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The study of human language and computer languages impart fundamentally different, yet equal, skill sets. HTML belongs in the math and science curriculum, not alongside Spanish.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
1/20/2019, RICHMOND, VA. — Language learning advocates in Virginia are urging their representatives to save the study of world languages in high schools across the Commonwealth. On January 8, House Bill 2125 was introduced in the Virginia General Assembly that would allow computer coding classes to count toward satisfying foreign language graduation requirements at the high school level. The bill has been fast-tracked to an education subcommittee hearing on Monday afternoon at 4pm in room 300-A.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time the Commonwealth has considered this exact revision of graduation requirements. HB2125 marks a disturbing trend taking place around the country to recognize coding as a foreign language in the K-12 curriculum. Texas passed a bill allowing this substitution in 2013, and legislators in Florida, Washington, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Georgia have proposed similar measures. Proponents point toward the growing workforce demand for computer science skills, and emphasize the need for our students and economy to remain competitive.
The vast majority of legislatures have rejected this misguided movement because they have realized that “coding bills” like HB2125 only exacerbate the language teacher shortage –currently affecting 44 states and DC; cause confusion among parent, teachers and university admissions who do not consider “coding language” satisfactory to replace a “world language” requirement; and would undercut the ability of next generation of leaders to communicate and interact in the global economy of the 21st century.
Languages Are Vital to the the Future of the U.S. Economy
Proficient communication in English and other languages forms the foundation of a prosperous national and global economy. As the United States continues to globalize engage other countries in diplomacy and trade, language plays a crucial role at every step. The private sector has recognized this reality in a survey of U.S. businesses. JNCL-NCLIS and the Michigan State University Collegiate Employment Research Institute found that over half of U.S. businesses track their employees’ language skills; 35% give an advantage to multilingual applicants, and one in six had lost business prospects due to a lack of employees with language skills.
And businesses can’t find applicants with language skills because of the critical lack of K-12 language teachers in 44 states and DC, as reported in the Department of Education’s annual Teacher Shortage Areas. Taking away the opportunity for students to learn another language in their classroom robs them of meaningful interactions with other citizens of other countries. The future of the economy is global, and our nation’s success in it depends on the next generation of leaders to communicate in English AND at least one other language.
Language-Learning has Lifelong Cognitive Benefits
Knowledge of a second language has been shown to confer a wide array of cognitive benefits on the individual at ALL stages of life. In early childhood, acquisition of a second language has positive behavioral and developmental effects, including greater cognitive flexibility and improved problem solving. In K-12 schools, language education, particularly the growing trend of dual language immersion, improves tests scores for native English speakers and English learners alike and narrows the achievement gap. For an adult, language proficiency has been associated with stronger executive function in the brain, greater likelihood of recovery from stroke, and delayed onset of Dementia-related ailments. While language learning can happen at any time, studies show that the earlier, the better! Knowledge of a world language pays its dividends over a lifetime.
HB2125 allows two completely unrelated disciplines to satisfy the same credit. This is dangerous, as it sets a precedent for the same to happen between other unrelated disciplines. In addition, implementing this policy would pose a host of logistical problems in areas such as the allocation of funds to world language departments for curriculum and professional development as well as the acceptance of students’ world language credits at in-state and/or out-of-state universities.
It is the position of NCLIS and its 130+ organizational members that computer coding should not be offered as a substitute or alternative to any world language courses or world language requirements. Human language and computer coding two are fundamentally different disciplines that impart different sorts of skills necessary for work and life. The former possesses more than 100,000 words, while the latter is comprised on less than 100. Learning one, two or more world languages imparts skills of empathy, negotiation, and creativity, which are equal in merit to the gains in logic associated with studying computer sciences.
Language education, in addition to the myriad cognitive benefits it provides, opens the world up to our students—a world that is growing increasingly complicated and diverse. It is incumbent upon our educational system to ensure our students are equipped with the skills needed in the 21st century. Lawmakers, however, should focus more on finding a place for computer coding courses elsewhere in the curriculum. As suggested by the coding community itself and computer technology giants such as Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and Amazon, the most logical place would be among the sciences and mathematics, not language and literacy.
Over the last few years, the human language vs computer coding language issue has become a microcosm of a larger national debate of the role of STEM vs the humanities in preparing our students to be “well-rounded, 21st century, global citizens.” However, proposed legislation like HB2125 and others do not provide solutions; it wrongly equivocates one 21st century skill with another, and present the citizens of Virginia and elsewhere with a false choice. If proponents of coding bills want parents and students to have choice, then the debate should not be framed as an “either/or”.