Talking tech since 2003

About a week ago, Kentucky’s State Senate passed a bill that would allow public high school students to take computer programming classes in order to fulfill their foreign language requirement. According to an article in the Kentucky Courier-Journal, the vote passed with 28 votes to eight votes against, giving students the opportunity to have a head start in one of the most vital fields in the 21st century.

It’s no secret that knowing how to code gives you a leg up in life. The fact is that making programs and smartphone apps is becoming a more and more stable and lucrative career, but the skills required to excel as a coder are hard to come by unless you’re interested at a young age.

That’s why Kentucky’s new law is so revolutionary: it gives students more options to pursue an important field without radically altering the state’s curriculum. Having worked in education for a long time, I can say with certainty that the morass of bureaucracy and red tape is endless, and can often stand in the way of students actually learning valuable skills. Kentucky’s solution side-steps the problems that would come with inserting programing as a mandatory education requirement. Students don’t have to bend over backwards to learn coding and fulfill graduation requirements, and Kentucky doesn’t have to spend a lot of time or money rewriting its curriculum.

It’s not a perfect solution, of course: foreign language classes take the hit from bringing computer programing into the mix, both in terms of how many students will enroll and in terms of their perceived importance to a student’s life. Learning to code and learning to speak Chinese or Spanish are two very, very different kinds of skills (even if they both have their foundations in syntax and logic-systems). Foreign language education brings important lessons about history and culture, and can help make people understand their roles in a global society. Coding is good for making money by making an app with birds in it or whatever.

Both are valuable, and in a perfect world, they would both be requirements. But in reality, there’s only so many resources to go around. And in a changing economy and an increasingly digital world, it’s ultimately good to provide more opportunities for the coders of tomorrow.

[Image via Western Kentucky University Comp-Sci Dept.]

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