San Juan – English will gradually replace Spanish as the language taught in Puerto Rico's public schools under a 10-year plan due to enter into force later this summer, Education Secretary Edward Moreno Alonso told Efe Friday.
The plan will start to be implemented in August at 31 schools, where children aged 5-9 will have all of their subjects in English with the exception of Spanish and History.
In 35 other schools, students will begin to be taught a certain amount of subjects in English depending on their teachers' ability to make the transition.
The goal is for the program to be extended to all 860 schools in Puerto Rico's public school system within a period of 10 years, according to Moreno Alonso, who said the increased emphasis on English is in response to parents' demands.
Starting next fiscal year, we'll begin introducing the comprehensive Bilingual Generation program with a very clear goal: to ensure that in a period of 10 years each and every child who graduates from high school in Puerto Rico is perfectly bilingual, with full command of both Spanish and English.
- Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuño
According to the secretary, this initiative of Gov. Luis Fortuño's administration is aimed at ensuring Puerto Rican children can exercise their right to "acquire a strong command of English."
Moreno Alonso said that at the small number of schools where the program has already been instituted there are "waiting lists."
The education secretary also noted that most job openings on the U.S. commonwealth require command of English as well as Spanish.
In his latest address to the legislature on April 24, Fortuño, who is up for re-election in November, said his administration would take steps to more firmly establish English-language instruction in the island's public school system.
"Starting next fiscal year, we'll begin introducing the comprehensive Bilingual Generation program with a very clear goal: to ensure that in a period of 10 years each and every child who graduates from high school in Puerto Rico is perfectly bilingual, with full command of both Spanish and English," Fortuño said.
But the chairman of the small Puerto Rican Independence Party, Fernando Martin, told Efe the plan unveiled by Moreno Alonso was indicative of the "ideological obsession" of the governing New Progressive Party, or PNP, which favors U.S. statehood for the island.
A lawmaker with the main opposition Popular Democratic Party, Sen. Juan Eugenio Hernandez Mayoral, said last month that exclusive instruction in English could have a detrimental effect on Puerto Ricans' knowledge of Spanish.
He recalled that only 30 percent of Puerto Ricans speak English at a high level, while the 2010 U.S. Census indicates that Spanish is the native tongue for 96 percent of Puerto Rico's 3.9 million residents
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.