There’s no question that economies of the future will be strengthened by, and eventually depend on a broad, multilingual workforce and pool of innovators.
Simultaneously, today, many people are unable to access educational and other developmental opportunities because of their lack of command of English, and are left out of the field of potential contributors to an improved economy.
From various European explorers, to its formative roots as a colony, and through its tenure in statehood, Rhode Island has long been defined by a shifting, expanding and, now, more integrated blend of ethnic identifications.
Today, perhaps more than at any other recent point in the region’s history, language barriers are becoming more and more apparent, in areas such as standardized testing and hospitalization.
In a report from Friday’s Boston Globe, Dan McGowan noted that the on time graduation rate for public school English language learners in Rhode Island dropped to 71.7 percent - from 77 percent in 2015 - and Rhode Island policy makers are plotting how to resolve the issue as part of a broad education rethink.
Perhaps central to this rethinking could be the World Language and Dual Language Immersion Act, which in sum, would implement a statewide dual language curriculum, working to improve outcomes for both English Language Learners as well as primary English speaking students.
On a recent episode of The Bartholomewtown Podcast, I asked a roundtable of respected dual language educational policy advocates in Rhode Island to lay out The Immersion Act, as well as the many challenges surrounding this issue as a whole. The panel, featuring Christopher Sanacore (who also appeared on Bartholomewtown Radio on 990WBOB this week), Rhode Island College’s Dr. Erin Papa and The University of Rhode Island’s Dr. Rabia Hos, each part of The Rhode Island Road Map to Language Excellence, presented a congruent and passionate message that multilingualism is essential to both broad social justice as well as broad economic development. Doctors Papa and Hos each also laid the case for dual language in an extensive Providence Journal op-ed.
The passage of this act would ensure a ‘two-way street’ approach to addressing the challenges that many ELL students face on a daily basis, as well as the disconnect experienced by many monolingual, culturally segregated individuals throughout the state.
In developing a statewide curriculum for multilingual classrooms, interconnectivity between different neighborhoods, persons of different backgrounds and various elements of the state’s shifting population would be vastly improved, laying the groundwork for a stronger, more robust economy, and perhaps most importantly, a more shared human experience between The Ocean State’s diverse array of residents.
Bill Bartholomew is a podcast host, musician and media contributor based in Providence, RI.
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