Even before the start of the COVID-19 dilemma, the University of Ghana, School (Formerly Faculty) of Law had been failing its student body. It failed to implement its own policy stated within its own Student Handbook, as well as the University Handbook, which requires continuous assessment of 40 – 60 % as well as final exams for assessing the student.
This way of assessment is not only a better means of gauging how students assimilate information given by lecturers, but also removes the burden of a 100% 3 hour exam. With the current system, many students simply regurgitate what is said during lectures. They do not critically examine the subject matter to provide well devised answers to the question at hand.
Ironically, many of the lecturers make their disappointment at how the students performed known. “Oh, you did so poorly and merely rewrote the slides and notes given in class,” they say. (*rolls eyes* !!!). Note also the irony of the iconic speech given in the first lecture: ‘This is a “heavy subject” that can’t be “crammed” or “rushed through” on the night before the exam’. Yet that is all one can do when faced with an exam that scores 100%.
Of course, I’m not throwing my fellow students under the bus. Many of us, including myself do read and study during the semester. However, I certainly won’t lie. We aren’t all angels. In the days before the exam, the countdown is on; We drive ourselves and others insane with speculations about what we believe may be asked in the exam, based on the tutorial sessions, and fuss over how best to answer the questions.
Suffice it to say, these 100% exams are horrid! Not only do they fail to truly test what has been learned throughout the semester, they also fail to assess our ability to critically analyse and apply that knowledge. The truth is, they only test the student’s ability to write what the lecturer told them in class; They only test the ability to remember.
At one time in class, there was a guest lecturer who discussed how little students wrote. He lamented that there is so much more to education than just exams. I thought, “Amen! Someone who speaks my language”. This is the absolute truth! One could count on their own left hand the number of assignments that the L400 class has been given, which have actually graded and returned, along with precious feedback about how we as students and budding lawyers can improve upon our writing. This is especially crucial because writing is a critical and necessary skill in this line of work. It is unfortunate that the FLAW 410 – Long Essay subject, which is an elective, is the only chance for students to receive these skills, especially, this late in the game!
Had the student body been given regular periodic assignments as well as other means of assessment other than exams that score 100%, the students, especially the L400 class could have had some respite amidst this COVID-19 crisis that has arisen and disrupted teaching at the faculty. Currently, the faculty is rushing to implement the online teaching system through UG Sakai e-learning platform. The apprehension about the upcoming graduation and how the semester would be completed could have been avoided. The student body would have, at least, been cushioned by the grades accumulated throughout the semester via a continuous assessment method. Had assignments and other assessments been given, the accumulation of those grades could have been calculated and a final grade given to the students. This would have given them some leverage, academic stability and of course, peace of mind. It would have improved their chances of graduating in time to take Ghana School of Law exams (assuming Ghana School of Law exams will take place at the usual time).
As a law student, (speaking for myself only) it would be erroneous on my part to remain oblivious to what is happening, not only in Ghana, but around the world with regards to the Coronavirus pandemic and its trickle down effects on us as students. Students who are not sure whether they wish to enter the School of Law but rather want to seek other pastures such as an LLM or other academic pursuits abroad will be the worst affected.
Many of the “elite” law faculties, as ranked by U.S. News & World Report, have moved from the traditional grading scale to pass/fail grading temporarily. Among these are, Yale Law School, Stanford Law School, Harvard Law School, Columbia Law School, the University of Virginia School of Law, the University of Pennsylvania School of Law, University of California, Berkeley… etc. This is a fine example of how these other universities are supporting their students through this crisis. This is the kind of support that we as UGSOL students need now to help us through this crazy, uncertain time.
I am not advocating for the implementation of the pass/fail grading system – Haha, not yet! Rather, I am arguing that the UGSOL should have been supporting us from the very beginning with various methods of assessment, instead of trying to “separate the sheep from the goat,” (as one lecturer puts it). Academic performance should not be based on an inequitable and unpredictable playing field, dictated by COVID-19 and its asymmetrical effects on our student body.
The effects of the closure of schools and COVID lockdown could have been mitigated by continuous assessment methods throughout the semester. It would have prevented the sudden push for e-learning platforms which create further hardship for students. Many do not have stable internet access and the cost of data is rather dear. Even with the generous data package from the Vodafone – UG agreement, many students have challenges. This is due to the difficulty in activating the package, and the sad fact that the data allocation is insufficient for downloading new apps to be able to access the e-learning platforms.
Many students want an opportunity to succeed. They would work hard, during the semester, to get the best grades possible. But it should not be through a three hour exam only. God only knows what ill fate awaits a person who falls sick on the night before, or on the day of the exam. A person who has difficulty focussing, and the one who is unable to decipher a compulsory question would both be in a very tight spot. These things are a big hindrance and can cost a student the entire exam. Were continuous assessments available, the situation might have been salvaged by relying on those marks. Unfortunately, in the absence of continuous assessment, the law student’s only recourse is to resit the exam.
Continuous assessment is the best way to ascertain students’ comprehension of their courses, assess their capabilities and measure how effective the teaching is. It should not take a global pandemic for the UGSOL to reassess its method of teaching. There needs to be a complete change and overhaul of the UGSOL to allow students a greater opportunity to do well outside of regurgitation in a three hour exam.