CONTACT:  Michele Clark
Communications Coordinator

Vol. 45, No. 103
Nov. 14, 2011

Foreign Language, World History Classes are on the Rise

International Education Week celebrates global learning

foreign language graph

Enrollment in foreign language classes by Missouri public school students in grades K-12 has more than doubled over the past two decades.  Enrollment in Spanish, French, German, Chinese, Japanese, Russian, Italian, Hebrew and Latin courses grew from 86,029 in 1991 to 141,620 in 2001, then to 195,036 in 2011.

A growing number of students in Missouri are taking classes in foreign languages, social studies and world history — courses that will help prepare them for living and working in an increasingly global society.

Preparing students for a global environment is the focus of International Education Week, Nov. 14-18.  The State Board of Education adopted a resolution last month encouraging Missouri schools to celebrate the event.

"The ability to connect and communicate effectively with people across the world has become vital in today's society," said Commissioner of Education Chris L. Nicastro.  "We are pleased that more students in Missouri are taking classes that can help them better understand the world around them and prepare for college and careers in our increasingly global economy."

International education opportunities could be increased in a variety of ways, Nicastro said. Schools could provide professional development to help educators incorporate a global perspective into more of their lessons and encourage students to take more foreign language and world history and geography classes.

Missouri is headed in the right direction.  Enrollment in Spanish courses at K-12 public schools last year almost doubled in the past decade and nearly tripled since 1991, state education officials report.  Enrollment in Spanish totaled more than 140,000, compared to about 96,000 in 2001 and just over 51,000 in 1991.

Enrollment in French grew by nearly 3,000 since 2001, from about 30,000 to more than 33,000 during the 2010-2011 school year.  Although the number of Missouri students studying Chinese is much lower, enrollment is five times higher than it was a decade ago, from just over 200 in 2001 to more than 1,000 last year. Students are taking other foreign language classes as well, including German, Japanese, Russian, Italian, Hebrew and Latin.

More students in Missouri are learning about other cultures in world history and social studies classes.  Public school enrollment in world history classes totaled nearly 90,000 during the 2010-2011 school year, compared to almost 71,000 a decade ago.  Enrollment in social studies classes increased by more than 40,000, from about 125,000 in 1991 to more than 167,000 for the 2010-2011 school year.

The State Board of Education requires students to take a minimum of three units of social studies in order to graduate from high school.  Foreign language classes are not required for graduation by the state education department but are strongly recommended as core electives.

Last month, Nicastro announced that the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education received a $10,000 grant from the Virginia-based Longview Foundation to promote an increase in international education statewide.  The department will use the grant to host a summit on Jan. 9 that will focus on strengthening international education opportunities in Missouri's K-12 public schools.

International Education Week is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Education.