occupy that position).