There’s been an ongoing debate in education legislation for the past few years that you probably haven’t heard about. Should students be able to choose between foreign and coding languages to fulfill their language requirement? Or, more broadly, does developing coding language proficiency contribute more to U.S. students’, and our country’s, future ability to innovate and become a global leader than proficiency in a foreign language?

The answer? It’s complicated.

The State of Computer Science Education in the U.S.

To understand this issue and why the answer is more complicated than it seems, you need to understand the current state of computer science education in the U.S. This debate has largely stemmed (pun intended) from our country’s renewed interest and investment in the STEM curriculum style, which puts an emphasis on what are considered the most important and underdeveloped skills in U.S. students: science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

To compete in a world that continues to get smaller, we need our students to graduate from our educational systems and institutions well-equipped to tackle the problems of the 21st century and drive an increasingly tech-driven economy forward without falling behind our top competitors. So, how well are we preparing them? Only 32 states, along with the District of Columbia, allow computer science courses to fulfill a math or science high school graduation requirement. This means they’ll have to use electives to take computer science courses; if their school even provides adequate computer science options.

Prioritizing computer science classes and elevating them to a graduation requirement in the form of a foreign language credit means schools will be forced to provide adequate computer science courses that allow students to complete the required number of credits. It also means the government will need to invest directly in developing these options nationwide.

Where We're At Now

You don’t have to look far to learn about the escalating tech talent crisis in the U.S. or that it’s continuing to get worse despite more awareness being brought to the problem. There simply isn’t enough tech talent to go around. Many critics believe it’s due to the lack of computer science prioritization in the U.S. education system. So far, pitching coding languages as a suitable replacement to foreign language credits to resolve the problem isn’t going over well, but it has had limited success.

Florida, Texas, Washington, Kentucky, and Virginia have all introduced this type of education legislation to their representatives, while states like Michigan, Washington, New Mexico, and Georgia have played with the idea. Texas is the only state that has passed legislation that allows computer science courses to be substituted with required foreign language credits once a student has attempted and performed poorly in a foreign language class.

A Florida bill was introduced in 2016 by state Sen. Jeremy Ring that would give students a choice between foreign or coding language classes for college admissions requirements, but eventually died after passing 35-5 in the Senate initially. Although it failed, Ring defended it by saying, “I think the opportunity to give people a choice [is important]. I think if you’re just going to give two years [of language] in high school, you might as well do computer coding, because I think it’ll take them further than two years of foreign language will,” according to U.S. News.

1 to 49. That is the number of states that have applied the principle of students choosing either foreign or computer language courses to fulfill their foreign language requirements vs. the states that have yet to do so.

The Pros and Cons of Allowing Coding Languages as Foreign Language Credits

This idea could be the beginning of a new educational trend looking to boost the number of computer science grads and desperately needed coding language experts in the U.S., but critics argue it creates more problems than it solves. Here’s a look at the pros and cons to give you an idea of the various priorities at play.

Pros:
  • Boosts investments in tech-driven educational initiatives nationwide.
  • Dramatically increases the number of computer science grads and those proficient in coding languages like C++, Java, Swift, and PHP.
  • Provides a limited solution to the growing tech talent gap.
  • Better prepares graduates for the professional workforce. (Employers value computer skills more now in new hires than foreign language fluency.)
  • Increase odds of students receiving a job post-graduation in one of the highest-earning fields available.
  • Learning and using these coding languages tap into the same language regions of the brain that learning a foreign language does.
Cons:
  • Foreign languages are complex. Commonly taught ones, like Spanish, consist of nearly 10,000 words as compared to 100 words for most coding languages. Critics claim they aren't natural languages or on the same level of learning difficulty as foreign languages.
  • Bilingualism correlates with increased cognitive development, intelligence, memory, and problem-solving abilities.
  • Ability to swap out humanities courses, like foreign language classes, with STEM-driven classes results in the further reduction of the arts in schools, which leads to a drop in creativity. A skill that is needed in every industry.
  • Learning a foreign language introduces new cultures, ideas, perspectives, and experiences outside most students' which many argue lead to an increase in empathy, communication, and relationship-building.
  • Foreign languages are spoken and allow for global communication, connection, and interaction, which is crucial to succeeding in our increasingly globalized world.
  • Could further what the National Research Council called Americans' "pervasive lack of knowledge about foreign cultures and foreign languages threatens the security of the United States as well as its ability to compete in the global marketplace and produce an informed citizenry."
Looking Ahead

As a leading IT and Tech staffing agency, we see the importance and shortage of skilled, U.S. tech talent every single day. The arguments for and against offering coding languages courses as a substitute for required foreign language courses are passionate to be sure, and valid in regards to many of their top concerns.

Perhaps providing a choice to students initially is the short-term solution with the long-term solution being the integration of required computer science and required foreign language education much earlier than the high school-level. This would mean a drastic increase in governmental funding (AKA more taxes) to provide this type of blended, crucial education to our students. But, can we really afford not to? Because right now, students aren’t the only ones losing. Our economy, our tech companies, our connection to other countries, and our acceptance of other cultures are feeling the effect as well.

If you lack the IT or Tech talent you need due to the growing tech talent gap in the U.S., contact Mondo today. We’ll match you with the skilled, tech-driven talent you need from our exclusive and expansive network of high-end, niche IT and Tech professionals.