Weekly Columns

Preparing students for 21st century careers starts with providing them with the tools and resources to learn skills needed in the modern workforce. In this interconnected digital age, computer science plays an important role. 

Computer science is experiencing record growth. Students rank computer science among their favorite classes and advanced placement (AP) computer science is the fastest growing course in schools.

Statewide efforts to empower students in this field are creating excitement and a path toward future success. Last year, the Arkansas legislature passed a law requiring all public high schools to offer at least one computer science class. This initiative provides Arkansas students an advantage in the modern labor market. The idea is to foster a technologically savvy workforce to help recruit businesses to our state and grow the economy. That begins with coding, the language of computers. 

Arkansas is a national leader in computer coding thanks to Governor Asa Hutchinson’s leadership. During the past two school years he’s touted computer coding during a statewide tour to encourage students to learn coding, a skill vital to almost every industry. These efforts helped increase enrollment in computer science by 260 percent in one year. 

I recently attended a computer science class to get a hands-on lesson in coding and hear from students about their experiences in the classroom and how it helps prepare them for life in the workforce. 

Seeing the enthusiasm of young Arkansans as they create computer programs and learn a skill that will benefit them in their future was rewarding and a predictor of future success.

There are fewer computer science graduates than a decade ago, but there is a growing need for these skills across all sectors of the economy. Computing jobs are the top source of new wages in our country and with 500,000 current jobs in computing, this skill is in high demand.

To inspire an interest in computer science, we recognize December 5-11 as 2016 Computer Science Education Week. I’m committed to encouraging Arkansas students to pursue computer science and I’m hopeful that by working together we can continue to grow these important classes in schools across our state.

Last year, I supported the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), legislation that passed Congress and was signed into law by the President that strengthens state and local control to improve student achievement. This law includes a provision that provides state and local districts more flexibility to fund computer science through a new block grant.

As we promote computer science education we also must provide students access to computers. I’m working to close the digital divide in Arkansas as a participant in the Senate’s Computers for Schools program which donates computers no longer used in the Senate. This allows students to learn to code on more modern equipment. Helping young Arkansans develop their computer skills and connect them to technology with surplus equipment is a win for us all. 

Having a solid foundation in computer science and coding will help our students prepare for the future as job opportunities in this field keep growing.