Until a few months ago, Egyptian public international law professor Dr. Salwa El-Ekiaby routinely felt mentally and physically exhausted. Between her courses at Benha University and those at Zagazig University, she taught more than 1,000 students. In keeping with standard practice, each class consisted of more than an hour of uninterrupted lecture, and student questions were answered after class. Ultimately, this technique proved taxing—Dr. El-Ekiaby’s energy was sapped after each lecture, and many students found it difficult to focus with so few opportunities for interaction.
But that was then. Today, Dr. El-Ekiaby reports a drastically altered dynamic in her classrooms. She is energized, and her students are engaged. She credits a recent ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) training with altering her perspective on legal education and with broadening the teaching methodologies she employs in the classroom.
Due in part to their own law school experiences, most Egyptian law professors have limited exposure to interactive teaching techniques and engage only in straightforward lecturing. This approach places little to no emphasis on two-way, professor-student communication. To address this need, ABA ROLI trains young Egyptian law professors on teaching methodologies and on the development of supporting materials that incorporate international best practices. The program, which is supported by the Ford Foundation, identified 24 tenured law professors, lecturers and teaching assistants at universities throughout Cairo. The legal education professionals then took part in ten days of training during two sessions held in May and June of 2011.
At the training’s completion, participants and instructors alike observed the beginnings of a real culture shift with regard to legal education. But it didn’t happen instantaneously. Even Dr. El-Ekiaby confesses that she was initially taken aback by the seminar’s focus on role-playing exercises and student presentations. Given the size of their classrooms and their own educational experiences, role playing seemed untenable.
“They have so many students, some are responsible for thousands,” said ABA ROLI legal consultant May Hassan, “At the end of the program, when they saw that they could put 20–30 students in front of the class as role-players and have the rest of the class remain engaged by offering feedback, they were convinced.”
Another new initiative for many participants was developing course curriculum. Dr. El-Ekiaby says that traditionally she and her peers spent little time devising lesson plans. Instead, a professor would stand before his or her class, lecture from the textbook for the duration of the period and hold student questions until after class. For this reason, Dr. El-Ekiaby says she found brainstorming lesson plans with fellow professors to be especially beneficial.
“These law professors came from their universities thinking it would be boring like any other conference,” Hassan says, “I don’t think they were prepared for the instructors to be so interactive. They all wanted to imitate the instructors’ techniques, and to take those skills back home with them.” With regard to the long-term impact of the training, several participants shared that their perspectives on effective legal education had been completely changed during the workshop.
After the workshop, Dr. El-Ekiaby immediately applied the new methods. She used role-playing activities extensively during that first class, and they were whole-heartedly accepted by her students. After separating the 70-student class into three groups—representing claimants, defendants and judges—to discuss legal issues, Dr. El-Ekiaby found that the environment was far more energized than had been the case in her previous lecture-based classes. Several students approached her after that first class, praising the new activities. “I was impressed when a student told me that he would remember his first experience with role playing for the rest of his life,” Dr. El-Ekiaby says.
Bolstered by her students’ reaction to her new pedagogy, Dr. El-Ekiaby now uses interactive techniques in all of her classes, allocating half of each class period to student participation. This marks a departure from the old model, but by opening her classroom to discussion, she is better able to assess her students’ comprehension and progress while simultaneously creating an environment that builds their confidence.
While she was the one who attended the ABA ROLI training, Dr. El-Ekiaby’s students are the real beneficiaries of her new expertise. Today, she is able to enhance their theoretical legal education with a better grasp of practical legal skills. Moreover, Dr. El-Ekiaby says the training and its results in the classroom have made her passionate about creating a society dedicated to the improvement of Egypt’s legal education system.
To learn more about our work in Egypt, contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at firstname.lastname@example.org.