​Improving future by advancing legal education for China's secondary students

By Eugene Clark
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, March 10, 2021
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An assistant prosecutor explains constitutional knowledge to students at Hengshui High School in Hengshui, north China's Hebei province, Dec 4, 2020. [Photo/Xinhua]

China has recently taken significant steps to promote legal literacy by introducing legal education to 45,000 schools across the country. It is being provided by more than 33,000 Chinese prosecutors to advance legal knowledge among students.

In addition, Chinese procuratorial agencies have also produced written materials, TV programs and short videos designed on the rule of law. Future plans also include the development and launch of online courses on legal education. 

These are very important and exciting developments for China. Having been involved in a similar project in Australia's island state of Tasmania in the 1980s and 1990s, I know such initiatives can play a significant and positive role in secondary education and that students will welcome and highly value such exposure.  

We live in an increasingly complex world governed by a labyrinth of laws, regulations and other rules creating both rights and obligations that impact upon every person in society. Law is about life. Thus, to function successfully in modern society citizens require basic legal literacy to be able to negotiate their way.  

It is also important for citizens to appreciate that law is not only for lawyers and judges. If citizens are to be truly empowered and have respect for the basic institutions in society, such as law, and, if they are to value the rule of law in society, they should have a basic understanding of the role law plays in society and their basic rights and obligations.

Modern life is difficult and full of conflict and chaos. A society without laws is prone to intense conflict and constant disputes. The rule of law serves as a guide for what is acceptable and what is not. An effective legal system seeks to treat people equitably so that everyone knows the rules and is similarly bound by them. As Aristotle said, "It is in justice that the ordering of society is centered." 

The study of law in secondary school should be pragmatic and practical. Students should not only learn "rules" and "content," but also develop some skills in research, logical and clear thinking and writing, persuasion, negotiation, etc. 

A program of legal literacy for citizens should include the role of law in improving life. It should include the study of law, not only as it is, but as it should be.  

Citizens who know about the law will have a greater sense of participation and involvement and better understanding of law as an institution. They will also have a greater sense of justice and the need for society to right wrongs and improve itself.

Reflecting on my experience as a participant in introducing legal education to Tasmanian secondary students, I would encourage China's lawyers and educators to consider the following:

While it is OK to bring legally trained people to the schools, I would also encourage programs to provide legal education to teachers. At secondary level, teachers of legal studies ideally should be teachers first and have legal expertise second. Otherwise, there is a danger that courses will be too crammed with law content at the risk of failing to address broader values, and practical skills.

A network of legal education teachers should be formed to learn from one another. Indeed, it would be great if China could help develop an international secondary legal education "network" so that, through a study of comparative law, countries could share best practice and learn from one another.  

University law schools should play an important role in working with and providing legal education programs to legal studies teachers at the secondary level. For example, the College of Comparative Law at China's University of Political Science and Law could play a leading role in working with other Comparative Law programs to extend its network to include legal education programs for secondary school teachers.

The topics to be included can be wide-ranging, such as the sources of law and how to find the law, introduction to legal processes, as well as nature of the legal profession and provision of legal services.

Students should also visit courts, administrative agencies, police and other key components in the legal system. People working in these various roles should also come to the classroom.

Universities should conduct ongoing research regarding best ways to provide and continually improve legal education. Technology should also be part of the equation as we search for new ways to provide legal education, for example using AI, designing computer games related to legal education, and so on.

Finally, it is important to evaluate education reform measures to ensure educational values and objectives are being achieved. 

As legal education permeates societies around the world, it will also help to promote and encourage mutual respect and hope that law will gradually replace violence as a means to resolve disputes everywhere. 

Eugene Clark is a columnist with China.org.cn. For more information please visit:


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