[LETTERS TO THE EDITOR]Students decry English maniaA recent article in the JoongAng Daily, “Universities push classes in English” (May 16), about the increasing amount of English-language instruction in Korean universities, raised the issue of whether the English skills of the teachers and students were good enough to ensure a quality learning environment.
But the article did not convey the full picture when it comes to the misguided university policies behind these courses.
Korean universities have been adding English-language courses in the belief that this will make students more competitive and prepare them for global challenges.
But some university students believe that putting so much time and effort into education in English is a poor choice.
“The frenzy and glorification of the English language in Korea has gone overboard,” says Lee Yoon-joon, an elementary education student at Ewha Womans University. “The purpose of coming to university at all is to learn more about the world and sharpen our analytical skills, so we can behave and live with a heightened sense of awareness.”
In this sense, the universities’ one-sided faith in English curriculae is not only impractical, but distorts the whole purpose of higher education. These English classes do not meet many Korean students’ expectations for an ideal university education.
“English classes are inefficient in helping students shape more finely-grained thoughts and arguments,” says Sun Joo-yeon, a junior at Ewha’s Department of International Relations. “The first objective becomes overcoming the language barrier, and the rest becomes secondary.”
Student Hyung Soo-jin agrees. “Usually, the quality of English courses are much lower than the courses taught in Korean. Instead of focusing on the number of English courses, schools should make classes smaller, so that each student will get more individual attention.”
“We want quality learning that will make us more competitive,” says Choi Sun-yung, a sophomore at Kunkuk University. “This means diversifying the scope of our knowledge, not just our English proficiency.”
Although it is important to be able to speak English so that students can compete with others in the global market, changes seem to be needed in the English curriculum at the university level.
“If the government were really concerned about developing good English speakers, look at Scandinavian countries. They learn English well from the elementary school level, not just in university,” says Kim Do-hyun, a senior at Ewha’s Department of International Studies.
“Another issue is: Why have an English-language environment, considering that the participants, the students and professors, are not native English speakers?” Ms. Kim continues.
“English proficiency is not a main concern of the students, who actually care about structure and content of their education.”
Ms. Kim concludes, “English proficiency is important, but as long as it’s not indecipherable, I think what the professor knows and how he conveys the idea are more important to how much the students can learn.
“Just because your English is great does not mean the quality of the class is better.”
Kim Min-jee, a junior at Yonsei University, is more concerned about her teachers’ overall qualifications as instructors than about their English skills.
“I don’t care how good a professor’s English ability is if he doesn’t know how to teach the fundamentals of the subject,” she says.
The students I spoke to have some suggestions that they believe will be more effective than an emphasis on English when it comes to producing students who are more competitive in the world. “If universities really want to increase the competitiveness of the students, they should focus on refining students’ cultural awareness.” says Lee Ji-eun, a student at Ewha’s Division of International Studies. “We need to do away with the needless burden of grades and allow for a free learning environment by switching many of the courses to a pass/fail system.”
While some students agree that shifting to a freer learning environment would allow students to find a more natural stimulus in education, others call for less radical changes, saying that what the university system needs is refinement.
“Professors should give better feedback on students’ work. Professors in my major are really good about this, but some professors in other departments don’t give any feedback,” says Kim Do-hyun. “Professors should stimulate discussion in class and encourage students to challenge professors’ opinions.”
Ms. Kim asserts that “competitiveness really depends on being able to think independently.... The point is that mere learning in English should not be more important than learning in-depth, which is what universities are really for.”
Producing more critical thinkers in Korean society ― a key ingredient in increasing the nation’s competitiveness ― is not about raising the number of English courses. And it’s definitely not about giving students more opportunities to practice their English with native speakers.
The writer is a student at the Department of Inter-national Relations at Ewha Womans University.
by Koo Mee-hyoe