Jeremy Ring: Computer coding a necessary foreign language in 21st century education

Every parent wants the best for their children, and in today’s world – where innovation is part of everything we do – providing students with a better understanding of technology is becoming essential.

Every day, advancements take place in the cars we drive, on the personal computers we use, and in the life-saving medical technology we rely on when seconds count the most. Technological advancements are also taking place across the country in classrooms and in boardrooms.

Keeping up with changing norms helps people in every profession do their jobs more efficiently and at a speed our grandparents couldn’t have imagined. So how do we prepare tomorrow’s innovators for the innovations to come? We start by providing high school students with the option to learn computer coding, a foundational education building block necessary in providing a 21st century education.

This coming session, I have introduced legislation, CS/Senate Bill 468, in the Florida Legislature to provide ninth through 12th graders with another option to foreign languages. It’s an inspirational and transformative approach to education that I believe will take computer literacy to new heights in Florida and nationally.

Currently, Florida’s high school students are required to take two years of a foreign language to graduate. If approved, CS/SB468 will add computer coding alongside the other languages taught in Florida high schools, including French, Latin, Spanish, and Mandarin. It is not a replacement to those languages, which all have their own merits, but adds it as an option for students who aspire to gain a better understanding of the language of innovation that is taking place in today’s global economy.

Some have asked, “Why must computer coding be an option in the foreign languages?” The answer is because computer coding is a foreign language. It is used by our counterparts in China, India and throughout Europe. It’s a language that binds cultures – regardless of their geographic location – behind a common computer framework that’s used to power all of the technology we use in our daily lives. And like Latin and Sign Language, which are other languages offered in Florida, computer coding isn’t spoken.

An important reason to include computer coding under foreign languages is because it has a two-year requirement compared to the four years required under math and science. If lawmakers were to place computer coding under math or science, it truly would be a replacement and not a choice. As a foreign language, students can take two years of a traditional language and also two years of computer coding – a common sense compromise.

I strongly believe that adding computer coding to the list of foreign languages will go a long way in providing students with a greater understanding of the technology all around them. Once implemented, it can serve as a model for other states, and Florida can one day pioneer a curriculum where students become fully immersed in computer coding by starting as young as Pre-K3 and continuing through college. As anyone who has learned a foreign language will tell you, there needs to be total immersion to ensure fluency of the language.

Equally as important, this legislation has applications for students who may never actually pursue a career in the technology field. Technology is the foundation for anything anyone will do in their careers, whether it’s journalism, public relations, construction, law, medicine, or education, therefore it really is more of a humanities or liberal arts. It will help all aspiring professionals to understand the way computer technology is developed since computer coding is the fabric of everything in today’s workplaces.

When considering how to better prepare for the technological breakthroughs that will occur in their lifetimes, our elected leaders have a choice to make. We can either be the No. 1 state for computer coding or the 50th.  As someone who worked closely in the tech industry and has seen firsthand what we as a state are up against nationally and internationally, I choose a future that can be transformational for Florida’s students.

When given the choice to learn a language in high school, computer coding can be the great educational equalizer.

Jeremy Ring is a Democratic member of the Florida Senate and a former executive at Yahoo! He resides in Parkland, Florida. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

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