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Cathy Cavanaugh: Values of Learning Programming Language in School

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by Cathy Cavanaugh
Director of Teaching and Learning, Microsoft in Education

What is a human language? As a symbol system for encoding and communicating ideas, our languages are varied and dynamic, each reflective of its own cultures and ways of knowing. Thus, each language has intrinsic value to influence thought and interaction. Additionally, each language has practical value in the 21st century. Recognizing the many benefits of learning multiple languages, schools around the world require native language fluency and a minimum of competence in a second language. Thus, world language standards have been developed by professional organizations to guide effective teaching and learning (http://www.actfl.org/publications/all/world-readiness-standards-learning-languages).

The choice of languages offered in a school depend on a matrix of factors including locally and regionally spoken languages, availability of teachers and curriculum, and interest among students. Increasingly, world languages and other subjects learned in school are associated with preparing students for college, career, and community.

A recent review of research presented the salary benefits experienced by students who learn second languages in school: an average addition of 2%/year as a multilingual professional, ranging from 1.5-3.8% depending on the language and region. At the national level, GDP may be reduced by 3.5%/year in countries where second language fluency is not common.

The data on second language learning included widely-spoken world languages, and did not address languages such as sign language or programming languages, even though these are increasingly available in schools. Sign language fluency is offered as a matter of equity, while programming language is offered as a vocationally-oriented program. As a valuable cognitive experience and as a window into a specific culture, the benefits of learning world, sign, and programming languages are similar.

In contrast, the economic impacts of world languages and programming languages for students and for the entrepreneurial interests of the community vary widely. From now through 2022, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that programming jobs will increase over 8%/year, and already have median salaries over $74,000 in the US (http://www.bls.gov/emp/).

To support students and schools in bringing coding to the curriculum, Microsoft offers a range of resources, included in the YouthSpark program, http://www.microsoft.com/about/corporatecitizenship/en-us/youthspark/youthsparkhub/programs/ .

Cathy Cavanaugh is a former teacher, professor, college leader and researcher who has worked around the world to increase access of all students to quality education opportunity. She took her first computer to her year 6-8 science students in the Caribbean, where they wrote BASIC programs.

1 Comment

  1. Bozena Kraj says

    Thank you. Good to find everything in your article. My students have just got interested in programming thanks to Hour of Code we are working on during this week. So, I can use it to develop their interests.

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