Puerto Rico: Governor wants island bilingual by 2022
Fortuño’s plan could face significant roadblocks.
Puerto Rico’s governor is embarking on an ambitious, yet controversial plan to make the island fully bilingual over the next decade.
Gov. Luis Fortuño, a staunch proponent of statehood, would require that schools teach all courses in English instead of Spanish, the Associated Press reported Tuesday.
Currently, English and Spanish are the official languages of the island, but proficiency in English is paltry in comparison with Spanish among the U.S. territory’s residents. Spanish has historically been one of the native languages of the island. The issue has been part of a politically charged debate for a long time because it is tied to the argument over whether the island should become a U.S. state.
The Republican-aligned Fortuño claimed that this is a non-political initiative, and instead the move is designed to boost economic opportunity in Puerto Rico, which is suffering from double-digit unemployment and a rapid “brain drain” of talent to the U.S. mainland.
“Bilingualism opens doors and provides opportunity to our children so they can shine and become successful in a labor market that is increasingly competitive and globalized,” he said in a statement reported by the AP.
But many obstacles stand in the way of making Fortuño’s plan a reality.
Only 12 of the island’s 1,472 schools offer an all-English curriculum, according to the report, and just 35 others offer some courses — such as math — in English. Schools are required to teach English, but the education system suffers from a lack of qualified English teachers. Seven in 10 Puerto Rico residents do not consider themselves fluent in English, according to Census data cited by the AP.
The political sensitivity of the language issue also could serve as a major roadblock.
A case in point was how the issue was handled during March’s Republican presidential primary. When then-candidate Rick Santorum declared English must be the island’s main language if it wants to be considered for statehood, he endured a major public backlash for the statement.
Mitt Romney, whom Fortuño endorsed, said he does not believe English should be such a precondition for statehood although he wants it as the official language of the U.S. Romney romped to a resounding state victory.
Fortuño’s announcement comes as Puerto Rico is debating a November ballot referendum on its status. Bolstering English is closely connected to the statehood movement, and over half of Puerto Ricans want to keep the island’s current territorial status according to a recent poll conducted by El Nuevo Día, the island’s largest newspaper.
“Many people resent the imposition of language and associate any attempt to improve their English with political motives,” former Education Secretary Mary Baquero told the AP.
Read the full Associated Press report here.