STUDENTS’ PERCEPTIONS OF THE QUALITY OF TEACHING ENGLISH FOR SPECIFIC PURPOSES AT LATVIA UNIVERSITY OF AGRICULTURE
Due to the global economic crisis and its severe impact on the national economies, radical changes are critical also in the society and higher education of Latvia. With the aim to clarify the students’ perceptions of quality of teaching English for Specific Purposes (ESP) at the Latvia University of Agriculture (LUA), an extensive research study was conducted in seven faculties. 542 students were surveyed. The survey findings revealed the respondents’ opinions regarding the necessity of ESP acquisition at LUA, the optimum duration of the ESP course, and the strengths and weaknesses of the course.
The curriculum of the Latvia University of Agriculture (LUA), a regional university, includes content-based ESP courses in the first years of undergraduate studies which are not separated from the whole study process, stressing the interdisciplinary approach when preparing specialists of agriculture and engineering.
During the survey, the majority of the respondents emphasized that, in their opinions, the knowledge and skills acquired during the ESP classes would be indispensable in their future professional careers, and, in spite of the current financial strains, experienced by higher educational institutions in Latvia, the ESP course has to be retained in the curriculum of the university. Whilst evaluating the quality of the teaching and learning process, the respondents, reflected on their gains of the ESP course, and stressed that their main benefits were the improved academic writing skills, public speaking skills, business communication, and intercultural skills enabling them to work successfully in an international environment. They also highly valued not only the provided opportunity to acquire specialisms, but also that their discussion skills, critical thinking and creative thinking skills were enhanced during the ESP course at the university. However, critical remarks were given by several respondents with regard to the limited usage of modern Information Communication Technologies in the classes. It was interesting to note that, although the students appreciated the usage of the Internet tools and resources for the upgrading of their foreign language skills, a considerable number of the respondents preferred face-to-face communication with their language instructor and peers. Virtual communication was found not to take the dominating role in the acquisitions of ESP at LUA.
On the basis of the findings of this research study, recommendations, worked out with regard to the changes that should be introduced at the Latvia University of Agriculture, are given focusing on the development of knowledge and skills necessary for the reception of scientific and professional texts, and production skills, speaking and writing, concerned with scientific and professional activities.