The KAIST Student & Minority Human Rights Committee’s recent decision to prohibit Korean re-explanation in English lectures has brought about heated debates within the KAIST community. Professors’ use of Korean in lectures has been an ongoing dispute that many international students have tried to tackle in recent years. Who should be responsible for raising the issue, and is the usage of Korean in lectures in need of change?
Simply Not an Issue
By Hongseok Lee Head of Society Division
One of the biggest current issues in the KAIST student community is regarding the KAIST Student & Minority Human Rights Committee’s (HRC) proposal to provide a guideline to professors that requests a limitation or cessation of Korean usage during lectures. This recommendation has sparked immediate opposition from the student community. KaDaejeon was plastered with conflicting arguments for a long period around the middle of March. It reached a point where the KaDaejeon admins officially announced a “cooldown” period, meaning that the page would not allow any posts regarding this topic. It is clear then that this issue of Korean usage in lectures is a controversial one which could have a significant impact, as that of the example above. Many say the HRC proposal is over something that is not even an issue, and even if the international student body wishes to make it one, it should then be KISA that champions the idea.
First, we must be reminded that the lectures are already conducted in English. There is no reason to prevent the lecturer from re-explaining the material in Korean to the students if they are asked to. It has a clear purpose of allowing the students who did not understand the material to understand it. Just as international students are not used to Korean, the Korean students are not used to English. The school regulations state that lectures should be provided in English, but it is not forbidden to use Korean to re-explain the material.
Yet, there were many on KaDaejeon who believed that Korean students should study English more sincerely because our school is known for its English lectures. However, this belief contains a fatal flaw. It disregards the English education system in Korea. Currently, the average Korean high school does not provide sufficient English education for students to understand lectures that are provided in fluent and technical English. It is the limit of the Korean education system and it is the limit of a nation in which English is not the mother language. It is a stretch to argue that it is possible for Korean students to equally compete against those who can speak fluent English.
However, the plea of these Korean students is not to get rid of English lectures; KAIST is a school that aims to be more global and thus English lectures are inevitable. Their request is simply to allow the re-explanation of class material in Korean, when they are not able to comprehend in English. The argument that Korean students should study English because KAIST is an English-speaking school has the same logic that international students should study Korean because they are in Korea.
Second, there is a debate over the suitability of the proposal having been made by the HRC. The HRC is a committee that stands for the minorities in KAIST. Though international students can be considered a minority, seeing that there are fewer internationals than Korean students, many argue that the HRC should not be the one representing them. But it is, creating more controversies over this issue.
There is already an official student committee that represents the international students, the KAIST International Student Association (KISA). However, KISA has never raised an issue about the re-explanation of class materials; not in the past, nor in the present. This could indicate that even KISA does not see this as a pressing issue to be dealt with. If international students faced a great loss because of this, wouldn’t KISA have proposed a requirement to limit Korean usage a long time ago, as the HRC has now? KISA’s silence on the matter shows that there is no problem with the current situation.
This controversy is an unnecessary storm in a teacup. KISA has not raised objections against the Korean re-explanation in classes, which is mainly dependent on the professors’ decision. The controversy was provoked in an online debate only because the HRC raised the issue. To conclude, this issue has been needlessly brought to fore, and if an organization sees fit to raise an issue, it should be KISA, not the HRC.
Conflict of Interest
By Jae Hwan Jeong Staff Reporter
It’s with an unexplainable sense of anger and guilt that we embrace the advent of a conflict. We are quick to point fingers, almost as though the mere act of holding someone accountable is what is going to get us through the heat. Taking ourselves out of the spotlight of blame seems to be the main pursuit, all the while the problem itself drifts away from the focal point of our conversations. The Korean/English lectures in KAIST are starting to bear the same color of irrelevance simply due to the many debates that are taking the matter out of focus. The concern shouldn’t be whether KISA was the one to raise the issue, or whether KAIST being located in Korea should have a say in the argument. It simply is a matter of what the vision of KAIST is, and whether we are doing our best to reflect those values in the lecture rooms.
From the moment we set foot in the school to the day we graduate, some of us don’t even know of KAIST’s motto: Creativity, Caring, Challenge. Those three words have guided our school through the years, and many of the changes sought by the school’s administration have been predicated on those same three words. The motto is essentially what our school chooses to identify itself by, and treating it as an insignificant adornment is a choice to render our school frivolous. I am pretty sure some of us don’t mind mundanity; however, to follow convention on every matter is a rejection of distinction — something we should all work hard to preserve if we have any pride in the prestige of this college. If we were to truly catapult the institution to a global level, we must follow a strict set of regulations that align with our vision and stick to it. Constantly going around the rules as we see fit is what wears down KAIST’s solemnity.
English has long been regarded as a lingua franca in many areas of academia and it is without a doubt that English-speaking universities have an advantage in the global rankings system. It is true that the private US universities have an incomparable financial clout over other international institutions, but the reason why many students are still willing to make the tradeoff with their finances is because of the prestige the colleges offer. For KAIST to achieve anything even remotely similar to that caliber, we must firstly uphold our own standards. Designating a lecture to be in English, and then allowing the professor to make lengthy comments in Korean obviously violates that commitment. Some may insist on the need for the professors to occasionally make remarks in Korean — calling it leniency and a flair of respect to the community of Korean students who may have hard time understanding the lecture. However, as harsh as it may sound, if one has hard time coping with the lectures that are simply following a set of pre-established guidelines, then one has to invest more time to keep up with it. It does not make sense for the lecture to adjust itself for those certain individuals.
For some reported cases, a professor announced that he would be teaching in Korean for the remainder of the semester, urging international students to enroll for the class in the following term instead. The incident is a joke at best, and it serves as a shameful reminder of how we are leaning towards complacency instead of trying to improve and propel forward. Many students have the tendency to equate difference with unfairness — bringing up other colleges and explaining how they are doing things differently, then going on to argue that our school does not care for us simply because we don’t do it the same way. If there is some unspoken rule that all colleges should look the same and operate the exact same way, then perhaps these arguments have a valid point. It is apparent that the interests of some students conflict with the goal of the school, and as long as we continue to awkwardly sway between the two sides, the problem revolving around English lectures isn’t going anywhere.