I have always liked Richard Branson. As a business person, he has been able to switch industries from publishing, to music recording, to airlines, and now to space flight, always showing his detractors that he has a good read on the future – and thankfully for the rest of us – he doesn’t mind sharing his thoughts.
Recently, while speaking at the Virgin Disruptors debate on the future of education, Branson said he was “baffled” at why the educational system had changed so little since he was in school. He says that instructors are teaching the same courses, using the same methodologies, and that the school system is not preparing students for the future – let alone the present.
He argues that schools should adapt to modern requirements by teaching skills that have practical applications: time spend learning Latin and French, he says, could be better spent studying computer coding and developing business skills.
Interestingly though, he singles out Spanish as a foreign language that ought to remain on the curriculum, since it is widely spoken and is relatively easy to learn. Knowledge of Spanish, he says, will give students an immediate access to a much larger world, and will give them the language skills they need in order to travel around the world – an adventure he thinks all kids should embark upon at some point in their lives.
Personally, I think Branson is wrong when he says that students shouldn’t study lesser-used languages; I believe learning ANY foreign language will sharpen a child’s mind and awaken her curiosity to the wider world, and besides that benefit, learning one foreign language also makes it ever-so-much easier to continue learning others. But, that criticism aside, it was nice to hear a person of Branson’s stature and experience weigh in on the utility of the Spanish language. After all, it is spoken by more than 400 million people around the world, and like Branson says, it is not that difficult to learn.