Law is a part of our lives and regulates most areas of human behavior. The law states that “ignorance of the law is no excuse” yet authorities responsible for maintaining law and order have not provided for public education of legal rights and duties. Our focus today is on one method of public legal education targeting school children particularly focusing on the work of a young legal educator and researcher. For my Master of Laws’ dissertation, I developed a thematic level model law syllabus for Advanced Level (A/L) studies in public schools which could be included into local A/L humanities and business streams.
The research was driven by the fact that there is little to no option for A/L students aspiring to become lawyers, judges, police officers or any other legal professional to get a taste of the subject, test their competencies against subject requirements and to gain basic knowledge of law to be prepared to take on undergraduate legal studies with confidence. This makes sense as there is no coverage of basic concepts of law in any subject in the humanities or business streams in order to prepare and test students that get selected to undergraduate or higher studies in law.
To draw a parallel with A/L science students, biology, mathematics and technology, have the opportunity to learn the basics of their respective subjects and to test whether they have the skills or interests to take up higher studies. Education authorities can also directly assess and select students, with best mastery of the basics of relevant subjects, for higher studies in science faculties of state universities. Students who fall short of getting selected can still utilize their knowledge and skills to pursue private higher studies or join relevant professions.
In the case of legal studies at A/L the social utility and career diversification of learning law is more so than learning A/L science subjects. To illustrate, a student who has learned about laws of thermodynamics will be able to make most use of it in only limited scenarios of higher studies, research, engineering careers etc and we rarely see it been used in day to day and ordinary applications such as boiling a kettle of water. However, students whom have learnt about principles of contract law; offer and acceptance, can use that knowledge in many day to day activities from buying groceries to sale of land agreements, in addition to its usefulness in higher studies, research or legal career specific functions.
For an example, an A/L law student failing to qualify for higher studies in law is better equipped to become a police officer as he has learned about basics of criminal law and he would also be a better business developer or marketer as he has learned about basics of company law, labour law and contract law. Overall, an A/L law student would be better aware of their rights and duties as citizens regardless of whether choose law or non-law related subjects. The research illustrates above points and draws upon A/L law syllabuses of international educations providers such as Edexcel, Cambridge and parallel level Australian law syllabuses and survey results to design thematic level model law syllabus.
The following are recommended as two broader objectives for this model law syllabus for Advanced Level studies;
1. To facilitate the formation of a foundation for higher legal studies. 2. To provide a platform for employment in careers in law.
However, improving general legal literacy is not recommended as a broader objective of a law syllabus at this level as it is an objective suitable for a general legal studies course that should be to be taught to all students, which is the focus area of my further research. It is further recommended that a law syllabus should contain the following broader learning objectives which should be given equal importance to achieve the broader objectives of this course. They are; 1. Provide students lessons on descriptive and substantive study of law. 2. Provide students lessons on theoretical, social and normative study of law. 3. Provide students lessons on legal capacity building.
In respect of the thematic content the syllabus is divided into three main areas; 1. Theoretical, Sociological and Historical Study of Law (studies nature, societal aspects and theories of law). 2. Study of Legal System (all round coverage of areas of public law organized under overl apping themes). 3. Study of Substantive Law Subjects. The research makes detailed recommendations as to lessons that should be covered under above three main areas which are beyond the scope of this article. Area 1 and 2 is allocated 50% of teaching hours and area 3 is given the remaining 50% of teaching hours.
Under substantive law subjects it recommends the following areas of law; Contract law, Tort law (delict), Criminal law, Human rights law, Employment law (labour law), Family law, Consumer law, International law, Environmental law, Technology and intellectual property law. It identifies five assessment objectives and recommends the final assessment to be a written assessment similar to other Advanced Level Subject Assessments. The assessment objectives are test 1. Knowledge (able to demonstrate knowledge of legal rules as defined in the syllabus, including issues of current legal concern) 2. Understanding (able to demonstrate an understanding of legal information and concepts and to identify the appropriate legal processes in different contexts) 3. Evaluation (able to evaluate the legal rules, information and concepts defined in the syllabus) 4. Analysis (able to analyse information, select appropriate legal rules and to apply these in a reasoned manner in order to draw conclusions 5. Presentation and Communication (able to organise and present information, ideas, descriptions and arguments clearly and logically, using legal terminology, taking into account the use of grammar, punctuation and spelling) In addition to detailed recommendations on a model law syllabus it provides supplementary recommendations as to subject selections in humanities streams, priority schemes for A/L law students to get into higher legal studies, further research of legal education at school level and to teach law graduates and attorneys to become law teachers at public schools, which is a great alternative career path for ever increasing number of law graduates.
My supervisor, Professor of Law (Mrs) Wasantha Senevirathne, of University of Colombo and the Director of Centre for Study of Human Rights, made the following comments on the research: “ The study showcases the lacuna in the school curriculum that there is no legal studies course to educate Advanced Level students of government schools.The research concludes with strong recommendations and policy implications, which go along with the recent proposal made by Hon.Minister of Education identifying the need to introduce law to school curriculum. I’m certain that the study by Lahiru Thilakarathna would be useful resource in achieving the said objective.”
The Dean of Faculty of Graduate Studies of General Sir John Kotelawala Defence University, Brigadier Upali Rajapaksha shared his remarks on the research: “He demonstrates that introduction of legal education to Advanced Level students provides a foundation for students who may opt for higher legal studies. His research outcome would definitely be instrumental for policy planners to draft, legalize, and implement a fruitful secondary education system.” Recently the concise and executive version of the research was presented to the Prime Minister Honorable Ranil Wikremesinghe and the Education Minister, Honorable Akila Viraj Kariyawasam, both of whom are lawyers themselves, to make the recommendations a reality.
The research is quite timely, completed in 2017, as the government in 2019 announced its intention to introduce law as a subject into public schools, a project which is headed by the Honourable Education Minister and the Minister of Justice, Honourable Thalatha Athukorala, a lawyer herself. Given the fact that legal profession is one of the oldest professions in the world and has till today held a prestigious reputation as one of the leading careers in Sri Lanka and the world, it is high time we give that recognition to this subject at public school level by giving the opportunity to those interested in pursuing a careers in law to study law at Advanced Level and aiming to improve general legal literacy amongst students through general legal studies provided to all ages.