Education
11:03 am
Mon March 10, 2014

Givens: Allowing Computer Programming to Count as Foreign Language Would Create "Job Opportunities"

Sen. David Givens is sponsoring a bill that would allow computer programming courses to count for foreign language credit in Kentucky high schools.
Credit Kentucky LRC

Senator David Givens says he understands that some people may get the wrong idea when they hear about legislation he is proposing concerning computer science and foreign language classes.

A bill Givens is sponsoring in the Kentucky General Assembly would allow computer programming courses to count towards a high school student’s foreign language requirements. The measure also ensures that computer programming language courses be accepted as meeting foreign language requirements for admission to public postsecondary institutions.

The Green County Republican insists that he doesn’t have anything against students learning a foreign language. He says his bill is simply a response to an increasing demand in today’s job market.

“We have a shortage of computer programmers in the United States,” the Green County Republican said while sitting in his office at the state capitol in Frankfort. “By the year 2020, the projection is that we will have one-million unfilled computer programming jobs. So the challenge is how do we, in Kentucky, provide opportunities for students and flexibility for schools to be able to take advantage of that, of those job opportunities.”

Modeled after similar legislation in Texas, Givens claims Senate Bill 16 will create increased educational opportunities for students in Kentucky without diminishing foreign languages.

“Foreign language may not be the thing that turns on some students but computer programming may be, and anytime we can have that ‘aha’ moment happen, I think it’s a great thing.”

But some in the educational community have different views. WKU Modern Languages Department head, Dr. Laura McGee, says the bill may be a step in the wrong direction.

“For us to say now some students won’t be learning a foreign language at all would seem to be a step backwards,” McGee told WKU Public Radio. “And so I hope it doesn’t have to be a trade-off like this. You know--either computer programming or foreign language.”

“The trend in countries with whom we want to trade, and with whom we want to compete on the market, is to early childhood foreign language education. So, starting to learn a foreign language in the fifth grade, or third grade or even the first grade.”

Despite some opposition, Givens’ measure  easily passed through the Senate on a vote of 28-8. It’s unclear if the bill will see any action in the House before the current legislative session ends, but Senator Givens is hopeful.

WKU Modern Languages Department Head Laura McGee says the bill would be a step backward for foreign language education in Kentucky.

Greenwood High School guidance counselor LeAnn Freeman believes that if the bill were to become law, Kentucky schools--especially those not currently providing computer programming--would have a few things to figure out.

“The main impact is just whether the schools are going to be able to offer the course because they might not have the teacher that’s certified to teach it in their building,” Freeman said.

According to Freeman, Greenwood’s computer language program was cut just this year, after their only computer programming teacher retired. Despite having months to fill his place, the supply of certified instructors just wasn’t there.

But Sen. Givens believes there are solutions to that problem also.

“We’re seeing schools more and more create what I call a middle college,” he said. “Middle college meaning those junior and senior years they’re finding ways to bring college courses down to the high school--through AP, through dual credit, through unique alliances with colleges all across the state. So there are opportunities through distance learning, there’s opportunities through those alliances with colleges.”

“I think districts that want to do it can find a way.”

Givens says he understands it may take a couple of sessions to gain the support needed from both chambers to make it through the legislative process.

Currently, Senate Bill 16 is pending hearing in the House Education Committee.