Fabiola Santiago

Fabiola Santiago: Don’t make students choose between computer coding and foreign languages

Child exposed to words in four languages: French, Spanish, German and English.
Child exposed to words in four languages: French, Spanish, German and English. KRT

Foreign-language education has nothing to do with immigration policy — and everything to do with intellectual growth, employment opportunity and a deeper understanding of the planet beyond U.S. borders.

To deny all of our children the opportunity to learn such a valuable skill as it is to speak and understand another language, or even simply to develop an affinity for it, is to deny them a quality education.

As if all those reasons didn’t suffice, recent studies have shown that learning a second language can help a student excel in the native one.

But no matter how many foreign-language education studies confirm its value, no Florida legislative session shall pass without a lawmaker taking a shot at the teaching of foreign languages —– and now, even affecting a student’s ability to obtain a scholarship.

The latest comes by way of SB468, a bill sponsored by Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Margate, that would allow high school students on a college track to replace the foreign language requirement with computer coding classes. Every school district would have to develop a computer science curriculum to submit to the Florida Legislature by the start of 2017.

The bill also would require that students take at least two computer coding courses to become eligible for the Florida Bright Futures Scholarship Program. That’s ludicrous and prejudicial to college-bound students with talents or interests that aren’t in computing. That’s like saying only would-be engineers qualify.

Surely expertise on coding, the back-end of computing, is a skill that’s in demand in modern times. But while everyone uses computers — my 2½-year-old granddaughter is a whiz on her mother’s iPad and my 6-year-old grandson has skills I envy — not everyone is going to grow up to work in computer coding.

As members of the human race, however, we all need to excel at communication — and in a global economy that exists and is here to stay, thanks to computer technology, foreign-language classes are more valuable than ever.

To force a college-bound high school student to choose between foreign languages and computer coding is to dwell in the bubble of Florida fanatical politics and not the real world.

“Talk about working at cross purposes with the seven districts — Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Orange, Osceola, Seminole, and Lee — that have adopted a Seal of Biliteracy to recognize graduates with demonstrated proficiency in English and in another language,” said Rosa Castro-Feinberg, a retired Florida International University professor and Spanish teacher and member of the LULAC Florida State Education Committee.

The Seal of Biliteracy is a well-regarded award that recognizes students who have attained proficiency in two or more languages by the time they graduate high school. It’s the sort of accomplishment that can make a student’s college application rise above others.

Surely high schools should offer computer science courses (fund them!), but not at the expense of another valuable subject that is just as important in today’s competitive job market.

If you have any doubts, ask the people job-hunting in Florida without the needed multi-language skills.

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