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Senator: Computer programming is a foreign language

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SANTA FE – Spanish, French, German – or JavaScript?

An Albuquerque state senator is pushing for computer programming to be counted as a foreign language under New Mexico’s public school academic requirements.

Sen. Jacob Candelaria, a Democrat, said Monday the bill could help teach an important – and potentially lucrative – skill to students in classrooms around the state.

“We still have work to do in figuring out how state government adapts to a very different world,” Candelaria told the Journal.

Currently, New Mexico high school students are required to complete at least 24 units to receive a diploma, and at least one of those units must come from a category of classes that includes a language other than English, according to the state Public Education Department.

The agency also requires that foreign language classes be provided to elementary and middle school students.

Candelaria, 27, the Legislature’s youngest member, said his bill would allow computer programming codes — such as JavaScript or HTML — to satisfy those foreign language requirements.

As is currently the case, each of the state’s 89 school districts still would be able to decide which foreign language classes to provide.

“Districts could still teach Latin, French or Spanish, but it provides the incentive for them to incorporate (computer) coding into their curriculum without it being an unfunded mandate,” Candelaria said.

The bill, Senate Bill 148, specifies that any computer programming language be a “modern, widely used” language, though it does not mention any computer codes by name.

With many high-paying jobs available for computer programmers and software developers, legislation similar to Candelaria’s has also been popping up in other states. For instance, a similar measure is pending in the Kentucky legislature.

Meanwhile, legislation that would provide public schools with incentives to teach computer programming language to students as early as kindergarten has also been introduced in Congress by U.S. Rep. Tony Cárdenas, D-Calif.

However, Albuquerque Public Schools Board President Marty Esquivel said Monday that he is skeptical of the proposal.

“I think we in a society should stress being bilingual in a traditional sense,” Esquivel said.

Esquivel added that he would be open to hearing the arguments in favor of adding computer programming as a foreign language, but that he doubted many universities would accept such credits as an acceptable option for foreign language entrance requirements.

A spokesman for the Public Education Department said Monday that the agency had not yet seen Candelaria’s proposal, which, if approved and signed into law, would take effect in time for this fall’s academic year.

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