The concept ‘mandatory professional education’ refer to the type of education exposed learners of those programmes deemed to be professions like Doctors and Lawyers for them to work effectively and efficiently when they go to the world of work. This education programme is also extended to those already in the work fraternity but is expected to attend refresher courses in order to improve professionally in terms efficiency, effectiveness including some ethical considerations in their profession and this later education is called mandatory continuing professional education. The principle aim of this paper is to demonstrate the understanding of the term “Mandatory Professional Education” and analyze its application in one profession specifically law. The paper starts with a brief introduction and then proceeds to the main body before the conclusion is given.
Mandatory professional education prepares learners to become ethically considerate and become efficient and effective in their respective profession. For instance, in the legal fraternity, lawyers are trained before they go into the field to improve the administration of justice which in turn benefits the public interest. Regular participation in Continuing Legal Education programs enhances the professional skills of practicing lawyers, afford them periodic opportunities for professional self-evaluation and improve the quality of legal services rendered to the public. All active members of the Zambia’s Law Association specifically those to do with the Zambian State Bar are always urged to participate in an additional amount of further legal study throughout the period of their active practice of law, and failure to do so results in their suspension from membership in the Zambia’s State Bar.
Mandatory professional education in Zambia in the area of law is firstly portrayed at Zambian Institute of Advanced Legal Education (ZIALE) where all those who finished their law programmes are expected to go first before they can be admitted into the bar as practicing lawyers. Although it is part of their qualification, this education is also issued to those professionals already in the work fraternity but are expected to attend refresher courses in order to improve professionally in terms efficiency and effectiveness. However, it should be noted here that the concept of mandatory professional education (MPE) for professionals is controversial because at its heart are questions about the nature of professions and of adult education. Being a professional implies commitment to continuing one’s education and the ability to pursue practice-enhancing learning. So there would seem to be no need for mandates. However, due to advances in knowledge and technology, as well as public demands for accountability and consumer protection, the number of states requiring professional education for many professions has significantly increased in different professions.
Mandatory continuing professional education is a recommendation for all practicing lawyers in Zambia so that they remain active and up to date with information and current legal activities. This requirement is not only in Zambia but also in other countries as well like Britain, China, USA and Canada. In other countries like the USA, they even have a Continuing Legal Education Board established for the purpose of administering the program. The Board have those general administrative and supervisory powers necessary to effectuate the purposes of this rule, including the power to adopt reasonable and necessary regulations consistent with this rule. For example, the Virginia State Bar have the responsibility for funding the Board and for enforcing Mandatory Continuing Legal Education requirements. Its duties and powers include: (a) To approve, on an individual basis, continuing legal education (CLE) programs and sponsors and publish a list of those approved. The publication include the number of credits earned for completion of a particular program; (b) To establish procedures for the approval of Continuing Legal Education courses, whether those courses are offered within the Commonwealth or elsewhere. These procedures should include the method by which CLE sponsors could make application to the Board for approval, and if necessary, make amendments to their application; (c) To authorize sponsors of Continuing Legal Education programs to advertise that participation in their program fulfills the CLE requirements of this Rule; (d) To formulate and distribute to all members of the Virginia State Bar appropriate information regarding the requirements of this Rule, including the distribution of a certification form to be filed annually by each active member.
Mandatory professional education learners are expected to possess a certain number of requirements as demanded in that particular profession. These requirements vary depending on the requirements of the different boards. For instance, in Zambia, an individual is expected to posses a degree in law from a reputable University recognized by the world for them to enter into this law profession with specific mandatory professional education. In Virginia, learners equally are expected to posses certain requirements as follows; (1) All active members of the Virginia State Bar shall annually complete and certify attendance at a minimum of twelve (12) credit hours of approved Continuing Legal Education courses of which at least two (2) hours shall be in the area of legal ethics or professionalism, except those lawyers expressly exempted from the requirement by this Rule or by decision of the Continuing Legal Education Board; provided, however, that for the specific period of time, active members shall complete and certify attendance at a minimum of fifteen (15) credit hours of approved Continuing Legal Education courses of which at least two (2) hours shall be in the area of legal ethics or professionalism, except those lawyers expressly exempted from the requirement by this rule or by decision of the Continuing Legal Education Board. Each active member shall complete the required Continuing Legal Education courses each year during a specific period of time. (2) In order to provide flexibility in fulfilling the annual requirement, a one year carryover of credit hours is permitted, so that accrued credit hours in excess of one year’s requirement may be carried forward from one year to meet the requirement for the next year. A member may carry forward a maximum of twelve (12) credit hours, two (2) of which, if earned in legal ethics or professionalism, may be counted toward the two (2) hours required in legal ethics or professionalism and finally (3) Each active member of the Virginia State Bar is responsible for ascertaining whether or not a particular course satisfies the requirements of this Rule. Each member should exercise discretion in choosing those approved programs which are most likely to enhance professional skills and improve delivery of legal services.
Although mandatory professional education is said to have a lot of advantages as far preparation of professionals are concerned, there is a strong debate about it strength and weaknesses as discussed by Sandra Kerka (2008:2) who says that the following are the chief arguments of those opposed to MPE as quoted in (Brockett and LeGrand 1992; Morrison 1992; Nelson 1988; Queeney and English 1994):
It violates adult learning principles, such as voluntary participation, the informal nature of adult education, and adult self-direction. It promotes uniformity by disregarding individual learning needs and styles. By definition, professionals are supposed to be autonomous, self-managed, and responsible for mastery of knowledge; MPE and MCE is punitive to those who participate voluntarily. Evidence that it results in improved practice is lacking. All that is mandated is attendance, which will not necessarily change attitudes, motivation, determination to practice responsibly, or ability to learn. Programs are not consistently and uniformly available. Many lack quality and relevance to practitioner needs. MCE may encourage providers to focus on profit. Requiring participation may hinder learning by reducing motivation and individual responsibility. Professionals should be accountable for effective performance, not participation.
Although these scholars are against this kind of education, there are also other proponents who support MPCE for the following reasons (Brockett and LeGrand 1992; Little 1993; Nelson 1988; Queeney and English 1994; Queeney, Smutz, and Shuman 1990):
Expecting voluntary participation is unrealistic. Those who need it most may be least likely to participate. There is some evidence that well-designed programs can influence effective practice. MCE can provide equal access to a range of opportunities. Mandates are necessary to protect the public from incompetent or out-of-date practitioners. Although imperfect, it is better than such alternatives as examination or practice review. By choosing a profession, professionals submit to its norms. A license to practice implies consent to be governed by the rules of the profession.
It is clear that these arguments are very strong. However, although some studies have found negative attitudes among those required to participate, Queeney, Smutz, and Shuman (1990) suggest that MCE participants may judge their participation more thoughtfully and critically because it is required; they expect high quality and applicability and become more astute consumers of learning opportunities. Some feel that the mandatory debate is a dead issue (Brockett and LeGrand 1992; Nelson 1988; Queeney and English 1994). Rather than arguing about whether professional continuing education should be mandatory, the focus should be on improving the content and delivery of CPE. However, the “content of CPE courses is often based on precedent or what the providers think is worthwhile, rather than any systematic analysis of what constitutes competent current practice of the profession” (Hager and Gonczi 1991, p. 24). Some consider competency-based standards the solution. This aspect can be very seriously and sometimes quiet misleading. There is need to address such mandatory professional educations world and Zambia in particular.
Providers of mandatory professional education should bare in mind both the prons and cons of this kind of education and focuss on ways of improving this kind of education. However, rather than debating the mandatory issue or arguing whether competency standards are appropriate for professionals, “a preferable alternative might be to focus on alleviating the problems associated with continuing professional education as a tool for improving professional practice” (Queeney and English 1994 :16). Some of the problems are as follows (Cervero et al. 1990): multiplicity of providers; lack of standards; and dissention about who should pay, who should determine the level and frequency of participation, and what type of activity should count as continuing education.
Effective CPE should be accessible, affordable, and of high standards. It is difficult to balance quality considerations with the need to keep costs reasonable, serve large numbers, and address continual updating needs in many specializations. Collaboration among providers is recommended. CPE should be relevant to individual learning needs, applicable to practice, and designed for different learning styles. Professionals in organizational settings should receive support for transferring learning to practice, and interstate mobility of MCE credentials should be established.
The argument is that CPE should be rooted in and viewed as an extension of professional education. Competence evolves over time, and effective learning is a long-term, cumulative, integrated process (Cervero et al. 1990; Queeney and English 1994). CPE should be viewed as part of the lifelong learning continuum, and development of a mindset toward continuing education should begin prior to practice. This requires a systematic approach to developing a strategic lifelong learning agenda that is holistic (taking into account the multiple cultural influences on practice). Currently rare, educational counseling services for professionals are needed.
Sandra Kerka (2008:6) further says CPE should link practitioner competence to the ideals of public service and accountability by (1) stressing the value judgments and ethical considerations in practice, (2) developing competence and expertise in conjunction with understanding of the human purposes of professional service, and (3) promoting cooperation, interdependence, and collaboration as additional ways to improve competence (Cervero et al. 1990). Nelson (1988) warns that MCE should not be oversold as a solution. Associations for professions in which continuing education is mandatory should promote the values of CPE to their members while acknowledging to the public the limitations and difficulties of certifying competence and of documenting MCE’s effects on practice. A most important factor in overcoming objections to mandated education is consideration of the professional as an adult learner. Program design and delivery should emphasize consultation and cooperation, not coercion (Nelson 1988). Professionals can be given broad latitude in the selection and design of their individual learning programs (Brockett and LeGrand 1992), especially if standards against which to compare them have been established. Cervero et al. (1990) give the following description of professionals as learners: “professionals construct an understanding of current situations of practice using a repertoire of practical knowledge acquired primarily through experience in prior ‘real life’ situations” (p. 178). CPE must foster both practical knowledge or know-how as well as critical reflection.
It can be concluded that mandatory professional education has to do with training learners by imparting all skills needed in a certain or particular profession like administration, how to treat clients, ethical considerations, understanding the operations of the system, efficiency and effectiveness as discussed in the paper. Although in some professions MCE has become the norm, its mandatory nature should not be the focus. “One answer to the mandatory continuing education conundrum may be not the mandatory or voluntary nature of continuing education, but the transformation of professionals into motivated seekers of education and this is what it should be in all mandatory professional education.
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