Implementing an innovative approach of teaching science subjects in English for all high school students in the nearest future has caused twofold discussions among all stakeholders. The knowledge of English provides an opportunity to get access to a wide range of resources either online or paper based. The Minister of Education and Science of Kazakhstan Yerlan Sagadiyev announced that in 2019–2020 a number of science subjects (Computer Science, Chemistry, Biology, Physics) would be taught in English in all schools . The main purpose of implementing trilingual educational system is to improve the competitiveness of graduates and open doors to the best universities. However, the level of schools and teachers in urban and rural areas differ greatly. The problem of shortage of qualified teachers is also relevant. Therefore, considering all these aspects, it is necessary to introduce the trilingual educational system gradually. Teachers might experience more difficulties rather than students because they do not have enough level of English to teach students.
Currently in Kazakhstan students of 117 schools are learning subjects in three (Kazakh, Russian and English) languages . In this respect, the 11th grade students of Nazarbayev Intellectual School (NIS) of Aktobe started learning science subjects in English. Nazarbayev Intellectual Schools apply the Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) strategy to teach subjects in English. The basis of CLIL is that content subjects are taught in a foreign language . Outcomes of CLIL are positive because strategy is contributed to create favorable circumstances to study content through different perspectives, develop intercultural communication skills and students can achieve quite higher levels of second language (L2).
As a 11th grade student of NIS Aktobe wanted to make a research about 11th grade NIS Aktobe students' experiences in learning science subjects in English. The main aim was to find out problems and suggest recommendations to improve studying process. The research results will help me understand the challenges that students face while the suggested solutions will help science students in NIS Aktobe. The results can also be informative for NIS teachers. As NIS experience will be transmitted to all mainstream schools, the findings of this project will be useful for their students and teachers.
The term «multilingual education» concept involves the use of at least three languages: native, national, and international language. The use of these languages is «an important factor of inclusion and quality of education» . Learning science in a foreign language possesses some advantages:
− Extends vocabulary ;
− Help learners become successful experts in their profession, as well as enable them to both communicate and cooperate in the international labor market;
− Great opportunity to access information in several languages;
− Life and career perspectives ;
− English language proficiency ;
− higher order thinking skills (HOT) .
Nevertheless, studying science subjects through English have various disadvantages. As evidence, Kocakulah, Ustunluoglu, & Kocakulah (2005) have argued that students who struggle to learn science in a second language lose about 20 percent of their capacity to reason and understand in the process. Additionally, they revealed that learning academic courses through the medium of English poses some linguistic and psychological problems for students whose mother tongue is not English. Such learners are frustrated by failure to see meaning in texts and start to have a tendency toward rote (easily forgotten) learning. Linguistic defects exist because of a lack of knowledge of grammar, rules of syntax, as well as meanings of words used in different contexts thus putting the second language learners at a disadvantage . Short and Spanos (1989) claim that basic proficiency is not adequate to perform the more demanding tasks required in academic courses since students do not have exposure to, or lack an understanding of the vocabulary and context-specific language .
Learning science subjects in English transmit challenges to learners because some teachers who teach sciences in English are difficult to understand what they say. Science teachers create an additional problem to students whose first language (L1) is not English by preparing curriculum materials that are difficult to read. The challenges that rural students encounter while studying sciences in English greater because they use limited English just during the lessons . Surely, some students may be good in sciences but they are unable to understand English properly.
Aiming to reduce personal bias and assumptions this study sought to conduct both qualitative and quantitative research methods. Mixed methods were used to strengthen the overall quality of the research and to increase confidence in the conclusions. The research attempted to get primary information from the affected group that comprises the 11th grade students of NIS Aktobe.
A survey was administered to the science students to know their experience in learning sciences in English. The choice of answers was given on bar charts. Moreover, in order to get honest and reliable answers and to gather students’ recommendations that will help to solve challenges the survey was organized anonymously. The data were analyzed statistically by using Surveymonkey online survey development cloud-based software program, but Basic free Surveymonkey version has limited number of respondents.
Next, semi-structured interviews were administered to eight science students: two students from each science subjects (Biology, Chemistry, Physics and ICT) (See Table 1). Each interview was audio recorded and took about fifteen minutes to complete. Moreover, to get qualitative and valid data a positive atmosphere was created during the interviews.
Interviewed Proportion of Science Students
Respondent 4, Respondent 5, Respondent 7, Respondent 8
Respondent 4, Respondent 5, Respondent 7
Respondent 1, Respondent 2, Respondent 3, Respondent 6
Respondent 1, Respondent 2,Respondent 3, Respondent 6, Respondent 8
Professional software for qualitative, quantitative and mixed methods data analysis MAXQDA was used. This software provides powerful, innovative and easy to use analytical tools that helped me to make a research project successful. The data assembled was analyzed and applied to the research questions.
As it was mentioned in methods chapter, the results were obtained by a survey and interviews. A total one hundred out of one hundred seventy six high school students of NIS Aktobe participated in the survey. The main findings from the survey can be summarised as:
− The data from question 1 and 2 shows that more than half of the respondents were females and chemistry students.
− More than 60 % of the students had highly evaluated advantages such as studying abroad in the best universities and development of higher order thinking skills (see Figure 1).
− The majority of respondents added other advantages except listed above in the question 3 like an opportunity to read materials from international publishers, to communicate with international teachers, self-development and that studying sciences in English is prestigious.
− A significant proportion, over half of the respondents completely agreed with the disadvantages such as difficult scientific terms, mother tongue influence and limited use of English outside the school (see Figure 2).
− The other disadvantages were wasting time for translating English terms to first language, forgetting their mother tongue and local teachers are not well-prepared to teach in English.
− Respondents think that the difficulties of the students can be addressed by team teaching with English teachers, implement English from 7th grade in science subjects.
− Overall, 95 % of the respondents recommended learning science subjects in English.
Fig. 1. The Advantages of Studying Science Subjects in English
Fig. 2. The Disadvantages of Studying Science Subjects in English
It was found from the interviews that majority of respondents’ highlighted two main advantages of studying science subjects, namely developing English skills and enriching academic vocabulary. Such advantages were mentioned in studies of Aguilar and Rodríguez (2012) and Dalton-Puffer (2008). As for as opportunities for future job and education are concerned, it is noticed in studies of researchers Sewell and Magzumova and Respondent 7 pointed out that «studying subjects like sciences in English is a good opportunity for future job or education and also there are a lot of resources in the Internet for broadening your mind to find some useful information about particular topic. I think there are a lot of advantages». One interviewee named increasing IELTS level as the advantage (Respondent 3) and the other person mentioned preparation for the future exams (Respondent 6).
Answers of the respondents revealed that science students mostly face problems with academic terms which were also acknowledged by researchers Short and Spanos (1989). For example, Respondent 6 noted that:
One of the most common difficulties is that not all the students have high level of English that is why it is sometimes very hard for them to understand even the content of the given tasks and understanding English is very important. That is why some of them just might not understand the meaning of certain words and this is the main barrier for them.
Respondent 8 had underlined two disadvantages, for instance psychological problems and difficult academic papers. Both Respondent 1 and Respondent 2 found that misunderstanding between teacher and student as one of the drawbacks, besides, Muralidhar (1992) mentioned this disadvantage too.
The Disadvantages of Studying Science Subjects in English.
Most of the respondents said that they were satisfied with the quality of the subject knowledge that they get in English because students have access to the wide range of resources in English and opportunity to work with international teachers. As for recommendations (see Table 4), common opinions were in studying English deeply, organizing extra lessons with science teachers and collaborative study where students can make teams to work together to prepare for summative assessments or other exams. Respondent 6 replied:
I think they just should pay more attention to improving their general English level, English skills because without general knowledge of English they will not be able to understand the meaning of the task as I said before. That is why they should focus on their vocabulary especially.
Another comment was, «it will be better if there would be team teaching like we have in our school from 7th grade» (Respondent 8). Interesting recommendation was given by Respondent 5, «Firstly, we should improve the skills of the teachers and then teachers will help to the students». Another notable suggestion said Respondent 7 to appeal help of psychologist and Respondent 3 suggested searching information in first language.
Overall, survey respondents and interview respondents mentioned almost the same advantages and disadvantages but interview respondents gave full answers. They completed some missed points and suggested more ways of solving the difficulties of the science students. Substantially interview respondents were more precisely. The analysis of the data shows that studying science subjects in English has benefits and drawback for students and there are several ways of solving the difficulties.
In response to each of the research questions it is possible to make the following conclusions:
− The large numbers of science students get benefits from studying science subjects in English. For instance, the main advantages are opportunity to study in the best university abroad, higher order thinking skills, access a wide range of resources from international publishers, to communicate with international teachers, enriching academic vocabulary and English skills. The other notable positive impacts are self-development, increasing IELTS level, preparation for the exams and opportunity for future job such as to cooperate in the international labor market.
− The majority of the science students face with numerous number of problems. The main disadvantages mentioned by a great number of respondents was problems with academic terms, mother tongue influence, limited use of English outside the school and difficult academic papers. Most of the interviews highlighted drawbacks such as misunderstanding between teacher and student, psychological problems, low level of English proficiency, wasting time for translating English terms to first language, forgetting their mother tongue. Some people argued that local teachers are not well-prepared to teach science subjects in English.
The main suggestions of science students to resolve the barriers of science students were team teaching with English teachers, starting implement English to science subjects from 7th grade, studying English language more deeply, extra lessons with science teachers, enhance the English level of the teachers, collaborative study (science students make the groups to prepare to summative assessments or other exams).
As a result of this research it is possible to conclude that if the difficulties would be amended students can study science subjects in English in addition, approximately all of the respondents recommended learning science subjects in English. However, the research conducted the science students in NIS Aktobe and therefore this may not be true for other schools that teach science subjects in English and it is not possible to generalise to all school students. Taking into consideration above-mentioned results of the study, it is obvious that the advantages of learning science subjects in English outweigh the disadvantages. Eventually I would recommend to school administration to advance students and teachers English level in medium school and partially start to implement English to science subjects from 7th grade.
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