“Only those students who are very good at English actively participate in the class. I only concentrate on the time in class when the professor sums up the lesson for that day in Korean before the class ends. The class is conducted in English and the textbook is also written in English, so I have a hard time understanding the lecture.” The improvement of English classes was an important issue during the period of the student body president election, but then what is the problem with English classes?
Before we answer this question, we need to know the reason why many universities have introduced English classes. In the era of globalization, it is no doubt that the English language is indispensable, so universities need to reflect the spirit of the age. Also, there is a growing need to host the best foreign students at the university. School officials said, “Dongguk University has introduced English classes since 2007 to enhance students’ English ability. The basic idea is that the more students are exposed to English in class, the better their English will become.”
If so, what is the percentage of English classes at Korean universities? At Dongguk University, for majors, English classes are about 30 percent of their overall lectures. The rate does not include the ratio of the subjects for general education. If these are included, the proportion of English classes is expected to grow significantly. Above this, KAIST (Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology) had the highest percentage of English classes, 91% and second is Pohang University of Science and Technology, 57.8% in 2010.
There have been many disputes over the English classes. First, some people say that English classes were introduced too quickly to get higher scores in the part of globalization on external evaluations about the university. The evaluation has been conducted by the Joongang Newspaper. The evaluation of the degree of globalization at a university has three main categories: the number of English classes, number of foreign professors and foreign students. The ratio of English classes in the globalization evaluation is 29%. In response to this, school officials say that it is true that the evaluation has affected how the curriculum is formed, but that is not everything. The English classes’ real goal is to improve students’ English skills.
English classes have several problems in the present circumstance. Because of rapidly carrying out the English classes system, there are unprepared professors for English classes and there are many comments about the English classes. In some introduction classes which the classes are conducted in English, the professor has taught students in Korean mixed with English, or only Korean so the classes are no different from the Korean classes.
Moreover, if professors really teach students in English, they would not make summaries of the classes in Korean during the last 10 minutes of class even though some students do not understand the content of their classes. Secondly, unprepared professors are also part of the problem. For example, Kim Hyun-wook who majors in Life Science Engineering in Konkuk University said “A few professors have unclear pronunciation and it makes me not understand the classes. The content of the class is naturally too difficult to understand and I probably would not understand even if the class is in Korean.” Also exchange students are dissatisfied with the classes in English. In the introduction of the classes, it is written that the class will be conducted in English so exchange students choose those classes because they believe that the professor will teach them in English.
In the present situation, students cannot help doubting the essential function of English classes. The Post did a survey of 88 students at Dongguk University and asked the question, do the classes in English really improve your English skills?’ 49 students said “It is not matter that your English skills are improved by the English class. I cannot understand the class.” Only 15 students said their English skill has improved by taking the English classes. We can say with confidence that the English classes do not improve students’ English fundamentally. Another survey asked the question, why do you take classes in English? 26 out of 40 students said that the standard of the English class was different than that of the Korean class. They suggested that they thought it was easier to get better grades than students taking the Korean class.
English classes which did not take into consideration the particular majors also make problems. In the present university system students have to take their major classes in English. Classes in engineering, however, are too difficult to make so are only conducted in Korean. Also Chinese-language classes and Japanese-language classes are conducted in English in KAIST. KAIST did not consider specific features of these classes. The efficiency of classes naturally decreased and students did not understand very well.
Though English classes have several problems in the present situation, it seems they are going through a period of transition. If universities deal with the problems gradually, universities can turn out global students that universities want. Firstly, universities have to support the development of teaching methods in English which professors can teach both majors and English. Hong Gook-sun in Seoul National University said “If professors teach students’ majors in English, only 50% of that knowledge will be imparted to students. If the university wants to accomplish the real purpose of English classes, they have to make classes which the professor can convey their knowledge 100 percent.” The classes in English are essential things in the global era, but if universities do not consider the problems they will not gain all they really want to.
Kim Jong-ha, Kim Yu-young firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
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