After barely two months in office, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson has already followed through on a campaign promise by signing into law a measure that requires high schools in the state to offer courses in computer sciences.
House Bill 1183 created a mandate for more computer science courses within public high schools and charter schools in the state in addition to creating a commission to look into ways to increase expansion of computer literacy within the field of education in Arkansas.
Computer science instruction in the state has historically been inconsistent. However, Hutchinson said there are millions of unfilled jobs across the state in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math, and that the computer science and coding industry is increasing at twice the speed of any other economic sector, causing him to believe the bill will only aid in the future success of the state.
“[The law] is simple, not complicated, it’s one of low investment but high return for the young people of our state,” Hutchinson said. “This will make a difference in our education but also for our economy in our state. It’ll be a job driver we need.”
While the state’s Department of Education does not currently track the number of districts within the state who offer courses in computer science or coding, around 1 in 10 schools offer them on a national level. According to Hutchinson, that number is even lower within Arkansas.
Computer science courses will be available to students to take in order to fulfill a math requirement. Hutchinson hopes this will give students an “incentive” to take part in the courses.
Schools will be required to begin to offer the courses in the 2015-16 school year.
The law will offer funding for districts unable to hire teachers for the courses within their own schools, enabling students to participate in courses through Virtual Arkansas, an online instruction program created by the Education Department and local education service cooperatives.
In addition, the law will create the Computer Science and Technology in Public Schools Task Force, which will comprise a 15-member group that will research effective education standards and curriculum pertaining to computer science, keeping in mind education needs and opportunities within the state.
The task force is being asked to complete their recommendations by November 1.
Previously this week, Hutchinson signed another piece of legislation requiring that cursive writing be taught in elementary schools across the state, writes Spencer Willems for Arkansas Online.
Hutchinson said he believes the two laws go hand-in-hand.
“I think it’s a great balance. … I don’t think [mandated instruction of computer science and cursive is] inconsistent in my view or inconsistent in practice,” Hutchinson said. “I work on my computer, but there is nothing more significant than being able to write a handwritten personal note to a friend or colleague … to be able to utilize cursive handwriting.”