COVID-19 and law schools
THE LEGAL FRONT By JUSTICE ART D. BRION (RET.) Today, medical experts are still at a loss on how to effectively handle and control COVID-19. We are only certain of the COVID-caused deaths among those already under
THE LEGAL FRONTBy JUSTICE ART D. BRION (RET.)Justice Art D. Brion (Ret.)Today, medical experts are still at a loss on how to effectively handle and control COVID-19. We are only certain of the COVID-caused deaths among those already under monitoring or investigation. We do not yet know for certain the infection level within the general population and how to really arrest our rising levels of COVID-19 death and infection.
For this reason, I shall avoid adding to the COVID-19 noise by writing only about the effects of the virus on our normal lives.A key concern for me as a lawyer and member of the legal academe is the opening of classes that, for many schools, will take place in June. Due to the compulsory lockdown, normal classroom classes are currently suspended although teaching continues under various alternative arrangements. In some law schools, classes are
viaInternet teleconferencing.These uncertainties have given rise to questions from interested quarters: Will classes open in June, given the continually increasing incidence of COVID-19 infection and deaths in our country? Some academic authorities favor the opening of classes next school year but would like to do this, if COVID-19 remains unchecked, through videoconferencing.
The class opening issue in these uncertain times inevitably leads to core questions of values and priorities.How much value do we give to life and what values do we allocate to education?In another context (the extension of the quarantine whose effects have been detrimental to business in general), Ramon Ang, president of San Miguel Corporation, gave a ready answer. He said:
“At this point, what is more important are lives, not money. We can make money again, but life, once you lose it, it’s gone forever.”Mr. Ang cannot be wrong even in the context of education. The instinct for the preservation of life is hardwired into our internal systems as individuals. In fact, we purposively organized ourselves into a community because we need one another and our collective efforts to survive.
As a nation, we promulgated our Constitution to lay down our guiding rules for existence and survival, both as a community and as individuals. This Constitution and its surrounding jurisprudence recognize our community’s overriding power to maintain and defend itself (through police power, taxation, and eminent domain), and teach us as well the order of priorities in protecting the interests – life, liberty, and property – that individuals value.
COVID-19 attacks us, not only as individuals but as a community. Unchecked, it causes the death of individuals at a scale that threatens community interests – people’s welfare, orderly community life, and governance. COVID-19 also threatens our economy; we generate our national wealth through the actions and inter-actions of individuals. Dead, ill, or immobilized individuals cannot generate the business the nation needs.
In this black-and-white formulation, our system of values and priorities appears simple, yet is complicated as it translates to day-to-day living. To preserve life and fight widespread death, some of us have to die. Our doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel are at the frontlines of our fight and are risking their lives for us. They are our immediate heroes in fighting COVID-19.
Not far behind them are the police and the military who expose themselves to risks as they seek to preserve order in a community battling COVID-19. They are heroes, no less, together with all our government people, whether leaders or rank-and-file. Collectively, they run the country to allow us, the citizens, to protect ourselves and help one another.
In this array, the role of teachers may not be readily evident as they are not in the immediate frontlines. But teachers are nevertheless in the thick of the struggle; they are the secondary line that looks to the future to ensure the continued training and development of our youths. Law teachers ensure the continuity of able lawyers who will man the ramparts of our justice system in the future.
From this perspective, it is easy to discern that our community’s fight for lives and for survival is more urgent and immediate; it is the primary line on which all other interests depend. Thus, in case of a conflict between our community’s fight for survival, on the one hand, and its push for education, on the other, the latter must momentarily give way. Our leaders significantly recognized this reality when they immediately suspended classroom work when COVID-19 first reared its ugly head.
But how long should the suspension of classes last?In my view, the suspension of regular classes in the classrooms should continue while the lockdown is in place and for as long as COVID-19 infection remains an active threat that could infect or re-infect our community.
Beyond the lockdown, the resumption of normal classroom classes should depend on the assessment of our health authorities. COVID-19 is primarily a health problem, not an education problem.What the legal education authorities – in particular, the Legal Education Board (
LEB) and the law schools – should be able to decide on,even while a lockdown is in place, is the use of alternative teaching and learning methods such as the use of internet videoconferencing.Computer-aided teaching through videoconferencing, among others, may very well be the wave of the future that COVID-19 is already forcing upon us. It is a teaching mode, though, that could be replete with implementation problems at the start – from the school’s end, the teachers’ end, and the students’ end.
We should thus approach videoconferencing very carefully and with full awareness that a misstep may carry far-ranging impact on legal education and even on our justice system later on. Thus, the LEB’s presence, monitoring, and regulation should always be there.
To generally cite the requirements, the school must be equipped with the required videoconferencing facilities, equipment, and technology. No tentative measures should be allowed. In particular, internet and wifistrength and reliabilitysine qua nons.Teachers could pose a big problem because computers could be a novel teaching medium for them.
Separately from computer literacy and videoconferencing seminars, therefore, law schools should provide teachers with basic training onhow to teach via computers.Teaching by computers cannot be an everyman-for-himself proposition. The objective is to impart knowledge at the same extent and quality that knowledge is imparted in the classrooms. Law schools should lead in carrying out this objective.
A special consideration in using videoconferencing is how student attendance shall be enforced, recitations undertaken, and examinations administered. These activities should be closely regulated, and cannot simply be hidden behind the veil of academic freedom.
Students, for their part, should at least have notebook computers that they can use during scheduled class times. They cannot miss classes because somebody else is using their computers. Mobile telephone devices are inadequate and should not be allowed as substitutes. Necessarily, they must have their own access to Internet/wifi and be able to download required reading materials.
All these requirements entail funds, sourced from either the school, the students and their parents, or from the government. This is a dimension that the LEB and the law schools should consider carefully to ensure that the use of video conferencing as a teaching medium shall be equitable.
Join me in hoping for the best for legal education, the legal academe, and the LEB as they meet the unusual challenges that COVID-19 poses to the nation.
Read more: Manila Bulletin News
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