The 21st Century Foreign Language Requirement for African Students

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This is my warning call to all students in Africa. I want to challenge all the people under 25 who are in school or are about to start school  so that they can be ready for the future. One cannot discuss the global economy without mentioning China. In fact a lot of Africans are doing business in China. Now that everyone is doing business with China, it is not surprising that Mandarin is gaining popularity as a the foreign language of choice. At first glance it seems obvious as the logical second language of the world. English of course continues to dominate in most global business transactions even in China.

However, I believe that there is a new foreign language that all African students, entrepreneurs and global citizens must embrace; computer programming language. Technology is the language without geographical boundaries. I believe that all students should be learning programming languages just the same way they learn Spanish, French and Mandarin. Will the foreign language requirements of the last century be as useful in this century? No. In fact if I was a parent I would push programming language over any of the foreign languages and I know you must be asking yourself “Why?”

Everyday many new Applications (Apps) are created that make our lives easier. For example Paul Pauca, a Professor from Wake Forest University worked with his students to create an app for IPhone and IPad that will help his son to communicate as he suffers from a rare genetic disorder that delays development including his speech. In the future we can expect Apps that will translate foreign languages like Spanish, French and Mandarin. So why should your children spend their good years learning how to speak the language when the App will do it for them? The power of language now lies in programming language because when you understand it you can then create the App. The masters of the future are those who will create the Apps that can translate all the languages that will merge the global economy.

At this point I would urge students in school right now whether primary, high school, college or graduate school to consider learning a computer programming language as their foreign language requirement. I would recommend to headmasters, teachers and higher education administrators that computer programming be taught with the same emphasis as English and Mathematics. The jobs of the future are technology driven and behind every new technology is a computer program. As Africa prepares for high speed Internet access, it will become increasingly important to understand and be able to navigate different technologies. Every field one can think of leverages some kind of computer technology, the mechanic, nurse, teacher, professor all use at least one App everyday to make their work easier. Looking into the future, I bet that programming languages will be the one unifying force behind the global economy. So as students continue their studies I believe they should ponder how they can better prepare themselves for the future. The future of business in Africa belongs to those who will maximize and leverage computer technology in the coming years and can tailor it to the needs of the masses. Technology is the future of Africa.

By Chengethai Mutamba

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