By Rahma Abdul-Rahman
University of Ghana, Legon
To halt education till the pandemic is over, or to continue while observing the pandemic protocols? Should lessons be held virtually? Should examinations be postponed or canceled? These and many other issues confront education, legal education inclusive, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Education in Ghana is mostly through direct interface between professors and students. However, the year 2020 and the early months of 2021 have been different. The pandemic has impacted the education of students of the legal profession.
Legal education in Ghana
Legal education trains us to understand and apply the law, its principles, theories, and skills needed to be a lawyer or a judge. It provides a wide scope of knowledge beneficial to other professions. Legal education in Ghana is organized and overseen by the General Legal Council.
Legal education is usually dependent on the peculiar nature of a particular legal system within the jurisdiction and can take various forms. In Ghana, legal education begins with the primary degree in law, commonly known as the bachelor of laws or LL.B, acquired either as an undergraduate or a postgraduate degree. Students may also obtain an advanced academic degree in law, such as a masters in law (LLM). Finally, there is the professional law course, where a qualifying law degree is obtained to practice as a lawyer.
There are four types of students in Ghana undergoing legal education. An undergraduate law student pursuing a four-year LLB programme, a graduate student pursuing an LLB programme for either two or three years, a graduate student reading a two-year LLM program, or a student pursuing the two-year professional law course at the law school after obtaining an LLB from a faculty of law in an accredited university.
Impact of the Pandemic on the Student
To this generation, the COVID-19 pandemic marks the first time we are experiencing a pandemic which has impacted almost every aspect of our lives, be it positive or negative. From the perspective of a student, the impacts of the pandemic are economic, social, academic, and psychological in nature.
A Shift to Online Teaching
The immediate impact of the pandemic on Ghanaian students under legal education is the move from the face-to-face form of tutoring to a virtual instruction method. The shift to the online medium is difficult since students are used to the traditional in-person means of learning. Initially, students immediately welcomed the idea of having lectures in the comfort of their homes. However, this approach has its associated challenges, from financial or economic to technical issues involved with the use of the internet.
Although legal education is somewhat centralized in the southern part of the country, people from all parts of the country can pursue legal education. Hence online classes that require the support of the internet come at a cost. Financially, this puts a strain on the student, or the parent if the student is an undergraduate, as he or she has to financially provide the internet which comes at a high cost. Although some law faculties have provided some amount of internet connection through internet data allocation to some students, it is, however, not enough.
Technical issues with the internet is another challenge. Although internet access is available in almost every part of the country, the quality of the connection varies. Students in rural areas, even after crossing the hurdle of financing, may face the issue of poor connectivity to the internet. Postgraduate students of older age also have issues navigating the technical aspects of the internet. As such, while some may have access to online classes, others may lose out and would have to put in extra effort into catching up with the rest of the class. More importantly, some lecturers have had challenges adapting to the online platform for lectures; for example, some University of Ghana lecturers face challenges using the Sakai Platform. The technical use of the internet and the unconventional means of not physically interacting with students posed several challenges at the initial stages of the virtual lessons.
Conversely, some students appreciate the fact that online studying avails them enough time for other activities, be it taking up a job or taking up other online courses.