Goodbye French lessons? Coding could replace foreign languages

  • An “ill-informed and heavy” bill
  • A utilitarian approach to education

Often, when she thinks, she thinks in French; if she could, she would breathe in French. Everything is more beautiful when you speak in French too – even dreaded subjects like mathematics. For Leon High School senior Jamilah Mitchell, learning the Romance language over the past four years has opened up a world of opportunity.

But if approved, legislation filed last month would limit students’ options for learning more about world languages ​​by changing requirements for the Bright Futures College Scholarship Program, which funds tuition at Florida’s public colleges and universities.

Students would have to take two years of computer programming, instead of fulfilling the current two-year foreign language criteria – potentially supplanting the study of foreign languages ​​at school, educators worry.

Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Parkland, introduced a bill to encourage more high school students to pursue computer studies later.

The bill also requires school districts to write proposals to include coding courses in every high school by January 2017, which will likely overhaul staffing plans and cost districts training dollars.

The underlying goal of SB 468 — introduced by Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Parkland, a former Yahoo! executive, and supported by Republican leaders — is to encourage more high school graduates to pursue computer science education, addressing the shortage of qualified professionals. In the field. There is no related House bill yet, and SB 468 has been assigned three committee cases. In 2014, similar legislation died.

Ring later clarified that it intended to offer students another option to meet the foreign language requirement in Bright Futures – students who choose to take two years of French would not have to enroll in coding, for example. However, the wording of the bill states that two credits of coding coursework would be “required” for students who wish to be eligible for the scholarship.

“Misinformed and heavy”

For students like Jamilah — she has no interest in coding, but is also studying Korean and striving to learn five languages ​​— the bill poses nothing but obstacles.

“When I speak French, I’m just happy,” Jamilah said. “Language is an art; language is a smile, but done by spoken communication.

“I wouldn’t be happy to take a coding class,” she added, shaking her head. “At all.”

Jamilah Mitchell, a high school student from Leon, has embraced learning French and plans to continue studying foreign languages ​​in college.

While some public schools, like Florida State University, might be willing to change their foreign language requirements — “in some cases,” said Hege Ferguson, a representative from the admissions office — students who attend private schools or outside could be disadvantaged if coding is favored over the foreign language, as these institutions have no obligation to change the admission criteria. The majority of colleges and universities require at least two years of foreign language in high school.

Representatives of local teachers’ unions see the bill as “another ill-informed and heavy-handed educational initiative” unnecessarily imposed on districts by lawmakers.

“Once again the legislation puts in place measures that place restrictions on teachers, students and the general joy of learning,” said David Worrell, president of the Leon Classroom Teachers Association. “There is a responsibility to ensure students are prepared for the future, but eliminating the foreign language requirement is absurd. On the contrary, students should focus more on language learning.

Not only will children be unprepared for a global economy, Worrell said, but the bill could potentially jeopardize a number of the 36 foreign language teacher jobs in Leon County schools.

David Worrell, president of the Leon Classroom Teachers Association, voices teachers' concerns about their interactions with education consultant Mark Rolewski.

However, district officials do not expect teacher layoffs in the “immediate future,” said Randy Pridgeon, divisional superintendent of secondary schools for the LCS, because many students may choose to take both options. If colleges start accepting coding instead, he speculated, a possible decline in foreign language teaching positions is likely.

If the bill passes, LCS will assess student enrollments through course surveys conducted in the spring before the next school year, when coding requirements begin, Pridgeon explained. Lawmakers did not specify what type of programming language, such as C, Python or Java, would be implemented.

The biggest challenge, Pridgeon added, would be hiring qualified coding teachers, as they would need to obtain the required teaching certifications.

Programmers earn a significantly higher salary in the private sector and “retooling” current teachers would cost money. Computer specifications should be adjusted to run educational coding programs.

Despite the anticipated costs, there is no provision included in SB 468 that would give LCS more resources associated with this transition.

“I wouldn’t suggest making it a legislative priority,” Pridgeon concluded.

A utilitarian approach to education

In recent years, Governor Rick Scott and lawmakers have supported science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education initiatives — such as better use of taxpayer dollars to prepare students to rapidly expanding fields or those expected to emerge in the future, they explained.

Some educators argue that more technical STEM activities “level the playing field” for students who don’t do well in more traditional courses, like the foreign language. Mayor Andrew Gillum, for example, already launched the Google CS First program, a coding initiative that exposes students to the computer science curriculum, at Cobb Middle School last month.

Some educators say that computing and STEM activities level the playing field for some students.

“With coding and STEM, students can see how many opportunities can go beyond college and how they play out in the workforce and careers fields,” Stu said. Greenberg, director of studies at the LCS. “It unleashes the entrepreneurial spirit of the students and triggers the creativity and synergy to move the kids forward.”

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In the United States, there are 586,982 computer science jobs available, but only 38,175 computer science graduates, according to, a nonprofit organization that advocates increasing access to computer science. This gap is expected to widen; by 2020, there will be 1.4 million open computer positions, but only 400,000 computer science students, according to statistics.

Critics argue that this practice of assigning utilitarian value to learning can be destructive for students.

“Computers are useful and essential tools that enhance students’ learning opportunities, but they cannot replace a lesson where students make human connections,” said Colette Clarke, French teacher at Leon High. “It’s the only thing we say that matters – is STEM or something related to STEM? You can’t put students behind a computer and say that’s your only achievement.

Colette Clarke, a teacher at Leon High School, leads a class.

Clarke says foreign language classes also prepare students to bridge cultural gaps – going beyond multilingual skills, such as vocabulary and grammar. Students gain insight into the traditions, values, food, music, arts and outdoor sports of people who “are like us who live in other countries”, she said.

As a result, students become more empathetic and diplomatic – evidenced by the cultural exchanges the school hosts for dozens of French students every year. That can’t happen in a computer class, she said.

IT professionals say students can get this kind of cultural enrichment from other courses, like history or English language arts, but still disagree with lawmakers’ attempts to make coding mandatory instead of foreign language for Bright Futures.

Most programmers, said Michael Viscontini, a graduate of Chiles High and a developer at Canopy Software, can skip college and be successful, so “it doesn’t make much sense” to make it a scholarship requirement. The foreign language is something you need to get into college, but not with IT.

If Senate Bill 468 is approved, schools in Leon County will need to develop a plan to implement coding classes in all high schools by January 2017.

Viscontini, 27, was an anthropology student at Florida State University until the program was cut due to budget shortfalls. He decided to quit school and found a coding job. Much of his expertise stems from on-the-job training, although he enrolled in a handful of computer science courses at FSU.

While Viscontini argues that coding is structurally similar to a language — “it has its own syntax, its own semantic meaning, and its own overall organized structure” — he says students should be able to choose, depending on their interests.

“You are potentially understaffed from those who are more likely to do well in languages,” he said. “Instead of arguing one or the other, why not acknowledge merit in both areas? You want more people in school, not less.

Contact Amanda Claire Curcio by email at [email protected] or follow on Twitter @MandaCurcio.


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