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PREPARING THAI BIOMEDICAL ENGINEERING UNDERGRADUATES FOR AEC: EXPECTATIONS OF ACADEMIC STAFFS AND STAKEHOLDERS
Sawapat Techapun 1,*, Singhanat Nomnian #, and Sumittra Suraratdecha #
1 Master of Arts program (M.A.) Language and Culture for Communication and Development, Research Institute for Languages and Cultures of Asia, Mahidol University, Thailand
*e-mail: sawapat_n@hotmail.com

Abstract

This paper aims to explore the expectations of academic staffs and stakeholders toward Thai biomedical engineering undergraduates in terms of their English competency for preparing the students’ mobility of highly qualified engineers within ASEAN in 2015. According to the needs analysis, the participants of this study comprised academic staffs including a program chair, five subject teachers of biomedical engineering, an English teacher, and six stakeholders who employ biomedical engineers. Drawing upon semi-structured interview transcripts, the results are three folds as follows. Firstly, the academic staffs realize that writing skill is the most problematic English skill of the students, followed by a speaking skill for oral presentations. Secondly, although all English skills are perceived as essential in English language needs, all academic staffs suggest that speaking is the most necessary skill for biomedical engineering students. Lastly, stakeholders focus on all communicative skills and abilities to read technical manuals. The findings of this study can offer relevant implications to establish English for Biomedical Engineering courses in order to produce Thai biomedical engineering graduates for their career mobility in ASEAN.


Keywords: Needs Analysis (NA), English for Academic Purposes (EAP), Biomedical Engineering programs, Undergraduate students, ASEAN

Introduction

Due to the full implementation of ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) in 2015, the three pillars of security, socio-culture, and economy are key aspects for this regional cooperation among Southeast Asian nations (Sim, 2008). One of the implemented contents of AEC involves the Mutual Recognition Arrangements’ (MRAs) mobility of qualified professionals within ASEAN, comprising of medical practitioners, dentists, nurses, surveyors, architects, accountants, and engineers, who are able to access into ASEAN labor markets in member countries (ASEAN Secretariat, 2010). Biomedical science and technology become an opportunity of investment in AEC (Rungfapaisarn, 2012). Further, Thai government has supported the policy of promoting Thailand to be the medical hub of Asia and biomedical science and healthcare; nevertheless, Thailand still has weaknesses, including the necessity of imported technology and deficiency of medical and biomedical engineering staffs (Rungfapaisarn, 2012). Although Thailand has provided biomedical engineering programs in order to enhance personnel’s capabilities, there are many obstacles for Thai biomedical engineers resulting from occupational and language skills requirements, especially competency in English which is considered to be the working language in ASEAN. Most biomedical engineering graduates are not well-prepared in English competency for competition within ASEAN (Khaopa, 2012). Hence, this paper aims to explore the expectations from all relevant parties through the needs analysis (NA) as the initial process of specifying any course objective and methods for setting up an effective course outline and materials selection (Dudley-Evans & St. John, 1998; Hutchinson & Waters, 1987; Mackay & Mountford, 1979). The research will focus on English for Academic Purposes (EAP) which aims to prepare learners to be able to deal with listening, speaking, reading, and writing demands in academic courses (Richards & Schmidt, 2010). Furthermore, non-native students needs EAP for their higher education, including for reading academic text, writing academic journals and report, listening to lecture and seminar, and oral presentation (Jordan, 1997). The results can offer a guideline of improving an English course for biomedical engineering students in Thailand for enhancing their career mobility in ASEAN.



Methodology
A case study was employed as a research approach to collect data in a particular university in Thailand. Due to the focus of this study on the specific phenomenon and participants, the research can reach the participants and understand them clearly in current situations (Dooley, 2002; Rowley, 2002). This study took place in a biomedical department at Faculty of Engineering for collecting data from participants including: a program chair of biomedical engineering, five subject teachers from biomedical engineering department, an English teacher, and six stakeholders. The research methodology mainly gathered information based on Hutchinson and Waters’ (1987) framework of target situation analysis and learning needs analysis framework, and Jordan’s (1997) needs analysis approach in the data collection process. In addition, a semi-structured interview is utilized as research instrument for four subject groups. Semi-structured interview was used as a tool that helped the researcher to ask the participants in the core questions and to follow up with other questions. The collected data is analyzed through content analysis in order to find commonly emerging themes and interpret them (Hsieh & Shannon, 2005).
Results
This section reports on the main results that will be dived into academic staffs and stakeholders.

Academic staffs

First of all, academic staffs realized that the most problematic English skills of the students is writing skill, especially writing research papers for academic journals, followed by speaking skill of oral presentation. An English teacher said that:



Extract 1

In terms oral presentation skill, the students remember their script. Writing is also a problematic skill for Thai students. According to Thai students’ background, their sentences are compound English words in Thai grammar. Moreover, they have limited vocabulary, so the students have problems in English communication.
This extract suggests that the English teacher views Thai students that they lack grammatical knowledge. Similarly, a subject teacher felt that Thai engineering students made a lot of grammatical mistakes in their writing and lack of skills in oral presentation.

Extract 2

The students have problems in speaking English, especially oral presentation. Most students remember script instead. Furthermore, English writing skill is the problematic for them. There are a lot of mistakes in grammar and sentence structure in their senior project.

In addition, some subject teacher mention on biomedical engineering students that they initially have problem in reading and specking skills, but they can improve these skills in upper academic year. In terms of writing skill, grammar and sentences structure become obstacle for student in communication, as the followed extract:



Extract 3

At the first time, students had problem in reading and speaking skills, but they can practice to more proficient when they study in upper academic years. Other problematic English skill of students is writing which there are mistakes in grammar and sentences structure. Thus, both Thai and foreign teachers cannot understand what the students aim to communicate.

Apart from students’ problematic skills, all academic staffs perceive all English skills as essential in language needs; nonetheless, they suggest that speaking, especially oral presentation, is the most necessary skill for biomedical engineering students. The program chair stated that:



All English skills are essential needed for biomedical engineering students. The students should be high competency in speaking, listening, writing and reading skills, due to applying these skills for international labor market. However, speaking and listening skills are the most essential, because they must use them for face-to-face communication. Nonetheless, being not distinctly different, writing and reading skills are also important.

The program chair expects the graduates to competent in speaking and listening; however, all English communicative skills are considered as important in international labor market. These opinions involve in the English teacher’s perspectives on the graduates’ English communicative competency and oral presentation.



Extract 4

After they graduated, they must know how to communicate and present effectively. I try to prepare the students to be confident in presentation.
Moreover, the subject teacher had similar expectations as the program chair and English teacher as follow:
Extract 5

It depends on what kind of occupation which the students will work in the future. Actually, speaking skill, particularly oral presentation, is very essential for them because this skill is the tool which imparts their research or project work to audience.
Although the subject teacher said that the needed English skills depend on careers, speaking skill particularly oral presentation is very necessary for biomedical engineering graduates.

Stakeholders
The following extracts will present the opinions of the stakeholders. The stakeholders focused on all English communicative skills and abilities to read technical manuals as the necessary skills for careers from biomedical engineering employees. The stakeholder mentioned that:
Extract 6

The job positions for biomedical engineers in my organization are salesmen, service engineers, and product specialists. Thus, the staffs ought to be able to read product manuals and effectively communicate in English.

This extract defines that the stakeholder expects biomedical engineering graduates to be competency in reading technical manual and English communication. In addition, other stakeholder require qualifications of biomedical engineering graduates to be able to communicate in English, read technical manual, present information to customers, and reply e-mail to holding company which is located aboard. In addition, the stakeholder also state that the biomedical engineering staff have a chance to attend to training program with holding company aboard where English communicative skills are essential needed. The stakeholder stated as follow:


Extract 7

All communicative skills are needed. The biomedical engineering staff should be good at English communication, as well as, reading medical manual, and presenting the information to customers. The staff should be able to reply e-mail to holding company in aboard. Moreover, the staff tends to attend the training program aboard with holding company, thus, they ought to have ability in English communication.
Nevertheless, besides the stakeholders’ requirement of English communicative skills and ability of reading manual, some stakeholder requests biomedical engineering graduate for abilities of other specific qualifications, such as reading and writing academic journal.
Extract 8

The job description for biomedical engineering staff is to synthesis chemical polymer for medical instruments. I need a staff who is good competency in listening, speaking, reading, and writing English, especially involved in reading and writing academic essay and journals.


Discussion and Conclusion
The findings can offer implications to establish English for Biomedical Engineering courses in order to prepare Thai biomedical engineering graduates for their career mobility in ASEAN. The discussion of findings consists of two parts: (1) occupational factor, and (2) educational factors.


1) Occupational factor

Most stakeholders state that the job positions of biomedical engineering staffs in Thailand consist of product technicians, specialists, and salespeople. Moreover, some stakeholders inquire the researchers who have a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering. Therefore, most stakeholders expect biomedical engineering graduates to be good at general English communicative skills and able to effectively communicate with foreigners in both contacting with the holding company for identifying problems of products and training in foreign countries. Another necessary skill is reading English technical manuals of medical instruments and products. Besides, oral presentation is the essentially needed sub-skill for explaining information of products for customers. For other sub-skills such as reading and writing essays and journals, writing reports, and replying e-mails, are required depending on specific field works. Moreover, all academic staffs anticipate the students to be proficient in all communicative skills in order to work in the ASEAN labor market. However, they try to encourage the students to have a high competency in writing reports and giving oral presentations.



2) Educational factor

All academic staffs indicate that Thai undergraduate biomedical engineering students are weak in writing and speaking skills, especially writing journal articles and reports, and oral presentations. The academic staffs claim that academic English courses should be provided in the curriculum in their early academic years for preparing the students to be familiar with academic English. Then, they can apply some techniques for learning biomedical engineering context in English in their upper academic years. Teaching biomedical engineering content in English lectures, textbooks, and workshops, help enthusiastic students to be familiar with technical terms and encourage them to practice English communicative skills. The academic English should be designed as selective courses which are appropriate for the students to enroll. Moreover, the academic English course content should be based on scientific and engineering content. Nonetheless, the academic staffs try to develop the students to write their senior project and present the project in English.


In conclusion, the expectations of academic staffs and stakeholders toward biomedical engineering graduates’ English competency can be offered as useful guidelines for establish English for Biomedical Engineering courses in order to enhance Thai biomedical engineering graduates for the career mobility in ASEAN.

References



  1. ASEAN Secretariat (2010). Progress in Key Areas of the ASEAN Economic Community. ASEAN Economic Community Scorecard: Charting Progress Towards Regional Economic Integration Jakarta: The ASEAN Secretariat.




  1. Dooley, L. M. (2002). Case Study Research and Theory Building. Advances in Developing Human Resources, 4(3), 335-354.




  1. Dudley-Evans, T. & St. John, M. (1998). Developments in ESP: A Multi-Disciplinary Approach. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.




  1. Hsieh, H. & Shannon, S. (2005). Three approaches to qualitative content analysis. Qualitative Health Research, 15(9), 1277-1288.




  1. Hutchinson, T. & Waters, A. (1987). English for Specific Purposes: A Learning-Centred Approach. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.




  1. Jordan, R. R. (1997). English for Academic Purposes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.




  1. Khaopa, W. (2012). Chula Reorienting Engineering Curricula for AEC. Retrieved September 27, 2012, from The Nation Website: http://www.nationmultimedia.com/national/ Chula-reorienting-engineering-curricula-for-AEC-30174371.html.




  1. Mackay, R. & Mountford, A. (1979). English for Specific Purposes. London: Longman.




  1. Richards, J. C., & Schmidt, R. (2010). Longman Dictionary of Language Teaching and Applied Linguistics (4th ed.). London: Longman (Pearson Education).




  1. Rowley, J. (2002). Using Case Studies in Research. Management Research News, 25(1), 16-24.




  1. Rungfapaisarn, K. (2012, February 28). Medical Equipment Industry Told To Modernise Ahead of AEC. The Nation, 2012, p. 7.




  1. Sim, E. (2008). Introduction to the ASEAN Economic Community, http://www.asil.org/aseanevent/Sim_Intro_to_ASEAN.pdf.


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