Change to a skills-based LLB curriculum: A qualitative study of participants in a family law course
The transformation of educational institutions in South Africa led to institutions of higher learning rethinking their role in the new democratic era. This changed context called for wide-ranging curriculum reform within law schools and faculties. Curriculum changes were also impacted by the call from the profession to address the skills deficit of graduates, who were seen as lacking basic skills such as researching, reading and writing. The University of Witwatersrand's School of Law responded by making extensive changes to its existing curriculum during the period 2009-2012. This research sets out to examine the change to a skills-based LLB curriculum through the lens of the family law course implemented in 2012. The basis of the research is the argument that any educational change or reform should look beyond institutional change. It should also look at what has changed in practice with respect to the experiences of the individuals involved, at a personal level. This study focuses on the process of change, within the course as well as on an understanding of the phenomenology of change ― how people in the family law course actually experience the change, in distinction from how the change was intended. The study adopted a mixed methods approach with a primarily qualitative focus, and was interested in understanding how the individuals affected were interpreting their experiences within the course. Through the use of questionnaires, interviews and focus groups the study revealed that for effective change the initiators need to understand the nature of change and acknowledge the views of all participants. This calls for the generation of shared meaning. The isolated tale of success of the family law course told in this study is not an indication that all of the courses impacted by change were successful. This study focuses on a single course, but it is the start of developing a deeper understanding of the process of change within a law school and to a law curriculum.
Keywords: Legal education; phenomenology of change; skills-based curriculum; shared meaning; qualitative and quantitative methods; standards for the bachelor of law.