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Aug 15, 2016 06:59 personal-development diary essay English
Author: Stanislav Klevtsov

Learning a foreign language has always been a controversial subject and the main topic for many disputes, especially in the context of school education. Of course, Ukrainian schools are not an exception. According to official statistics, about 86% of Ukrainian students study English as a second language[1]. The horrible truth is that only 4-10% of them have ability to speak and express their thoughts, read, and listen to general English after finishing school[2][3]. This is an essential problem, as it concerns many spheres of our lives. Not only does learning foreign language give students better job prospects but also contributes to the image of Ukraine on the international arena. Therefore, this issue raises a question. Is Ukrainian model of learning foreign languages efficient?

First of all, we will take a look at the EF English Proficiency Index (EF EPI). It is the world’s largest ranking of countries by adults’ English skills. The EF EPI reports identify the most common pitfalls and highlight the most effective strategies for improving English proficiency[4].

According to the EF, Ukraine is on the edge of moderate proficiency level with an EPI score of 52.61 points. It seems like a good result, but the numbers are tricky. For better understanding we will convert EPI points to a 0-100 scale, where 46.12 (the lowest proficiency) = 0 and 70.92 (the highest proficiency) = 100. After conversion, the Ukrainian EPI score becomes only 26.14 points on the 0-100 scale. This is not the worst result — it is 34th place out of 70 in the world. However, it is also not the best, especially, if we will take into account only Europe — Ukraine is 23rd out of 27. Therefore, we can clearly see that this could not be a universal issue and the problems lie within Ukraine.

In order to identify possible issues, we will take a look at the key aspects of learning the foreign language, which could be: poorly designed curriculum, a lack of qualified teachers, outdated and/or imperfect learning materials, and a little number of lessons per week.

As mentioned above, one of the main problems could be the curriculum. It is an educational program that serves as a basis for the subject syllabuses and guidelines, design of teaching and learning materials, and assessments; therefore, it has a big influence on learning. The curriculum approved by the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine is based on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). The CEFR is a result of over twenty years of research. It was designed to provide a transparent, coherent and comprehensive basis for the elaboration of language learning. It is widely used in Europe and on other continents. Therefore, considering the authority of CEFR and its extensive application around the world, we can eliminate the curriculum as a possible issue[5].

The curriculum was not the only possible problem, as it also could be a lack of qualified teaching personnel. The role of the teacher in foreign language learning is vital. In Ukraine, foreign language learning is introduced in the second form, which is an excellent age to start learning. However, most of the foreign language tutors in Ukraine do not have experience teaching elementary classes. Obviously, there are significant differences between teaching a 7 to 9-year-old child and a 16 to 17-year-old student. Some schools have tried to solve the problem by introducing teacher training English courses. Over time, this approach should help overcome this issue.

The number of lessons per week could also contribute to the low level of English in Ukraine. According to the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine, during the academic year 2013/14 students had 2 hours of learning foreign languages per week in forms 6-9, and 3 hours in forms 10-11[7]. If we compare these numbers to the average teaching hours in Europe, where students have 3 to 4 hours per week, we can see the direct link between hours spent on learning foreign language and the level of English proficiency in the country[8]. However, in year 2015, the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine decided to increase the hours spent on learning foreign languages. In particular, during the academic year 2015/16 the number of hours increased from 2 to 3 hours per week in forms 6-9, and from 3 to 3.5 hours in forms 10-11. Therefore, we can eliminate this aspect as an issue.

To conclude, the situation with learning foreign languages in Ukraine is not bad. However, there is a lot of place for growth, and countries like Sweden and Netherlands are great examples of that. Ukraine should take serious actions by improving foreign language learning materials, providing additional teaching courses, and even taking such a radical action like Netherland, making TV and cinema “English only.” Only then can we provide a better future for Ukrainian children and strengthen the position of Ukraine on the international arena.