Four states, including Washington, home of Microsoft Corp., are currently are in the process of approving laws that would allow high school students to fulfill foreign language requirements with a computer language.
A former Yahoo executive turned Florida state senator introduced a bill that would let students substitute traditional foreign languages like Spanish and French for a class in coding, which is considered an important skill in today’s technological era.
Proponents of the move say this new approach will help students to compete at jobs and business at an international level. However, the opposition believes that promoting computer science shouldn’t come at the expense of global languages as computer algorithms do not equate to conversation.
"Spanish is used to communicate to one another," said Cameron Wilson, vice president of government affairs at CODE.org, a nonprofit advocating for computer science education. "A computer language is really only used to communicate to a computer on how to execute codes on a machine."
Comparing them represents a "fundamental misunderstanding," he added.
Florida State Sen. Bill Montford, who also used to be a former teacher and district superintendent, expressed concerns about the new bill as well.
“You said that no existing language will be replaced. My experience is when you require something, something is going to fall out, no matter what it is.”
In response to that, state Sen. Jeremy Ring, the bill’s sponsor explains, says the move isn't meant to replace any foreign language but that computer language should also be part of the list of language disciplines.
Enthusiasm for teaching computer coding to American students is widespread with President Obama calling for computer science to join the ranks of reading, writing and arithmetic.
But some lawmakers also wonder about how the bill would address issues of computer accessibility to students (especially to minorities) to meet the state requirement. Researchers have also expressed similar concerns, noting it is more difficult to integrate technology into classrooms serving low-income communities. Many of such communities have higher teacher turnover, less tech-savvy parents and children with weak English skills.
“If you just throw technology into schools without the proper social support, technology can amplify inequality,” says Mark Warschauer, a professor of education at the University of California, Irvine.
Other states have taken a different approach by recognizing coding language as an area of analytical sciences rather than creative art, which to some seems like a better way to resolve the issue.
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