Teaching and Learning in South Africa


Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University

Patricia McKellar, Senior Lecturer, Learning and Teaching, for the Undergraduate Laws Programme attended the South African Law Teachers Conference in Port Elizabeth held at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU).  NMMU has 25,000 students and is a leading institution in Environmental Law in South Africa. The Conference, welcomed 250 delegates and was an opportunity for law teachers in South Africa to share practice and discuss current legal issues in a collegiate and friendly environment. Themes ranged from Criminal and Procedural Law, Banking and Finance Law, Customary Law, Legal Philosophy, International Law as well as Legal Education and Clinical Legal Education.

The Legal Philosophy sessions served to show how South Africa, and indeed many African countries, require to come to terms with the concept of their legal systems being rooted in different, and sometimes conflicting, cultures. South Africa has the added difficulty of emerging comparatively recently, in terms of evolution of legal systems, from the apartheid regime.  But there were clearly initiatives being suggested to undertake research in these areas which may bring some form of new understanding.

Skills acquisition is an important part of the English LLB and so it proved with the South African one. Delegates listened to Dr Desan Lyer speaking on the semiotics of non verbal communications in the legal arena. Dr Lyer submitted that as teachers we focus more on knowledge than on skills and, in particular, not enough time was spent in imparting communication skills.

Desai Colgan, Prof Wesahi Domingo and Helen Papacostantis from de Wits University in Johannesburg gave a well delivered paper on the embedding of legal skills within the curriculum. Rather than restricting the acquisition of skills to one separate course they have included specific skills teaching into particular modules throughout the degree. The authors presented findings relating to the Family law course where they had produced a range of activities for students on where to find your law, how to read legal sources and how to present written legal information.

Jacques Mahler Coetzee from Fort Hare effectively drew in his audience in his discussion of the creation of Audio Visual ‘Pivots’, or short video clips, which he uses to provide a focused entry into discussions stimulating curiosity in going from what he calls the ‘known to the unknown’. Each ‘pivot’ has a range of supporting resources for the student including quizzes and activities.

Heidi Schoeman from the University of Johannesburg gave a very informative session on the need for lecturers to embrace technology in their teaching or students will lose interest. She gave examples from her own teaching where she uses vodcasts and podcasts as well as engaging with students using Twitter and filming them role playing.

Patricia McKellar with students

Patricia’s session was on the pilot project in the University of London to use e- readers in the ULP. The paper discussed a project which followed 100 students on the undergraduate LLB in Singapore, Kenya, Germany and the UK who were given e-readers loaded with the study materials as well as the core text books in Criminal and Contract law. The initial findings revealed that students valued the portability and convenience of the e-reader.

David McQuoid-Mason, University of KwaZulu-Natal, ran sessions on Clinical Legal Education including Street law workshops. His emphasis on empowering communities is a potent message and one which has resonance throughout the developed as well as developing worlds. In addition David ran a most engaging session on using Franz Kafka’s The Trial as a teaching tool to enable law students to consider whether a person’s due process rights have been violated by the law enforcement authorities.

The Conference was an opportunity for law teachers in South Africa to share practice and discuss current legal issues in a collegiate and friendly environment. To witness this as an outsider it was clear there is much collaboration and co-ordination among the various institutions. In 1997 David McQuoid-Mason, the then President of the Society of Law

Patricia McKellar & David McQuoid Mason

Teachers of Southern Africa, appeared before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to apologise for the failure of many of the country’s the law faculties to take a stand against apartheid and the gross violations of human rights in South Africa, and gave an undertaking that they would not fail to do so in the future. It is clear that many South African law faculties have left the past behind them and are forging a new and cooperative path to enable them to produce outstanding teachers and thoughtful and diligent students across the racial divide.

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