Blog IELTS Should English Communication Education be Offered at the Graduate Level in a Korean Engineering School?

Should English Communication Education be Offered at the Graduate Level in a Korean Engineering School?

This section explores the results to the first research question: the appropriateness of graduate-level English instruction. It first explores the school’s policy on EMI, then explores a number of issues raised by the data, including measurement of students’ level of English skills, courses, support mechanisms such as a communication education center, and various aspects of science writing courses, including student satisfaction, uniformity in contents, and support available outside the classroom. School’s EMI Policy: KAIST has been at the forefront of EMI among Korean universities. ·  The school administration adopted an EMI policy in 2007 in order to realize a bilingual (English-Korean) campus to provide an optimal educational environment for international students and to strengthen Korean students’ global competitiveness [33]. The percentage of EMI graduate classes increased from 17% in 2005, to 48% in 2007, and to 63% in 2009. The percentage dropped to 56% in 2011; still, this was the highest percentage of classes delivered in English among Korean universities. According to Byun, et al. [27], 58 higher-education institutions in Korea were offering EMI at the graduate level. Among them, only five schools provided more than 50% of all classes in English; 20 schools, more than 10%; and 29 schools above 5%. In Spring 2011, tragic incidents occurred at KAIST, where four undergraduate students committed suicide, and the school’s unwavering push for EMI was partly blamed as the culprit that made the students feel severely stressed, driving them to take such extreme measures [34], [35]. Whether or not the contentions were true since the tragedy, the administration has loosened its all-out EMI policy, but still KAIST offers the highest percentage of EMI classes among Korean universities. This consistent implementation of EMI highlights the needs for English communication training for the graduate students with insufficient English skills.

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Lack of Accurate Measurement of Students’ English Levels: Despite its strong emphasis on EMI, the school retains few data that show students’ accurate English ability. The graduate admission office requires certain scores on standardized English tests, but most applicants (68.7% or 2378/3463 in 2011, for example) submit scores on the tests that measure reading and listening skills only, while only a handful of applicants (4.8% or 167/3463 in 2011) submit scores on the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) and the International English Language Testing System (IELTS), which test all four language skills. After admission, students’ English skills are not measured or evaluated. Thus, it is unknown whether students have sufficient English ability to function in EMI classes.

Students’ Insufficient English Skills for EMI: Moreover, the faculty respondents indicated that, on average, 21.25% of their students understood their EMI classes somewhat, and 6.5% very little. That is, the professors regarded 27.75% of their students to be ill-equipped for EMI classes. As for students’ own assessment, a higher percentage of students felt that their English communication ability was not adequate for EMI classes. In the student questionnaire, only 40.5% (47) of the 116 respondents felt that their English communication skills were sufficient for EMI. Relative to the professors’ evaluation, students showed a lower degree of confidence in their own English ability (Fig. 3). In addition, when the students were asked to evaluate their own writing ability, 19.8% of the 116 student respondents placed themselves in the beginning level, 44.8% intermediate, 27.6% high intermediate, 6% advanced, and 0.9% near-native or native (Fig. 4). Many of them showed low levels of confidence; that is, 64.6% of the students thought their writing ability was in either the beginning or intermediate level. This indicates the need for the training of fundamental writing skills. To summarize the fact that the school has actively implemented an EMI policy, yet there are few data that show students’ actual English levels, and both students and professors evaluated the English communication ability of approximately 30% of students to be ill-prepared for EMI classes indicate the need for an accurate evaluation process to be in place and for intense English communication training.

Insufficient English Communication Courses: At the graduate level, only one graduate writing course, Scientific Writing, had been offered at the time of the surveys, and one section of Graduate English Presentations was added in the spring of 2012. The EFL Program had been getting constant complaints from students about the insufficient number of graduate courses, in particular, that of SW classes. Relatedly, in the student questionnaire survey, 53% (63) of the 116 respondents said that there were too few English communication courses.

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