Enrollment in high school computer science classes has reached record highs.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced on Nov. 18 that 10,450 students are currently taking computer science classes across the state, which is an 847% increase from the 2014-2015 school year. Additionally, despite overall enrollment in schools decreasing this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, the number of students taking computer science classes in the 2020-21 year has increased 6.5 percent from the 2019-20 term. The news conference took place at the Museum of Discovery in Little Rock.
“The opportunities are just rampant for our young people and for Arkansas to build a technology talent that will give us the opportunity to recruit tech jobs to Arkansas,” said Hutchsinon.
Percentages for girls and minorities in computer science classes have also increased. Anna Beth Gorman, Executive Director of the Women’s Foundation of Arkansas, spoke at the news conference and discussed the importance of efforts to provide equitable access to computer science instruction.
Hutchinson also announced his support for legislation that will require a computer science credit to graduate high school. Taking computer science is currently voluntary for students and generally fulfills math or science requirements. This bill will be introduced in the 93rd General Assembly in 2021, and State. Sen. Jane English will be the lead sponsor of the legislation.
Schools will also be required to have a certified computer science teacher on staff. There are currently 500 certified computer science teachers in Arkansas, and the state intends to increase that number to 750.
Anthony Owen, the State Director of Computer Science Education spoke at the event and discussed how the computer science programs will prepare students for careers in computer science.
“We will continue supporting getting more teachers certified and trying to offer these opportunities to teachers, but we’re moving beyond that,” said Owen. “We’re already looking at how many of our schools are offering a pathway to students that lead to a real job or directly into college and [looking at] how our K-12 system is connected to those job opportunities.”
Hutchinson’s Computer Science Initiative began in 2015 when he signed legislation that required every high school in the state offer at least one computer science class. Arkansas won the 2020 Frank Newman Award for State Innovation due to the growing computer science program.
Two computer science teachers, Sean Gray of Marion and Shanta Calhoun of Pine Bluff, also spoke at the press conference. Gray was named the Computer Science Educator of the Year in June 2020.