Fortuño defends bilingual schools plan
The governor responded to critics who claim the plan aims to impose English on students to the detriment of their Spanish education.
“We don’t want them to only speak English or only speak Spanish,” Fortuño said during a visit to Elba Lugo Carrión Elementary School in Arecibo. “We aren’t imposing anything.”
The plan calls for all math and science classes to be taught in English. Other courses would still be given in Spanish.
“English is the language of our citizenship, of opportunity, and it has been taken away from our children,” said Fortuño.
English had been the language of instruction in Puerto Rican high schools between 1900 and 1948.
Spanish and English are co-official languages of Puerto Rico, a U.S. commonwealth since 1952.
There are already 35 public schools with bilingual programs, and another 31 are being added when the new academic year begins in August.
“The right to learn English and be bilingual shouldn’t just be a privilege of the few, but for all children in Puerto Rico,” the governor said. “It shouldn’t be an opportunity only for those who can pay, but a tool within everyone’s reach.”
The governor said parents and students overwhelmingly support the plan, but he acknowledged the challenge of bringing teachers up to speed.
“We have to certify the teachers, to prepare them,” the governor said. “This has to be done responsibly. It is a reachable goal but it will take a lot of work to get there.”
Some critics have argued that many public school students don’t even have a solid command of Spanish.
In response, Fortuño said another $10 million will be assigned to the Education Department to improve the teaching of Spanish.
Other critics, including Popular Democratic Party gubernatorial candidate Alejandro García Padilla, have sought to make the bilingual schools plan a political issue, questioning the governor’s credentials as a Puerto Rican.
The bilingual schools plan emerged in part from a profile of students drawn up under the administration’s Schools for the 21st Century initiative and is aimed at improving math, science, English and technology courses to help create a knowledge-based economy on the island.
“Learning English doesn’t take the place of learning in Spanish. It complements it,” Fortuño said. “If there is a competitive advantage that we can develop as Puerto Ricans it is fluency in both languages.”