Blog: The Educated Reporter

Florida Senate Votes ‘Yes’ to Coding As a Foreign Language

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The state of Florida is one step closer to equating computer coding with foreign languages.

A controversial bill, which passed by a wide margin in the state Senate Wednesday would allow students to take computer coding for foreign language credit and require the state’s public colleges and universities to recognize it as such. 

High schools will not be required to offer computer coding, however, as would have been the case under a previous version of Senate Bill 468, which was revised earlier in the week. The bill was first introduced last fall by former Yahoo executive Sen. Jeremy Ring, who considers coding as its own unique language and wants to give students a “leg up.” Had that version passed, computer coding would have been the only foreign language that schools would have been required to offer, according to a spokesperson for the Florida Department of Education.

Coding “is a basic skill that everyone needs to learn,” Ring said Tuesday, telling his fellow legislators he believes people who know how to code are bilingual, according to the Orlando Sentinel

The bill has been controversial from the start. While many who oppose it acknowledge the value of computer coding in the 21st century, they argue the skill does not merit a foreign language distinction and would perhaps be a better fit with maths and sciences.

Linda Markley of the Florida Foreign Language Association made that argument when she testified before a Senate committee. She told legislators that voting in favor of the bill would indicate that computer coding was being prioritized over spoken world languages. In response to my request for comment, she said in an email this week:

Language education, in addition to the myriad cognitive benefits it provides, opens the world up to our students—a world that is growing increasingly complicated and diverse. It is incumbent upon our educational system to ensure our students are equipped with the skills needed in the 21st century. Foreign languages are one such skill, equal in merit to the computer sciences. Room for computer coding courses can be made elsewhere in the curriculum. As suggested by the coding community itself and computer technology giants such as Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and Amazon, the most logical place would be among the sciences and mathematics.

Aside from the debate over if or where, exactly, coding should appear in the curriculum, there’s also the question of whether schools can provide adequate access to technology in order to implement the courses. While the state’s largest school district, Miami-Dade, has one computer for every three students, that’s not the case everywhere.

“What I’m fearful of is now we’re at a place where certain students in certain ZIP codes may not have access to those kinds of classes because they may have antiquated equipment,” said Sen. Dwight Bullard, a Miami Democrat who voted “no.”

The bill does not include funding to help districts improve students’ access to computers at school, but it does allow schools to offer coding through Florida Virtual School, which functions as an online school district. 

The bill passed 35 to 5 in the Senate but does not currently match a similar bill in the House, which has yet to go to the floor. Both houses would have to pass identical bills for the legislation to make it to the governor’s desk.