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Washington Bill Would Count Programming As A Foreign Language On College Apps

The Washington State bill would let computer science students forego traditional foreign language requirements.

Washington Bill Would Count Programming As A Foreign Language On College Apps
[Photo: Flickr user marissa anderson]

Two legislators from Washington State are proposing a bill that will likely get a cheer from techie high schoolers: They want to allow computer science (as in, programming) classes to satisfy in-state college admission requirements.

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While the bill’s author, Rep. Chris Reykdal, is all for traditional foreign language requirements, he tells Ars Technica that if schools were serious about teaching foreign languages, they would start in elementary school (something many parents in Washington are campaigning for) when the brain is more adaptable to new languages. By high school, foreign language is often just a box to check for college applications.

Reykdal emphasized to Ars Technica that high-paid computer science jobs are growing faster than we can fill them. And he’s absolutely right, as the computer programming industry is expected to grow 15% between 2012-2022 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

As the Learn 2 Code movement swells and pushes increasingly toward educating youth, this doesn’t seem like a bad idea, especially since learning programming is kind of like learning a different language. A study released by an international team of researchers last April used MRI scanners to discern whether programming was more closely related to math or language disciplines in the brain–and found a tenuous association favoring language.

“It appears to make some sense, based on what we have learned from the study,” University of Passau computer scientist Janet Siegmund told Fast Company. “Actually, with these kinds of studies, you should always say that more studies need to be done. But what we found is that it appears to be related.”

Schools in Kentucky and New Mexico have already entertained the possibility of counting computer programming for foreign language requirements, especially as the language departments shrink in public schools.

But the modern education system pushes foreign language requirements for abstract benefits (i.e., “broadening students’ horizons”) rather than preparing students for bilingual jobs. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in 2010 that only 18% of U.S. citizens could speak another language, compared to 53% of Europeans. That’s probably because, as Fast Company’s Cliff Kuang wrote, Americans aren’t bordered by a country of similar might, so learning another language feels like a cultural luxury.

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If these laws get popular, foreign languages might be the price American education pays as it desperately tries to improve STEM education and vouch for STEM investment as a safer bet for ensuring today’s students are competitive for tomorrow’s jobs.

[via Ars Technica]