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English lectures: a must or an obstacle?|
By Han Sang-hee
South Korea's top universities have been hell bent on expanding classes that are conducted all in English in recent years amid ever-increasing competition to globalize both their students and professors. At the forefront of this movement is the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST).
It's true that English lectures at universities started so students could develop their English skills and advance them to an international level. But how effective are such classes?
The controversy was reignited after students and professors at KAIST pointed out the ineffectiveness and impracticality of teaching various subjects in English, followed by the five recent suicides and mounting criticism of the school's president Suh Nam-pyo and his hardcore policies.
"Teaching English lectures is downright crazy," said Prof. Choi Gwang-mu from the department of computer science at KAIST.
"Teaching in English is like having students study during math class. Just because you learn a subject in English does not mean you are globalized. Students should have pride in their mother tongue. It's wrong to force them to study in English," he added.
English lectures started in 2007 and was lauded a proud asset of KAIST, a gathering of some of the brightest minds in the country. The school has offered English lectures before, but it was after president Suh came into office when the policy applied to all of its classes.
Now, many universities offer English lectures. They seek to raise the percentage of classes conducted in English in order to get higher assessments in internationalization in a number of evaluations by the government or other private ranking institutes.
But the value and utility are still questionable.
"Let's be frank. Both the professors and students are under a lot of stress," said a professor from a national university outside Seoul, who wished to be identified only as Hong. It was obvious English lectures were a burden for everyone: it takes twice as much time for the professors to prepare, while the students have to re-study what they learned during the lectures back in Korean.
"English is a language and the subject taught at school is knowledge. I don't know why people underestimate Korean. Many Korean students are not even perfect in Korean, and they listen and study subjects in English. It's like nurturing cripples," he said.
"In all honesty, learning something like social organization in English is a burden. It's hard to understand it even in Korean," said Seo Seong-woo, a senior at a university in Seoul. He added that everyone would sit in class, listen to the professor but study it all over again after the lecture in Korean.
"It can be useful in a way because you get to be in an English-only environment for even a short time, but when it comes to sharing opinions and expressing your ideas logically, this can be a challenge," he said.
A fellow KAIST graduate, currently an office worker, added that many students should have expected what the environment would be like, yet still thought there needed to be a consensus between the professor and students regarding the issue.
He said, "Of course it's tough. We all knew it would be tough, but we chose to come anyway. And if you think about it, English is a must in Korean society and for those who want to study abroad, I think it's better to struggle now than later."